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.
If Barack Obama accepted the endorsement of a minister who called for eradicating Judaism, praised that minister, and campaigned with that minister, what would the media reaction be? Would Fox News not go nuts over that--especially if there were video? Would CNN and MSNBC not provide plenty of air time to outraged commentators demanding that Obama denounce this minister and reject his support? Would The New York Times and The Washington Post not devote inches of columns to news stories and columns dissecting the relationship between Obama and the minister and use the occasion for big-think articles probing the relationship between blacks and Jews?
With that in mind, let's turn to an exchange between Chris Wallace and Bill Kristol from this Sunday on Fox News:
WALLACE: With all the talk about Obama and Reverend Wright, I got a bunch of email this past week from viewers who said: "Why don't you ever talk about McCain and the evangelical -- some of the evangelical ministers who have endorsed him?" And let's put up a couple of these: Reverend John Hagee, who has called the Catholic Church a "false cult," and Reverend Rod Parsley, who has attacked Islam and said that Allah was a "demon spirit." Do you think it's fair, Bill, to compare McCain's, quote, "ministers" to Obama's pastor?
KRISTOL: No, because these are just individuals who've endorsed Senator McCain. I think, actually, some of the attacks, especially on Reverend Hagee, are unfair. But leaving that aside, no. This would be like attacking Obama because random individuals in the Democratic Party have endorsed him. Obama and Wright have a close relationship. Obama chose, not just to join Reverend Wright's church, but to stay there over 20 years. And that's what hurts him.
Talk about intellectual honesty--or the lack thereof. Kristol is right (to a degree) that the Obama case and the McCain case are different. Obama had a long and personal relationship with Wright (which, depending on your view, might make the matter better or worse). But McCain, out of political expedience, made common cause with Hagee (a well-known anti-Catholic, who called Catholicism the "great whore" and a "false cult system") and with Parsley, who has called for western Christian nations, in particular the United States, to destroy (literally) the "false religion" of Islam. McCain sought and accepted the endorsement of each of these fundamentalist pastors. He campaigned with Parsley before the Ohio primary and called him a "spiritual guide."
In Barack Obama's latest email pitch for donations, his campaign manager, David Plouffe, writes:
Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are reading from the same political playbook as they attack Barack on foreign policy.
They have both criticized Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists if others can't or won't act.
And they have both dismissed his call for renewed diplomacy as naïve while mistakenly standing behind George Bush's policy of non-engagement that just isn't working....
Barack is facing a two-front battle against Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.
Plouffe is trying to hit Clinton (and McCain) from both the left and the right (or the dovish and hawkish sides) simultaneously. But he stepped over the line regarding the former.
On the first point, Plouffe is referring to the criticism Obama drew when he suggested he would, as president, strike unilaterally against al Qaeda in Pakistan if he possessed solid intelligence and if the Pakistani government did not act. With this claim, he was obviously trying to show that he could be damn tough--even cowboy tough--when it comes to the fight against Islamic terrorists. Critics blasted him for recklessness, but it turns out that the Bush administration has mounted these sorts of attacks to take out al Qaeda leaders.
On the second point--that Clinton has "mistakenly" stood behind Bush's "policy of non-engagement"--Plouffe is stretching the facts. Clinton did jump on Obama when Obama vowed at the CNN/YouTube debate that he would meet with the thug-leaders of Iran, North Korea, and Cuba in his first year as president. But as Clinton has repeatedly said, refusing to promise meetings with these leaders in the first year of a presidency is hardly equivalent to a policy of non-engagement. She has repeatedly slammed Bush's unilateralism and called for a vigorous revival of American diplomacy and multilateralism.
Plouffe wants to lump Clinton and McCain together to show that Obama is the candidate of change taking on two candidates of Washington conventionalism. Obama does have a case in this regard. (Both Clinton and McCain share responsibility for the Iraq war.) But this argument does not extend to Clinton endorsing Bush go-it-alone-ism. Given that the Obama campaign often complains (justifiably) about the Clinton camp's truth-twisting oppo research, Plouffe ought to be more careful.
