Obama hopes to finally put pastor scandal behind him

By Chris Cermak, DPA,

Raleigh (US) : In a very personal and emotional appearance in North Carolina this week, Barack Obama for the first time completely dissociated himself from his former pastor, hoping to finally put an end to a controversy that nearly derailed his US presidential campaign.

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Less than two months ago in a broad speech on race relations in Philadelphia, Obama said that despite Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr’s offensive remarks, he was “like family”, and a man Obama could no more disown than he could the African-American community to which he belongs.

Obama’s tone changed drastically this week after Wright relaunched himself into the media spotlight with a series of public appearances, defending some of his most controversial remarks as Obama hopes to wrap up the Democratic presidential nomination over rival Hillary Clinton.

On Monday, Wright defended his past remarks that US policies invited the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and suggesting the government was “capable” of inventing the AIDS virus to use it against African Americans.

A day later, Obama said he was “outraged” and “saddened by the spectacle,” and that he did not believe Wright represented the traditions of black churches in the US as he claimed.

“I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia,” said Obama, adding there was no more reason to do so after the “ridiculous propositions” the minister had repeated Monday.

It is not clear just how much of an impact the Wright controversy, which has dominated much of US media coverage since the scandal erupted in early March, will have on Obama’s long-term support.

“I think it’s overblown,” said Jamie Katz, a 26-year-old state employee in Raleigh, North Carolina. Obama could not be held “responsible” for Wright’s words, she said.

That has been a key message of the past month for Obama, who has based his campaign on being a post-racial candidate who can effect “change” by bringing together a country divided along racial and ideological lines.

This week Obama bristled at Wright’s suggestion that his passed denouncements were politically motivated and not from the heart.

“I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people. That’s in my DNA,” said Obama. Wright’s words by comparison brought “comfort to those who prey on hate”.

Everett Ward, a member of the Democratic National Committee in North Carolina and an Obama supporter, called the Wright controversy a “wedge issue” being used by his opponents.

“When you ask the average person if Dr Jeremiah Wright is the issue versus gas prices, or jobs … they will tell you that they want to see a person in the office that’s going to address the economy,” Ward told DPA.

Obama has credited Wright with bringing him to the Christian faith when he joined the reverend’s Trinity United Church of Christ in his hometown of Chicago 20 years ago. Wright – who retired from his post as pastor in January – officiated Obama’s wedding, baptized his children and prayed with the family before he announced his candidacy for president some 15 months ago.

“The person I saw yesterday was not the person I met 20 years ago,” said Obama. “Based on his remarks yesterday, I may not know him as well as I thought.”

Given their history, Obama on Wednesday acknowledged the decision to denounce his former pastor had been a personal one and “hard to make”.

With the next set of crucial primaries coming up Tuesday in North Carolina and Indiana, the Illinois senator clearly hopes the matter has now been laid to rest – a point Clinton appeared to concede Wednesday.

“He made his views clear, finally, that he disagreed (with Wright) and that’s what he had to do,” said Clinton. The former first lady also repeated that she would not have remained in Wright’s church had she heard his remarks.

Yet whether Obama will truly be able move on to other issues will depend in part on Wright, who has yet to respond to Obama’s denouncement.

“If (Wright) cares one bit about electing an African American to the highest office of the land, he should get off the national stage,” David Gergen, an advisor to three former presidents, told CNN.