Barack Obama has just done a difficult - and necessary - thing. He has ended his relationship with Rev. Wright. I watched most of Sen. Obama's press conference (missed the very beginning but heard most of his opening remarks and all the questions he took) and am now listening to Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, and others analyze this developing story as I write.
I think both Chris and Andrea are correct in saying that - in starting what may now be an on-going fight with Rev. Wright - Barack is clearly telling the American people "I believe the opposite of what Rev. Wright believes". While Barack touched on this in his Philadelphia speech on race, he is now making it crystal clear: Those religious leaders who look backward and only see the problems of the past - without seeing the progress we've made AND the opportunities for continued healing and progress in America - have beliefs that are the opposite to those of Barack Obama.
Chris Matthews thinks that the Rev. Wright will take to this fight because - in Matthews' opinion -the Rev. Wright sees Senator Obama as the young upstart who is looking to replace him as the black leader in America.
To those who say (as Pat Buchanan just did) that Barack Obama should have known that the Rev. Wright was "always like this" (given their relationship over the last 20 years), I would offer the following parallel:
People respond to levels of stress they haven't experienced before in different ways. It's called "reaching the breaking point". Bill Clinton has - in my opinion - experienced a similar extraordinary level of stress in recent months, as he has experienced this "young upstart" replacing both his wife and him as the leader of the Democratic party. That's why the Bill Clinton we see today is so different from the Bill Clinton most of us have known over the years.
As this extraordinary level of stress and anger has led Bill Clinton to say the crazy, hurtful things he has said (such as "They played the race card on me") and I believe the incredible stress the Rev. Wright has been under - from seeing his words taken out of context and his 40 years of work being trashed in the court of public opinion to hearing Senator Obama say that the Rev. Wright's teachings are obsolete (my choice of words) in their frame of reference - has caused him to reach the breaking point... leading him to become someone who Senator Obama did NOT know he was.
Based on what the Rev. Wright said at the National Press Club, Senator Obama has seen clearly that the Rev. Wright has a very dark side... a dark side which has now come out. It may have been there all along, but it wasn't controlling Rev. Wright's behavior. Sadly, it is now.
Senator Obama, you have made a wise choice. You may be in a fight with Rev. Wright for the duration of your campaign, but you will be seen as being on the right side... the progressive side... the side devoting towards bringing America together - rather than pulling American apart - of that fight from now on.
I believe today will be seen as a landmark in Senator Obama's campaign... a positive turning point in which he finished defining himself in the context of what religion can be in America (and has been in the case of the work of other, constructive religious leaders).
Religion can be - and already is to many - a healing force in America. Sadly, that does not appear to be what Rev. Wright believes. But fortunately, that IS what Senator Barack Obama believes.
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