For nearly 20 years, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. was a spiritual touchstone for Barack Obama, reviving the latter's faith from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Now Wright and his "unashamedly black, unapologetically Christian" theology are looking more like Obama's millstone, threatening to sink his presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, in his second attempt to defuse the controversy, Obama did what he'd resisted the first time: He threw Wright under the wheels of his campaign bus. Framing the issue in purely personal terms, he accused Wright of exploiting racial divisions and distracting voters from the real issues. He also claimed that the Wright on display over the weekend wasn't the one he'd known at Trinity.
There was one element of Wright's latest remarks that hadn't gotten much attention previously: his genetic-determinism argument that blacks think, learn, pray and act differently than whites. That focus conflicts with the biracial Democratic candidate's core message of unifying Americans behind common goals. Still, it's hard to believe that Obama is discovering much about Wright now. Nor should he be surprised at how easy it is for the media and his political opponents to keep Wright in the spotlight -- particularly when Wright is so eager to steal it from his former parishioner. Sharp critiques of America might play well in the insular confines of a church, where congregants recognize and accept hyperbole for what it is. But they sound like extremism to the general public, which doesn't share the black experience in America and doesn't recognize the unspoken references to past events.