Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Barack Obama has a lead in pledged delegates and in all likelihood will end the primaries with more voter-determined delegates than Hillary Clinton. He's picking up superdelegates at a quicker pace than Clinton. He's ahead in the popular vote. Yet.....If one looks at the recent media coverage and the latest polls, it's hard not to wonder if Obama is losing altitude--and doing so at a dangerous rate. The media narrative of the race in the past month has been dominated by Wright and Bittergate. Do voters care about this stuff? Pundits and analysts argue--and wonder--about this. It's hard to tell how much of a connection exists between what appears on cable news shows--which only a few million Americans watch each night--and how voters view politics and render decisions.
As for the polls, it's always perilous to pay too much attention to them. But the latest polling data from both North Carolina and Indiana all point in a direction troubling for Obama. In early April in North Carolina, he led Clinton by 10 to 23 points in various surveys. Now, he has a 7-point edge. In Indiana, three recent polls have Clinton ahead by 5, 8, and 9 points.
Could Obama be sinking? Does he need a game-changer after the Wright to-do and the bitter "bitter" fuss? For political analysts, it is always tempting to overreact. That's what pundits and commentators do. It makes for better columns and better TV. Perhaps he'll do fine in North Carolina and Indiana, with voters in these states embracing him for the same reasons millions of Democrats elsewhere have done. But what if Obama truly is slipping and manages only to limp across the finish line? That's obviously what Clinton and her crew are betting on. And such an end to the primaries could lead to protracted political warfare within the Democratic Party. One question is, what can she really do if he ends up with more pledged delegates? But the flip side is, can he keep hope alive if he closes weakly?
It had to have been a tough moment for Barack Obama—the lowest moment of his campaign. At a press conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Tuesday afternoon, he denounced and rejected his one-time pastor.
After Reverend Jeremiah Wright's four-day media-fest—during which he spoke positively about Louis Farrakhan, equated attacks on himself as attacks on the black church, claimed that the brains of blacks and whites operate differently, mocked white people, and defiantly, if not arrogantly, defended the over-the-top comments that sparked the Wright controversy—Obama had to do something. With an expression of pain and sadness on his face, Obama said he had been "shocked" and "surprised" by Wright's performance Monday at the National Press Club. "I don't think anyone could attribute" Wright's ideas "to me," he remarked, noting that Wright was "wrong" and his recent statements "appalling." He insisted that Wright's remarks contradict "how I was raised," "my public life," "what I said in my book," "my 2004 convention speech," and "everything I've said on the campaign trail."
Referring to his speech last month on race—which was prompted by the first Wright eruption—Obama said that he had tried to "provide a context... and make something positive out of" the Wright affair. Regarding Wright's National Press Club appearance, Obama said it was "a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth. I can't construct something positive out of that." Wright, he observed, had "caricatured himself."
UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, Barack Obama denounced Wright's recent remarks and criticized him harshly. Read about it here.
One has to wonder about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. No doubt, he is angry, with some justification, about his treatment in the media, as decades of work and devotion have been compressed to seconds-long clips that emphasize a few extreme-sounding remarks. But he seems dedicated to firing back--or, speaking out--in a manner that it is politically harmful to the most famous member of his church: Barack Obama.
On Friday night, Wright appeared on Bill Moyers Journal and came across as thoughtful and provocative. Moyers played long excerpts of his controversial sermons, and Wright was able to explain some of his more inflammatory quotes ("God damn America" and 9/11 was the chickens "coming home to roost.") His explanations won't do much for voters who don't like angry black men. But when the context of the remarks are provided, they lose some of their edge. Wright's appearance on this PBS show was a net gain for Wright, and it did not seem to generate any political fallout for Obama. Then came Sunday night.
Speaking at an NAACP dinner in Detroit, Wright gave a fiery speech, noting that being different is not the same as being deficient, meaning that because blacks are different from whites they are not inferior. (As an example, Wright claimed that when it comes to music, blacks clap on different beats than whites.) In the speech, Wright mocked white attitudes toward blacks. He made fun of John Kennedy's Boston accent--particularly how Kennedy pronounced his most famous and inspiring line: "Ask not what your country...." He did so to make the point that black children who do not speak Middle-America English are no different from a president. Often breaking into a pretend "white" voice, he displayed a fair amount of disdain for white folks who fail to understand black folks.
On Saturday night, as I was sitting at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner--Washington's official prom--I had a vision of the future.
This is what I saw: it's decades from now, and historians and others are trying to understand what happened in the first years of the 21st century. That was when the United States government initiated a foolhardy war on the basis of fear and hyped-up threats. It was also a period when the people in charge did not take one of their last chances to deal with the real danger of global warming. And, of course, it was during those years that American leaders hocked the nation to China and the nation's global financial standing diminished. And these historians are asking, "What the hell went on."
Well, look at this old tape, one says, it just might explain. And they huddle over a holographic view-screen and watch as George W. Bush, the president during those years, is conducting the U.S. Marine Corps Band at the 2008 correspondents' dinner. He's mugging for the crowd, as he proceeds. The audience of journalists is laughing.
And when the song is over, Bush (and the band) receives rousing cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.
The Hillary Clinton campaign keeps ducking on the Weathermen issue that it tried to use against Barack Obama. First, campaign communications director Howard Wolfson broke a promise to tell reporters what Clinton thought of her husband's 2001 pardon of two Weather Underground radicals who had gone to jail for involvement in violent crimes. Then, yesterday, Clinton herself played dumb when asked about those pardons:
I didn't know anything about it? At what point? The question, though, is, what do you think of those pardons? In this interview, Clinton said, "When you run for president...you know that everything is going to be fair game." So if you're going to blast an opponent for having once held a fundraiser at the apartment of William Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical, you ought to be willing to handle questions regarding your closest campaign adviser's decision to pardon two Weather Underground veterans. That's certainly fair game.
Clarification: Clinton did not issue pardons to the two radicals; he commuted their prison sentences. Media accounts often conflate the two different actions. These two commutations were announced by the White House on January 20, 2001, as part of a long list of almost 140 pardons and commutations, which included the infamous pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich--which was a pardon.