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Sweet: Obama's biggest campaign crisis. Will he "blame Washington" for not distancing himself from Rezko, Wright?

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PHILADELPHIA, PA.--Words are powerful--whether Sen. Barack Obama's soaring, unifying rhetoric or the divisive language from his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. "Just words," as Obama often has observed, fuel movements of hope and change. Obama's words--in a speech here Tuesday near Independence Hall--about race and Wright will determine if his campaign will be crippled by the Wright controversy.

But if his approach is to "blame Washington" for his political problems stemming from his association with Wright and Tony Rezko--an Obama fund-raiser now on trial in Chicago on federal corruption charges--as he did in an interview Monday with Gwen Ifill of PBS, it will be harder to get this episode behind him. A major strategic plank of the Obama campaign is to run against Washington.

Ifill asked if his relations with Rezko and Wright reflected on his judgement. Obama said, "And probably what’s true is because I haven’t been in Washington as long as Senator Clinton or others that I have not distanced myself from these people for as long a period of time as somebody more steeped in Washington politics might have."

Obama did not blame Washington on Saturday, when he spoke in Plainfield, Ind. about Wright, previewing how he might handle things Tuesday. In that speech, he said right off some of Wright's statements "were incendiary" and he rejected that language.

On Saturday, Obama sought to portray Wright as more than a polarizing figure—someone who bears the scares of racism-- while conceding that “if all I knew was those statements that I saw on television, I would be shocked. And it just reminds me that we've got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country. We’ve got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding.”

With all that, Obama drew loud cheers when he added, “But what I continue to believe in is that this country wants to move beyond these kinds of divisions.”

MS. IFILL: The distinction between you and Senator Clinton that’s been drawn by both of you over the last several weeks has been judgment versus experience. So let me ask you about your judgment on some issues, not only Reverend Wright and your association with him over the years but also Tony Rezko who you’ve talked a lot about recently, the Chicago developer who is now on trial on federal charges. Do you think that your association with those two people or people we don’t know about would raise questions about your judgment?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, no, look, all of us have people in our lives who we meet, we get to know, in some cases form friendships with, who end up getting themselves into trouble or say things that we don’t agree with. And probably what’s true is because I haven’t been in Washington as long as Senator Clinton or others that I have not distanced myself from these people for as long a period of time as somebody more steeped in Washington politics might have. But keep in mind, on all these issues, there is no allegations that I’ve done anything wrong, just as in the situation with Reverend Wright there is no allegation that I’ve said something that was inappropriate. And so I think the American people recognize that all of us have friends or associates or people who we meet along the way who are not ideal or perfect. But that’s part of what life is about.

Obama on Rezko and Wright in Ifill interview.

IFILL: But let’s talk about political judgment. Neither of these are new issues. Are these things you could have laid to rest some months ago?

OBAMA: Well, no, I mean, part of the reason that I went into talk to the Chicago papers about the Rezko matter was there was the suggestion that we hadn’t laid it to rest. And in fact, I was before the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune sometimes for a combined three hours. (NOTE--HE WAS AT THE TRIB 90 MINUTES AND THE SUN-TIMES 80 MINUTES) And in fact, we had answered almost every question that they had raised previously. And the Chicago Tribune issued a very lengthy editorial afterwards indicating the fact that, well, you know what? He has actually disclosed exhaustively what this relationship was. And it was in which I had nothing to do with the wrongdoing that Mr. Rezko is accused of.

I understand though that I’m now a presidential candidate. So having done this six or nine months ago, it was probably important for us to do it again. And I suspect when I’m the nominee of the Democratic Party, the same crop of questions will come up. We’ll have to do it again three months from now.


9 Comments

It is The Media that at making more of this position with Barack Obama's Pastor. My Faith is Strong, but I never go to Church for the sake of one Pastor, also can Barack Obama or myself be blamed for anything my Pastor may or not say?

What the media should pick up on are false claims that Barack Obama was present at the Church on certain dates, like one claimed yesterday, when he was at a conference in Miami. This is a propaganda campaign by the Clinton Team and it could just come back on them, as the Voters not the media are not impressed with all these personal attacks.

I note all my recent comments have never appeared, censorship? by the Clinton Campaign, I hope not.

