Wright and wrong

    What a shame it is that billionaire Joe Ricketts, the paymaster of an anti-Obama super PAC, has decided to reject a TV ad strategy that would’ve linked the president to his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It would have been so entertaining to watch that organization waste tens of millions of bucks in a pitiful replay of early 2008 – a demagogic guilt-by-association exercise that would’ve sucked Mitt Romney right into its muck.Good sense and cooler heads appear to have prevailed. This political flap exploded and fizzled like a cheap firecracker, galvanizing the political world yesterday for roughly five hours – from the unveiling of the Wright strategy on page one of the New York Times (the pitch to Ricketts: “The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way”) to the announcement by a Ricketts aide, in early afternoon, that the strategy idea had been junked.Brian Baker, who heads Ricketts’ super PAC (which is called Ending Spending), essentially said in a statement that Ricketts was distancing himself with all deliberate speed from the uproar triggered by the Times story: “Not only was this (Wright strategy) merely a proposal – one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors – but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects, and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take…His efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally.”That decision must be a huge disappointment for the Obama haters who want to divide us socially and culturally. They’ve deluded themselves these past four years into believing that a mega-focus on Jeremiah Wright would doom Obama on election day, and they were ticked off at John McCain back in ’08 when he refused to detonate that bomb – and now they’ve lost out again.

    But you know what? Ricketts is doing them a favor, because that kind of explosion would’ve blown up in their faces and wounded Romney as well. Tactically speaking, it would’ve been brain-dead stupid. There’s no need here to detail the Wright saga (it’s so spring of ’08) but the gist, lest you may have forgotten, is that Wright occasionally said incendiary stuff in the Christian church where Obama worshiped. Nothing freaks out Fox News and the Republican right like the specter of a scary black man – Wright once said “God damn America,” and said that 9/11 was “America’s chickens…coming home to roost” – and Obama was clearly well acquainted with this perceived scary black man. (Although Obama was not in church on the key days in question when Wright God-damned America and invoked the chickens.)Yes, there was some restiveness among voters early on, when Wright’s worst verbal moments were being replayed in endless loops on cable TV. But what the haters seem to forget – what they probably willed themselves not to have heard in the first place – is that Obama basically extinguished the Wright issue in April ’08 during a speech on race relations in Philadelphia. The issue had dogged him that early spring because he’d allowed it to fester. Then it died, fast. Any conservative foolish enough to try to resurrect the issue in 2012 would’ve discovered that it was still dead.I was at that speech, and I still have the transcript. Here’s how Obama put Wright to rest: “Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely….(Sometimes Wright) expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam. As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems….(Wright’s comments have) denigrated the greatness and goodness of our nation.”How could conservatives successfully gin up Wright as a political issue in 2012 – given the fact that Obama already broke with the guy, at length and on the record, in 2008?And if Ricketts had said yes to Wright-Obama ads, they would’ve blown back on Romney. He and his people are sensitive about the Mormon factor and any discussion of religion. Linking Obama to a controversial church leader – even if it was conducted by super PAC proxy – would’ve opened Romney to the charge that he was condoning an attack on Obama’s freedom of worship. And if Obama sat in a pew for years while Wright made incendiary statements, would it not have become fair game to ask whether Romney, in all his years as a Mormon leader, had listened to remarks that many Americans today might find objectionable? That’s the problem with guilt by association – it’s a slippery slope.No wonder Romney surfaced at midday to say, “I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described.” (The man has a way with words.) And it was surely more than the fear of blowback that prompted his response. He and his people are smart enough to recognize such a dumb political idea. Because only zealots could possibly think that demagogic personal attacks on a well-liked president would somehow bring him down. And any day talking about an oldie from ’08 is a day not spent talking about the economy of 2012.——

    I did a newspaper column today on the political demise of Dick Lugar, and why it’s a metaphor for Washington’s ever-worsening dysfunction.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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