…much of the country is questioning Barack Obama’s judgment.

If, as suggested, one of his tasks was to…

Somehow convince the electorate that his long and close
association with Rev. Wright — including donating thousands of dollars
to his church — was not an egregious error in judgment bearing upon his
fitness to be president.

…many commentators, and some his admirers before now, think he failed.

Obama acknowledged hearing Wright make controversial
statements, although not as offensive as those played recently on
television. But he never explained why he hadn’t immediately confronted
Wright at that time. And his suggestion that Wright’s statements were
the product of surviving as a black man in the environment of the
Fifties and Sixties, that one shouldn’t be surprised to hear them in a
black church, is a calumny: most black Americans of Wright’s age,
however wronged they might’ve been, no matter how bitter they have
reason to be, would never say “God damn America,” particularly in the
days after 9/11. Furthermore, few churches — black or white, regardless
of denomination — would long retain their congregations if their
pastors raged that America brought 9/11 on itself and that we created
the AIDS virus.

The speech offered up moral equivalence, and it was inappropriate.

The message? Some of us are never quite responsible for
what we say. And Obama has no responsibility to explain the
inexplicable of how he closely tied himself to someone of such
repugnant and racist views. We will never hear “It’s time for Rev.
Wright and me to part our separate ways, and here’s why.”

Instead, the entire Wright controversy evolved due to America’s
failure to understand the Wright’s past and the present status of race.

The post-racial candidate is suddenly embroiled in a racial divide. He comes before the country to bridge that gap before it ruptures further, and in the sincerity of his message, the great uniter brings it down to what divides us.

“We do not need to recite here the history of racial
injustice in this country,” he said. He proceeded to do just that,
referring to slavery, Jim Crow laws, Brown v. Board of Education,
economic and job discrimination against blacks, and a lack of services
in urban neighborhoods. These are the conditions, he said, which gave
rise to the kind of anger that fueled Mr. Wright’s statements, which
earned the pastor accusations of being unpatriotic and anti-white.

This is the New York Times. Even their reporting conveys how jarring this episode is.

Presidential politics usually requires candidates to
either wholly adopt or reject positions and people. Mr. Obama did
neither with his pastor, rejecting his most divisive statements but
also filling in the picture of Mr. Wright and his church.

“The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce
intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes,
the love and, yes, the bitterness and biases that make up the black
experience in America,” Mr. Obama said.

That phrase, “the black experience in America,” is suddenly the
central topic, forcing a nation that seemed to be moving past such
division to square off in a jolting confrontation with its ugly,
lingering presence.

Again, the New York Times:

Mr. Obama aimed his speech directly at voters like Linda
Smith, a 64-year-old retired teacher from Fishers, Iowa, a lifelong
Republican who flirted with voting for her first Democrat — Mr. Obama —
until she heard his pastor’s words. “To me Wright’s comments were
outrageous and undo everything Barack says he’s trying to do, which is
unite people,” she said. She tuned in eagerly to hear Mr. Obama’s
address, which struck her as sincere and thoughtful. “It helped me
understand a little bit how he could tolerate Wright’s comments,” she
said.

But Mr. Obama has not yet won her back to his side. “I still don’t
quite understand completely why he would stay in a church like that,
unless it’s a typical black church,” she said.

“There’s a large black church here in Indianapolis,” she mused, “and I just can’t believe the minister talks like that.”

And so now, his campaign is about race after all. 

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....