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Newsflash: Obama says "God bless America;" Plus: The Philly speech–Can Obama get his glow back? Update: Obama on Wright, "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community;" Hate-filled sermons were just "snippets;" Hey, let's point the finger at "talk show hosts and conservative commentators"

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 18, 2008 09:13 AM

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10:57am Eastern.

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10:40am Eastern…Waiting for Obama…has he ever used so many American flags?

Scroll down for updates…10:22am Eastern Waiting for Obama to speak…Drudge has the speech text…Obama refuses to disown Wright and sticks to the Wright-is-a-good-man-who’s-been-cherry-picked defense…10:50am Eastern Harris Wofford introducing Obama…10:55am Eastern…Obama takes the stage…

We know how his wife and his pastor feel about America. It’s finally dawned on Barack Obama that they have been undermining his glow of HopeNChange. The <a Baltimore Sun notes an interesting moment at a press conference he gave yesterday:

Barack Obama avoided questions on the teachings of his long-time pastor in a press conference here, promising to address racially tinged comments made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in a speech on race in America Obama plans to deliver Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Obama on Friday denounced as “inflammatory and appalling” comments Wright made that were circulated on video clips. Among them, Wright said blacks should sing “God damn American” instead of “God bless America.” Obama said he was not present when Wright made those comments.

But reporters at the press conference sought to probe Obama on his understanding of Wright’s views about white America and why he chose to raise his children at Trinty United Church of Christ, where Wright was pastor until recently.

Obama has had a long and close relationship with Wright, crediting the pastor with leading him to embrace Christianity and taking the title for his book “The Audacity of Hope” from one of Wright’s sermons. Obama was married by Wright and his children were baptized by Wright.

At a rally shortly before his press conference today, Obama uncharacteristically ended his remarks with the phrase “God bless America.”

Obama’s Philadelphia speech begins at 10:15am.

Michelle Obama has rearranged her schedule to be by his side. Obama says he’s going to distance himself from “stupid statements.” Does that include hers?

Democrat Barack Obama is seeking to distance himself from “stupid statements” by his longtime pastor that have aggravated racial divisions in the contentious Democratic primary battle. He is calling for both sides to tone down their rhetoric.

The Illinois senator is using a speech at a site near the nation’s birthplace to present what his campaign said would be a comprehensive take on “race, politics, and unifying our country.”

Among other things, the Illinois Democrat was seeking to calm the uproar over racially tinged sermons by his former pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, remarks that have threatened to undercut Obama’s campaign theme of easing the racial divide.

Wright had been Obama’s pastor for nearly 20 years until retiring recently, and officiated at Obama’s wedding and baptized his two daughters. His inflammatory statements have been cited by Obama detractors, including comments that blacks continue to be mistreated by whites and a suggestion that U.S. “terrorism” helped bring on the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The conversation over the last couple of days has been dominated by some stupid statements that were made by Reverend Wright, but also caricatures of Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ — which, by the way, is part of a denomination that is overwhelmingly white. I think that that has distracted us from the possibilities of moving beyond some of these arguments,” Obama said in an interview with PBS.

Obama has also said he does not want to “kick him when he’s down,” given Wright’s recent retirement.

Obama was addressing supporters at the National Constitution Center, a museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution.

Jen Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman, said that Obama wanted to deliver the speech because “the issue of race has received an enormous amount of attention” over the past few weeks and “he thought it was an appropriate moment to discuss his thoughts on the issue.”

***

The Obama strategy for talking to whites: “No sudden moves.”

From the Drudge text of the speech:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. 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 – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed…

…Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. 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 bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

ABC News isn’t buying it. They follow up today:

More From Obama’s Pastor: U.S. a Racist Superpower

…”I think the caricature that’s been painted of him is not accurate,” Obama said Monday. “And so, part of what I’ll do tomorrow is just to talk a little bit about how some of these issues are perceived from within the black church community, for example, which I think views this very differently.”

Sen. Obama last week denounced two of Rev. Wright’s sermons blaming the 9/11 attacks on “U.S. terrorism” and calling on blacks to sing “God Damn American” instead of “God Bless America.”

But Obama defended Rev. Wright’s “social gospel” and said he agreed with some of his points, including issues relating to Africa.

Other sermons reviewed by ABC News, from videotapes sold by the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, reflect Rev. Wright’s repeated attacks on the U.S. government as a “racist and arrogant superpower” that does not value its black citizens.

In one sermon in October 2005, Rev. Wright addressed the racial elements at play in the wake of Hurricane Katrina….

Ed and Allah liveblogging at HA.

10:50am Eastern. Harris Wofford introducing Obama.

10:56am Eastern. Obama begins.

11:02am Eastern.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

11:05am Eastern. Here we go again with the minimizing of Wright’s theological demagoguery as mere “snippets.”

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

11:10am Eastern. Obama just delivered this line:

“These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.”

It was delivered rather perfunctorily.

The crowd claps for the first time for this:

“And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

11:19am Eastern. Here we go with the moral equivalence card and pointing the finger at “conservative commentators…”

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now.

11:23am Eastern. Obama goes for the glow. Audience applause:

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

11:28 Eastern.

We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

11:31am Eastern. Obama invokes Ashley Baia.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

The wrap-up:

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Obama’s bottom line: Everyone’s a victim. You’re part of the problem if you keep talking about Jeremiah Wright. Everyone’s churches have crazy demagogues. Schools need more money. Leave illegal aliens alone. Never mind all the black grievance-mongers who have built careers sowing seeds of divisions. Look at all the talk show hosts and conservative commentators! Elect Obama. Fixer of souls.

***

Best takedown of Obamessiah of the day: Right here.

Another good one: Ace rips Obama’s hemming and hawing.

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