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John McCain's (W)right Problem

05/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Most people, Senator Barack Obama supporters in particular, are likely to assume that Reverend Jeremiah Wright's resurgence can further damage Obama's chances at "electability". However, there is a strong case to be made that senator John McCain will also suffer from Wright's reemergence.

Having already garnered his party's nomination, McCain has the advantage of being able to pounce on any negative press coverage that Obama suffers, without having to become embroiled in any protracted disputes. Simply put, he can hit and run. Confident that recurring images of Jeremiah Wright on youtube, and arguments between Obama and Hillary Clinton over Obama's use of the term "bitter," say more than he ever could on either subject, McCain has enjoyed the luxury of not having to dwell on these issues as he prepares to mount his campaign for a summer/fall competition.

But now that Jeremiah Wright has come back intent on clearing his name, McCain has to dread the prospect of religion become a major issue in a campaign with Obama. If one looks back at his contests again George Bush in 2000 and Mike Huckabee in this year's Republican primary religion is the one area where McCain proves most vulnerable. In spite of the fact that his 2000 opponent had a tenuous affiliation with Bob Jones University, an institution that prohibits interracial dating, McCain was unable to offer a successful counter to Bush's notion of compassionate conservatism. Similarly, in this year's republican campaign, Huckabee wrested the conservative gavel from McCain. McCain was unable to capitalize on Huckabee's record of drawing the ire of conservatives and his Republican counterparts during his tenure as Arkansas governor.

Another problem for McCain is that Jeremiah Wright is no Willie Horton. Unlike, Horton the inmate featured in a 1988 campaign George H.W. Bush ad that many believe played a significant role in Michael Dukakasis's loss in that year's general election. Unlike Horton who Americans encountered as celluloid image that Republican operatives could manipulate at will, Wright is a three-dimensional citizen who is not only capable of eloquently defending himself, but as his current speaking tour suggests, will have an opportunity to do so in front of reputable audiences. With all the available media outlets available to him Wright will have plenty of opportunities to defend his name and therefore make it harder for anyone to relegate him to a series of thirty-second sound bites.

If Jeremiah Wright remains a topic of discussion in a campaign between McCain and Obama, McCain will have to address two issues race and religion, which have never been his strong points. McCain may have a reputation of being more liberal than Dubya, but by touting his faith-based-initiatives (FBI) Bush was able to draw on a coterie of Black and Latino religious officials from his adopted home state, Texas. McCain does not have a similar base of support and a prolonged debate on Wright will force McCain to make some interesting ethical decisions, and again address charges that he's the Hamlet of the republican party. As William Black, former Deputy Director of the Federal Savings Insurance and Loan Corporation once said of McCain in reference to his role in the Keating Five scandal, "McCain was always Hamlet . . . wringing his hands about what to do."

One finds McCain repeating this habit as he addresses a series of campaign ads set to air in North Carolina and Mississippi which feature Jeremiah Wright. McCain has denounced (we are still awaiting word on whether he also rejects) campaign ads in North Carolina and Mississippi featuring Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but he also declared that he is unable to stop them from airing. The longer that Jeremiah Wright stays afloat in this debate, Hamlet--umm--McCain will have to continue debating whether he is willing to swift boat a fellow veteran, Jeremiah Wright, in order to win an election?

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