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.
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.
The Democratic contest has been a 50-50 proposition for months now--more precisely, a 51-49 percent endeavor or maybe a 52-48-percent face-off in Barack Obama's favor, according to the pledged delegate count and the popular vote. Hillary Clinton's 9-point win in the Keystone State (which apparently did not net her a significant pickup in pledged delegates) does not change this. In fact, her Pennsylvania triumph does not change the fundamentals of the race. Obama is still on track to end the primaries with a slight edge in pledged delegates. And Clinton is still in the race, clinging tightly to her candidacy and reiterating rationales to stay in the hunt: I have more experience; I'm better prepared to be commander-in-chief; I've withstood the worst of the GOP attack machine; I've won the big states.
Bottom line: It's not over, and the contest is not likely to end anytime soon. At HRC HQ in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign manager, ebulliently declared, "She is taking this all the way to Denver." But many Democratic superdelegates and insiders are hardly enthusiastic about a bitterly fought campaign that trudges through the next nine primaries (which conclude in early June) and then continues, as a media-driven contest of Democrat-on-Democrat sniping, for three months until the convention in Denver at the end of August. The question is, will these Democrats be able to do anything about it?
If Clinton is committed to going the distance, she cannot be stopped. No one--not even those mighty superdelegates--can literally force her out. She cannot win the final primaries by margins large enough to erase Obama's lead in voter-determined delegates. Everyone knows that. But she can keep on challenging Obama, doing well enough--winning some contests or placing a strong second--to justify, at least to herself and her supporters, her continued presence in the race. During that time, she can hope something happens that does alter the landscape (look, evidence that Obama is indeed a secret Muslim!), and she can also lay the groundwork for a post-primaries effort to persuade superdelegates to overturn Obama's narrow victory among pledged delegates. Yet that project can only succeed with successful assaults on Obama. Her path to the nomination depends on one fuel: fierce attacks. She can win the nomination only by tearing down Obama after the voting is done and by threatening party unity.