The Wright Stuff

Is Jeremiah Wright untouchable?

Barack Obama’s minister, who leads the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and who coined the phrase “the audacity of hope,” has said some controversial things over the years. But new videos of his sermons, purchased and reported on by Fox News, could up the ante . Especially the one in which he goes after Hillary : “Hillary is married to Bill, and Bill has been good to us. No he ain’t! Bill did us, just like he did Monica Lewinsky. He was riding dirty,” Wright said.

Obama has distanced himself from Wright in the past, comparing him to “an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don’t agree with,” but he hasn’t severed ties. (Wright serves on his African-American Religious Leadership Committee.) In fact, the Obama campaign doesn’t seem to have done anything to restrain Wright, or at least not successfully: He delivered the “Hillary” speech on Jan. 13 of this year.

Curiously, though, Clinton hasn’t spoken out. After the resignations of Samantha Power last week and Geraldine Ferraro yesterday, you’d think both campaigns would have a hair trigger when it comes to insults. Clinton was also adamant that Obama “reject and denounce” Louis Farrakhan. Wright hasn’t insulted entire groups of people like Farrakhan did, but, still, why give him a free pass? Also, it’s not just about Hillary’s pride. Wright may have violated tax code rules that prohibit churches from participating in political campaigns. It’s unclear whether the IRS will take action, but a rival campaign could legitimately gripe about it.

Three theories on why Clinton is holding back: 1) She doesn’t want to start a race war—at least not right now. Ferraro did enough damage by claiming she was being attacked “because I’m white.” To go after Wright would look as if they’re trying to push the same narrative. 2) Wright is enormously popular. It’s not as if Hillary is going to be making inroads on the African-American vote anytime soon—Obama won 91 percent of blacks in Mississippi—but she’d rather not piss off people whose vote she needs in the general. 3) Wright is right. However inflammatory his rhetoric, his basic case against Hillary—that she doesn’t understand the American black experience in the way Obama does—is irrefutable. “Hillary Clinton has never been called a nigger,” he said in one video. And it’s something Clinton would rather not draw attention to. While his words were disrespectful, they weren’t necessarily wrong .

If Clinton does in fact come out and condemn Wright, it will be Obama’s purest test of loyalty vs. exigency. It’s one thing to distance yourself from a friend and quietly ask him to tone it down. It’s another to throw him under the bus.

 Update 2:55 p.m.: Instaputz points out a fourth possible reason for Clinton to hold back: Her own pastor’s unseemly remarks .