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Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The GOP just won’t give up on Jeremiah Wright. The latest effort by a GOP connected Super PAC to tar President Obama with Wright in a hit ad fell apart when Presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney denounced the effort. But that didn’t stop the GOP operatives from exploiting Wright. They quickly trotted out a lengthy interview Wright gave to Edward Klein for his biography “The Amateur” of Obama. Wright made two damning indictments of the president. One is that an Obama representative purportedly offered him hush money during the 2008 presidential campaign allegedly to keep his mouth shut about Obama’s alleged radical views. This claim was preposterous and snickered away. But Wright’s other claim that Obama has an “Islamic background” is far more troubling, and has some potential for creating mischief.
Wright strongly implies that Obama is a closet Muslim and that despite Wright’s best efforts to transform him into a devout Christian during the days he was his pastor, Obama still embraces radical Islam. This is just a short step to conclude that Obama’s many professions and expressions of his Christian beliefs are little more than a gigantic fraud to hoodwink the Christian faithful that he’s one of them. It’s an even shorter step from there to say that Obama is doing everything he can to subvert American values.
Many Obama loathers, of course, don’t need Wright to draw that conclusion about Obama. But Wright saying it, media outlets playing it up, and the timing of it coming as the 20212 presidential campaign heats up, give it some currency.
The puzzle though is why Wright continues to be the GOP’s willing accomplice to bash Obama. There’s some truth that Wright’s statements have been taken wildly out of context, deliberately mangled and twisted, and packaged to make him Obama look bad. But that is irrelevant. Wright is no babe in the woods politically. He well knows that any utterance he makes about Obama is guaranteed to make news somewhere, and likely to be distorted. The quip about Obama’s alleged Islamic background is a near textbook example of that. He probably put some context to it in the interview. It didn’t matter. That fragment was enough to give ammunition to paint Obama with the radical Islamic brush. Whether Wright craves and revels in the media attention is not known. It’s also not clear whether there’s some resentment on his part at Obama’s perceived kicking him under the bus during the 2008 campaign. And keeping the door tightly closed to him during his first term. Wright in 2009 publicly blurted out that Obama’s “Jews were keeping him away from the president.”
But in politics timing is everything. The quotes that Wright utters about Obama and Islam are little more than convenient code words and terms that are routinely used to reinforce the deep suspicions among ultra-conservative Christian Evangelicals about Obama’s White House doings and motives toward the Muslim world and the country. Many are convinced that there are indeed sinister forces at work in his administration. It does little good to repeatedly point out that few of them have or will back Obama at the polls. But with Obama’s recent support of gay marriage, and with Christian Evangelicals very much potentially a potent force in several of the must win battleground states, anything that further inflames them against Obama can have harmful political consequences. Wright also relearned another lesson about race and politics.
The tag of radical Islamist is further compounded with Obama with race. It's a touchy, volatile, and always polarizing issue that politicians step gingerly around whenever they can. That's especially true for Obama. Though he's done everything humanly possible to sell himself and his candidacy as the incarnation of inclusiveness, race neutrality, and unity, there are still the whispers and worries that a racial intent lurks just under the surface in his agenda.
But Wright seeming to call out Obama on his alleged Islamic beliefs could be the tipping point for some who are cautious but not hostile to Obama to make them belief that there is an organic link between racial radicalism and Islamic radicalism. And that it all comes crashing together in the Obama administration.
Wright has long been gone from the pulpit at Trinity United Church. Yet, his inflammatory barbs whether in or out of context about Obama are just too much of a goldmine that some in the GOP are more than eager to mine. While Romney may denounce the below the belt attacks on Obama and ignore Wright, others in the GOP will wink and nod at them. In a tight election contest, a sensational Wright quote can have a negative impact. If that happens then Wright has served a valued obstructionist purpose. That’s why the GOP can’t and won’t stop playing the Wright card against Obama.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
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