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Why the Wright Flap May Help, Not Hurt, Obama

With all the digital ink being spilled over Obama’s connection to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Wright’s controversial remarks, two things that may ultimately help Obama may come out of this.

First, consider the results of a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll conducted last week. The survey results indicate that since December the number of people who believe Obama is a Muslim jumped from 8% to 13%. That’s a 62% increase in only three months. How many “middle of the road” Americans received the “Obama is a Muslim” e-mail from friends and either read it or passed it to someone else? Now pretend your Obama and the “whisper” campaign is that you’re really a dirty terrorist in hiding. Anything that focuses the public attention on your twenty year membership is a Christian church may be a very, very good thing.

The downside to the focus on your church is the random ranting of your pastor. So what do you do? The same thing you did with Farakhan – you distance yourself from the specifics. In this case, however, you focus on the Christian connection. Obama did just that with his Huffington Post column.

I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it’s on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue. …

As I have written about in my books, I first joined Trinity United Church of Christ nearly twenty years ago. I knew Rev. Wright as someone who served this nation with honor as a United States Marine, as a respected biblical scholar, and as someone who taught or lectured at seminaries across the country, from Union Theological Seminary to the University of Chicago. He also led a diverse congregation that was and still is a pillar of the South Side and the entire city of Chicago. It’s a congregation that does not merely preach social justice but acts it out each day, through ministries ranging from housing the homeless to reaching out to those with HIV/AIDS.

This post may actually be the perfect response to the kerfuffle. It acknowledges Wright’s comments, denounces them in no uncertain terms, and then goes on to highlight 20 years as a Christian and a life spent fighting for social justice. It’s actually brilliant.

In All’s Fair, the book he co-wrote with wife Mary Matalin, James Carville explains the Clinton debate tactics in very specific terms – Answer, explain, attack. That’s exactly what Obama has done with this response. He answers the charge (I denounce this), explains why he believes the charge is unfounded (this is a guy who fought for civil rights and continues to do so), and attacks the whisper campaign by focusing on his religious identity. The fact that he has done this using the Internet should force the response to go viral. Had he written the same column in the New York Times, it would have been forgotten tomorrow. On HuffPo, it will be chattered about by bloggers for some time to come.

In all, this is a very crafty ploy by Obama. He could have followed the traditional PR tricks and half-denounced the connection while trying not to give the story legs. Instead, he tackled it directly and used the opening to push the “I’m a long-time Christian” very forcefully.

Written by Michael Turk