WASHINGTON -- After her campaign avoided commenting on Sen. Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for more than a week, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton plunged in Tuesday-- in reply to a question -- and said he wouldn't be her spiritual leader. Whatever her motive, her words served two purposes: to deflect attention from her false assertions she faced sniper fire in Bosnia and to revive the damaging Wright storyline just as it may have been waning.
"But I think, given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor," Clinton said, after being asked at a press conference whether Obama should have left his church, Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side. Videotapes of Wright's anti-American and anti-white sermons surfaced a few weeks ago.
Clinton spoke as she was campaigning in Pennsylvania a week after Obama delivered a well-received speech in Philadelphia on race relations and his pastor, aiming to quiet the Wright controversy -- the most serious challenge he has faced in his presidential quest. Obama said he could no more "disown" Wright than he could his own white grandmother, who at times harbored racist views.
Emphasizing that she was answering a question -- concerned, probably, about being accused of going on the offensive against Obama on Wright -- she alluded to Obama's reference to his grandmother.
"You know, we don't have a choice when it comes to our relatives. We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend. Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves. They are obviously very personal matters. But I was asked what I would do if he were my pastor. And I said I think the choice would be clear for me," she said.
Obama foreign policy adviser Greg Craig (who was one of President Clinton's lawyers) told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "It's unfortunate that she brings back this subject. She had a rough news day, and I think she wanted to take the attention away from the Bosnia story and put it back on the Rev. Wright story."
Craig brushed aside any notion that Clinton was merely answering a question, saying political figures are practiced at dodging questions. "She knows how to address issues that she wants to address, and she knows how not to address issues that she doesn't want. She chose to address this issue. . . . She's changing the subject," Craig said.
Clinton is being savaged by commentators for saying March 17 and last month that she faced sniper fire during a trip to Bosnia as first lady, but reviews of news coverage of the trip showed she did not. It was also hard to swallow that Secret Service agents -- and military personnel -- would allow her plane to land and let her disembark in a dangerous situation.
Realizing, perhaps, that in telling the story she was also disparaging her security, she tried to recover, saying she not only goofed but, "I think that the military and the Secret Service did a terrific job. But we certainly did take precautions. There is no doubt about that, and I remember that very clearly. But I did make a mistake in talking about it the last time and recently," she said, adding the episode only proves she is human -- a dicey way to show a personal side.