Race and the US presidency

April 29, 2008 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, April 29 – Barack Obama’s fiery former minister thrust his way back into the US presidential campaign Monday, again placing the divisive issue of race at the heart of the Democratic White House tussle. 

An unapologetic Reverend Jeremiah Wright hit back at weeks of criticism over his incendiary comments, saying the controversy was an attack on the black church and that his remarks had been taken out of context. 

"Maybe now an honest dialogue about race in this country will begin — a dialogue which was commendably called by Senator Obama," he added. 

Despite Obama’s best attempts to distance himself from his former pastor, the scandal has refused to die down as the Illinois senator seeks to become the country’s first black president. 

"I repeat again that some of the comments that Reverend Wright has made offend me, and I understand why they’ve offended the American people," he told reporters Monday in North Carolina, which holds a key primary May 6. 

"He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign," Obama said. 

Obama’s senior aide David Axelrod admitted the "hours and hours" of Wright on cable news could wound Obama in his tussle with former first lady Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s nominee in the November polls. 

"To the extent that people impute to Senator Obama words that are not his and sentiments that are not his, it’s obviously not helpful." 

In caustic sermons made in 2001 and circulated recently on the US media, Wright was seen claiming the United States brought on the September 11 attacks through its aggressive foreign policy and denouncing the government for its past treatment of black Americans. 

And on Monday, he denounced the controversy around his comments as an attack on the black church in a speech to some 200 people at the National Press Club. 

"This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church by people who know nothing about the African-American experience," he said. 

Wright said black churches have long been misunderstood by the "dominant culture," but he hoped they could finally emerge from the status of "invisible to invaluable." 

And he argued his statements from years ago in which he said "America’s chickens are coming home to roost"  were taken out of context. 

"I was quoting the (former) ambassador to Iraq," he said, referring to now-retired Edward Peck, who was interviewed on Fox News in October 2001 and warned against a war with Iraq. 

Obama has sought to fended off questions about his viability in the contest. 

"I don’t think that race is going to be a barrier in the general election," he said Sunday. 

But analyst Clay Richards, of Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said race was having an impact in 2008, as a Newsweek poll Monday showed that 41 percent of Americans had lowered their opinion of Obama amid the Wright row. 

"Race is very definitely part of the white working class vote," Richards said. "There are older whites who cannot bring themselves to vote for a black candidate for president." 

Wright on Monday once again waded into controversial waters, insisting that aggressive US foreign policy will ultimately hurt Americans. 

"Jesus said ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ You can not do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you," he said. 

And Republican presumptive nominee, John McCain, also weighed in Sunday, saying he "can understand why, that Americans, when viewing these kinds of comments, are angry and upset." 

Obama, son of a white mother and Kenyan father has repeatedly distanced himself from Wright, who preached at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and in the past denounced US and Israeli "terrorism" and alleged that AIDS was spread by the US government. 

But Wright insisted Obama has been forced to denounce his comments in order to pursue his White House bid, in his speech just days before the next make-or-break primaries in the states of Indiana and North Carolina on May 6. 

Front-runner Obama has a lead in North Carolina and is running neck-and-neck with Clinton in Indiana. 

Clinton will pick up a key endorsement from North Carolina Governor Mike Easley on Tuesday, media reported.


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