Obama had to know all along that his Rev. Wright was a potential millstone around his neck. Last fall, though, fate handed him a potential solution when Don Imus made a vulgar off-hand comment on the radio about black lady basketball players. This set off one of our routine national moral panics over race where the usual suspects rushed to call for the white guy's head.
What Obama should have done with the silly Imus brouhaha was to take a stand for Imus in order to pre-emptively laugh off the Wright controversy before it (inevitably) started. Obama should have said, "Imus apologized, so let's give it a rest. Come on, lots of people say something outrageous now and then. Hey, at my church, we'd have to fire our pastor about once a month -- he's alway saying something over the top to get a reaction out of the congregation. Yeah, Rev. Wright's kind of a shock jock of the pulpit. So, let's not get so huffy about every little thing somebody says."
Would this have worked?
Maybe. It certainly would have reframed Rev. Wright as a less serious figure, while letting Obama look even-handed and even-tempered.
But there would have been problems:
- It would have been out of sync with the High Pompousness of the rest of the Obama's campaign.
- Obama was trailing Hillary among blacks at that point, and without a majority of blacks, he had no chance in the primaries, so breaking ranks with Jesse and Co. would have been dangerous.
- Wright might have gone ballistic. Keep in mind that Wright is not necessarily on Obama's side. He just might prefer to go down in history as the Willie Horton of 2008. It's not implausible that he's been passively-aggressively sabotaging Obama for some time -- his November 2007 lifetime achievement award for Farrakhan was clearly a bid for attention at Obama's expense. Who knows what damage Wright could do to Obama if his amour propre was seriously offended? Perhaps he taped a few private conversations with Obama?
So, the Obama-Axelrod calculation that it was best to rely on media political correctness to bulldoze over their Rev. Wright problem may well still be proven correct.