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The Painful Obama-Wright Debacle

“If I lose, it won’t be because of race. It will be because I made mistakes on the campaign trail. I wasn’t communicating effectively my plans in terms of helping them in their everyday lives. But I don’t think race is going to be a barrier in the general election.”

(Barack Obama on “Fox News Sunday:” 4/27/08)

Barack Obama didn’t have a good week. He lost the Pennsylvania primary in late April and then Rev. Jeremiah Wright took a “Magical Mystery Tour” through the media on the weekend after the primary. After the Bill Moyers interview on PBS, things looked a little better. Wright appeared lucid, calm and helpful to Barack. He made a few snide comments but overall it was a good performance. From there, the Obama campaign looked forward to what would happen at the speech to the NAACP and then the appearance at the National Press Club.

Barack Obama wasn’t fully aware of the impact of the “performance” of Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club. He had been reading parts of it sent to him by staffers throughout the day. After returning to his hotel at the end of a long day of campaigning, he watched the replay.

I don’t know how he felt, but I would imagine that it felt as if he had lost his father again. Barack Obama loved Jeremiah Wright. He wrote about him and talked about him many times. When he described him in his speech about race in Philadelphia he said, “But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another, to care for the sick and lift up the poor… I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”

Those comments in March are a long way from what Obama said on Tuesday about Rev. Wright’s performance. “They (Wright’s comments) certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that’s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn’t know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.”

What a painful statement to have to make.

I grew up in the Atlanta area and lived there when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, his funeral held in Atlanta a few days later. Dr. King preached the Gospel and pushed the envelope; he pushed America to better herself. It could be argued that no man or woman has pushed America towards her potential more than Martin Luther King. But it was never about separation, it was always about opportunity.

In the days of the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. King, the people with him were expected to dress and behave impeccably. They were not allowed to swear in public and certainly not in the pulpit. Barack Obama embodies much of that civility but not the maturity. The long good-bye that Obama said to Rev. Wright was a sign of immaturity, akin to a child who doesn’t want to leave an abusive parent. It’s hard to believe that Dr. King was not 40 years old when he died and the decisions and the integrity in those decisions demonstrated a maturity that very few men achieve in their entire life time.

For me, I am sorry this whole debacle happened. I’d like the election to be about issues, but the last few weeks have been about Jeremiah Wright. It is too bad that Jeremiah Wright only thought about himself and his hurt feelings. Obama needed to make this race about issues. Now it’s about other things. He said on Sunday to the Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace that if he loses the election it won’t be about race, but it will be about strength of character and integrity and toughness. We need a leader, not a law professor.

There is still hope for Barack Obama as long as Michigan and Florida don’t get seated and he doesn’t have another Jeremiah Wright moment. Hillary Clinton, however, smells blood in the water and is not giving up. It doesn’t matter how many times Howard Dean and Jimmy Carter say this will be settled by June 3-it ain’t happening. Hillary Clinton’s motivation is power. It’s not money, fame or respect-it is power and she is not giving up. By the time the convention rolls around, she’s hoping that Barack will stumble again and she’ll be there to push him aside.

So in this very long campaign there is still plenty of time for more fireworks. There is no doubt that Hillary Clinton has some sad stories of her own and even more skeletons in her closet. Barack Obama is still a largely unknown quantity, especially in comparison to Hillary Clinton or John McCain. So hold on Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon and Puerto Rico, the parade is coming to you.

Martha Zoller is a political analyst and radio host. Her daily show is carried on WDUN AM 550 in Gainesville, Georgia. She makes regular appearances on cable news programs and was one of Talkers Magazine’s “Heavy Hundred” talk show hosts for 2005, 2006 and 2007. Her first book, “Indivisible: Uniting Values for a Divided America”, was released in 2005. You can contact her at www.marthazoller.com.