It's been over a week since this site broke the news that John McCain campaigned with (and accepted the endorsement of) a televangelist who has called for eradicating Islam, and McCain has not publicly renounced, rejected, denounced or disavowed the Reverend Rod Parsley, who is an important player in Ohio politics. McCain's campaign did tell Fox News that McCain does not agree with all of Parsley's views. But that's not much of a response to Parsley's call for a holy war to destroy the "false religion" of Islam. One could argue that Jeremiah Wright never went that far—and look what Barack Obama had to go through (justifiably).
McCain's campaign press office refuses to respond to a request for comment on this. He is trying to duck and cover. Not much courage there.
With racial sentiments swirling in the 2008 campaign—notably, Geraldine Ferraro's claim that Barack Obama is not much more than an affirmative action case and the controversy over his former pastor's over-the-top remarks—Senator Obama on Tuesday morning responded to these recent fusses with a speech unlike any delivered by a major political figure in modern American history. While explaining—not excusing—Reverend Jeremiah Wright's remarks (which Obama had already criticized), he called on all Americans to recognize that even though the United States has experienced progress on the racial reconciliation front in recent decades (Exhibit A: Barack Obama), racial anger exists among both whites and blacks, and he said that this anger and its causes must be fully acknowledged before further progress can be achieved. Obama did this without displaying a trace of anger himself.
Speaking in Philadelphia, Obama celebrated his own racial heritage but also demonstrated his ability to view the black community with a measure of objectivity and, when necessary, criticism—caring criticism. But this was no Sister Souljah moment. He did not sacrifice Wright for political ends. He hailed the good deeds of his former minister, noting that Wright's claim that America continues to be a racist society is rooted in Wright's generational experiences. And Obama identified the sources of racial resentment held by whites without being judgmental. With this address, Obama was trying to show the nation a pathway to a society free of racial gridlock and denial. Moreover, he declared that bridging the very real racial divide of today is essential to forging the popular coalition necessary to transform America into a society with a universal and effective health care system, an education system that serves poor and rich children, and an economy that yields a decent-paying jobs for all. Obama was not playing the race card. He was shooting the moon.
Obama delivered his speech in a stiff manner. The melodious lilt and cascading tones that typically characterize his campaign addresses were not present. This was a speech in which the words—not the delivery—counted. He began with a predictable notion: slavery was the original sin of the glorious American project. Removing that stain has been the nation's burden ever since, and he tied his campaign to that long-running endeavor: "This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign—to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America." And he proclaimed that due to his own personal story—"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas"—he both recognizes the need to heal this divide and possesses an "unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people." Unlike the black leaders of recent years, Obama identified with both the winners and losers of America: "I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible." He is E Pluribus Unum.
I was at a fancy Washington party of politicos this weekend and the No. 1 topic of conversation was the Reverend Jeremiah Wright--that is, what could Barack Obama do about Wright's assorted controversial statements. (Was Jesus really black?) With Fox News and others leading the charge--the cable news network had found videos of Wright's over-the-top sermons for sale at his church's gift shop--Obama quickly distanced himself from his onetime pastor's more provocative statements. ("No one ever said it was going to be easy to elect a black man president," an Obama supporter told me at this party.)
But Obama is not just hunkering down. Today his campaign announced he would deliver a "major address on race, politics, and how we bring our country together at this important moment in our history." Do you think this was scheduled prior to the Wright dustup? Not likely. Will it do anything to counter whatever political damage has been (or can be) done by Wright's remarks? Probably not. Still, it might be necessary. Then again, Obama has done rather well so far by not emphasizing matters of race. With the racial divide apparently growing starker in the recent Democratic primaries (with whites voting for the white candidate and blacks voting for the black candidate), one can only wonder if addressing race explicitly in this rather political manner is to Obama's advantage. But when a preacher speaks, sometimes you have no choice but to take action.
And the dog that didn't bark: There's been no Hillary Clinton campaign conference call in which Clinton aides decry Wright's remarks and push reporters to devote more attention to this matter. After the South Carolina primary and after Geraldine Ferraro, the Clintonites certainly realize they must treat gingerly any matter that involves race. And why yelp when there's already plenty of noise?