The Reverend Jeremiah Wright got one thing right and one thing wrong when he publicly groused that President Obama has thrown him under the bus. Obama did give him a swift kick. And he did it unceremoniously. He reamed him in his so-called "race speech" in Philadelphia in March 2008. This was a speech that candidate Obama had to make. It came at the most fragile and dangerous point in his campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination. The stream of Wright's out of context racial toxic utterances were being continually looped by the relentless pack of Obama bashers, loathers, and campaign wreckers to pound Obama. For Obama, it was either kiss Wright off or kiss the nomination off. There was no choice in the matter.
Wright didn't fully get the message. A few months into Obama's presidency Wright let loose with another tirade lambasting "them Jews" for keeping him from Obama (he quickly corrected himself and inserted "Zionists" for "Jews."). It didn't matter the damage had been done. Wright's "them Jews" quip was vintage Wright. That confirmed his penchant to shoot from the lip, damn the audience and consequences, and knowing full well that it will get the tongues furiously wagging. But it also confirmed Wright's monumental naiveté. Did he really think that Obama wanted, let alone could afford, to rub shoulders with him again? Fox News, the pack of Obama loathing bloggers, webbers, shrill talk show jocks, and the GOP would have had a field day playing up the see we told you that Obama was really a closet bigot and worse, anti-Semite angle.
The bigger problem with all of this is that Wright still thinks that he's due a seat at Obama's table. The universal consensus is that one of the smartest things that Obama did was to dump Wright, and dump him fast after he became a political embarrassment. But it's Wright's complaint that he's been cut off from all White House access that's intriguing. It's not just Wright's ego at work here. Although there's plenty of that in his notion that Obama won't see or have anything to do with him because of some plot by mythical Jewish gatekeepers to keep him away. It wouldn't have mattered if not one member of Team Obama's inner circle was Jewish or that Wright had laid low and completely shunned the public spotlight during the past two years. Wright would still be banned in Boston at the White House.
There's no personal vendetta on Obama's part in his deep freeze of Wright, or that's he still considered much of a political liability.
Wright simply represents a past that Obama has long since shed, and that his presidency had to shed to have any chance of success. The past is seeing issues, politics, and even personalities through race colored glasses. This is not a putdown of the civil rights leadership. Obama has embraced Al Sharpton and the NAACP, and always speaks glowingly and expresses gratitude for the colossal struggles and sacrifices of the civil rights warriors of yesteryear. But the institution of the presidency, and what it takes to get it, demands that racial typecasting be scrapped. Obama would have had no hope of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, let alone the presidency, if there had been any hint that he embraced the race-tinged politics of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. His campaign would have been marginalized and compartmentalized as merely the politics of racial symbolism.
Obama got a bitter taste of the misery that race can cause a president him when in an unscripted moment he spoke his mind and blasted a Cambridge cop for cuffing and manhandling Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates. The loud squeals that he was a bigot, racist and anti police for siding with Gates bounced off the Oval Office walls. A chagrined Obama back pedaled fast and asked all for forgiveness. There would be no White House repeat of the Gates fiasco.
So Wright's assertion that Obama kicked him to the curb has nothing to do with him and everything to do with the price of White House governance. That price is a careful, measured, and above all, a race neutral presidency. That's an easy price for Obama to pay. And Wright shouldn't take that personally.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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