One of the more unfortunate episodes of the 2008 campaign had an unexpected sequel last week, and I don’t expect it to be the last one. According to the New York Times, a group of Republican strategists authored a plan to tie President Obama to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, in order to “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do.” The plan, presented for consideration to billionaire Joe Ricketts and overseen by GOP strategist Fred Davis, was meant to tie Obama to Wright in a series of television ads to air later this year.
The blueprint also featured such howlers as the need to find a spokesman who was an “extremely literate conservative African-American”—because most of them are illiterate, I guess—to serve as the public face of the project and counteract the president’s carefully cultivated image as “a metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”
Once the plan was leaked to the Times, everyone involved with the effort distanced themselves from it, with both Ricketts and Davis claiming the proposal was just one of many they were considering. Mitt Romney, who was not associated with the proposal, said he was repudiating the plan and vowed to not use the Wright issue during the campaign.
The episode shows just how much the President’s opponents have internalized certain narratives about Obama and how he got to be president.
On the issue of Jeremiah Wright, the right-wing narrative goes like this: The tapes of Wright, which featured the reverend on the pulpit making incendiary anti-American comments, surfaced in the spring of 2008. The media—with the exception of Fox News, talk radio and conservative blogs—kept the footage from the public, and therefore most people never saw it or heard about it. Obama successfully weathered the scandal, thanks in part to John McCain’s wimpy refusal to use the Wright issue against him. If only the media had made a bigger deal about Wright—and McCain had run “God Damn America!” ads in every swing state—Obama would never have become president.
That’s pretty far afield from what actually happened.
In reality, it was ABC News and reporter Brian Ross, not Fox, who broke the story of the Wright tapes. For several weeks in the spring of ’08, the Wright sermons were everywhere, reported on by every major news channel and newspaper, to the point where Obama gave the famous “race speech” at the National Constitution Center in an attempt to diffuse the situation.
At the presidential primary debate between Obama and Hillary Clinton, which was held in Philadelphia that April, ABC News moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, rather than ignoring the Wright issue, spent the first 45 minutes asking about Wright, Bill Ayers and other topics that had nothing to do with real issues. And McCain, with the memory of the 2000 South Carolina primary fresh in his mind, wanted no part of using populist racial resentment to win votes.
There are a lot of news stories that only Fox talks about, but Reverend Wright was very much not one of them.
The Wright story eventually dropped out of the news that summer for the reason things always drop out of the news: It was old news, and nothing new came of it. Other things happened in the ensuing months—the endgame of Obama/Hillary, both conventions, the rise of Sarah Palin, and the most calamitous economic meltdown in decades—that ended up having a much larger effect on the election.
And now, four years later, with no new information—and after three and a half years of an Obama presidency that, whatever you say about it, has not embraced many of the tenets of angry black nationalism—Wright is back.
Much like that “shocking” video that surfaced a few months back of Obama hugging an obscure, supposedly radical college professor in 1991, I’ve got a feeling just about everyone exercised about Rev. Wright probably wasn’t going to be voting for Obama anyway. And besides, the Wright issue wasn’t enough to prevent Obama from winning four years ago, so why would it work four years later?
However, in this era of SuperPACs, in which anyone with a couple million dollars to rub together can launch a major national ad campaign, you can expect this year to see a lot of Wright, of the birth certificate, of Obama Hates Israel, and other accusations that are both untrue and, despite widespread belief on the right, have not been in any way banished by the media.