So Obama will come clean only if he's forced to? Three months from now, when he says he will address this again, will we learn that really he took $500,000 from Rezko and that he actually received a sweetheart mortgage deal from Rezko's friends at the bank? When will the hypocrisy end? Obama is transformational? Give us a break!

The world is full of crabby old men (and ladies - if you recall the question to John McCain of "How do we beat the B*tch"?" during a primary campaign stop last year). People have opinions and they express them. Obama is correct in his non-rejection of the man - but rejection of the remarks made. I look very carefully at what each candidate says and is willing to do to further the goal of nomination. John McCain is a lost cause with his 180 flip-flop of many positions to garner support from the fringe right. Hillary has completely lost me with her campaign's denigrating tone; attempting to reduce Obama (and those that support him) to a speech machine without experience and substance. She also has adopted the screech mentality of the Rove-inspired screech machine in order to take comments out of context and rail against the speaker with amplified indignation. It's pitiful to watch, I used to think very highly of her and now find her hard to listen to. I've watched Obama during his campaign for Senate and now for the Democratic nomination. I've been impressed by his willingness and attempts to keep the campaigns on a positive note and based on the issues. The attention span of a number of Americans is in question when they can be swung by a sound bite taken for a PR ride to smear by association. Barack is more impressive each day and will make a fine Commander-in-Chief. I suspect Hillary will be just more-of-the-same and we have to realize that John McCain is certainly just that - willing to pander and doing so shamelessly. Seven years of George "DoubleDoh" Bush has presented the new President with a series of challenges that will take years to completely unravel. I'm not sure why anyone would want that job - but I'm convinced and satisfied that Barack will be equal to the task.

It is the MEDIA that is taking this COUNTRY for a dangerous ride. The lop-sided manuevering is unfair to both candidates. But the Clinton campaign started this race strategy, which backfired when Bill Clinton tried to make comparisons with Obama's candidacy in SC and Jesse Jackson's. The Clintons should really change their party affiliation. They are really Republicans! Sen. Obama will come out of this on top!

Obama: Dadgumit! How can I weasel Jeremiah's words into something acceptable to the taste, that is, something sufficiently vague for the flavor of the times? Ahhh, how can I 'change' it.

Whoa, this will do.

What my Mentor actually said was, "Omniscient Originator, kindly execrate this polity."

The speech was not a maneuver to avoid scrunity. I'm shocked the Wilson’s’ would, flank HRC legitimacy of deceptive weapons they, themselves exposed this deception. It cost them their jobs People want Barrack to deny his entire existence; it seems. He has said in the most sincere tones both his White grandmother and Rev Wright have made inciendry remarks. He did not accept those remarks; instead he confessed the way it helped shaped him into seeing the love and sacrifices made. His grandparents working hard to provide love and care for him. Rev Wright’s devotion to building hope in the Black community thru various ways to love and help people e.g. daycare, scholarships, etc. Give Obama credit for using his brain. People hear and except what they want.
If they weren’t moved by this MLK jr type speech, probably you were anti-Obama from the beginning.

"Posted by MITZI MORRIS Mar 18, 11:38PM
Obama's speech today hardly convinced. He obviously has lied when he told Fox as I heard him say on Friday, "If I ever heard him say anything like this I would have objected before. I objected when I STARTED RUNNING, BUT HE REMAINED ON MY RELIGIOUS ADVISORY BOARD.When asked again if in 20 yrs he had heard these infammatory remarks and accusations of hate speeche, he said, "I never heard him say anything like these speeches, Never."

Then today he said he DID hear these, but we white folks are too square to understand how anger is never forgotten and we don't know what happens in Black Churches. He refused to reject Wright.We shold all keep this a race issue, of course."

"Will he 'blame Washington' for not distancing himself from Rezko, Wright?"

With all due respect, after the speech he made today, I'd say that question reflects much more as an answer about the quality of thought made by the author of the question than it serves as a legitimate question about the quality of the man.

It looks like a downright silly question of a candidate who quite clearly is operating on a considerably superior intellectual plane.

So according to Obama if your German then Adolf Hitler was okay?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 18, 2008 1:48 AM.

Sweet: Obama Tuesday speech will be on Rev. Wright about how the "black church community" may see race issues "very differently." was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet: Obama finished writing speech at 2 a.m. Gail Sheehy says Obama challenge is to explain the "positive mission" of his church. is the next entry in this blog.

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