On the heels of an absolutely miserable debate performance… yet another problem for the Obama campaign.
There's another tape. This time with Jeremiah Wright. And a very curious video.
"Grace and peace be unto you," begins Wright, smiling, his voice calm and low.
It's June 23, 2007 -- a mere 18 days after the now infamous Obama speech at Hampton University that the Daily Caller and the Drudge Report titled as "Obama's Other Race Speech." An angry, racially divisive speech in which Obama effortlessly slides into a Southern accent, shouting "The people down in New Orleans they [the Bush administration and the federal government] don't care about as much!"
The event: The United Church of Christ's 26th General Synod, the bi-annual gathering of UCC pastors and lay leaders from across the country, meeting that year in Hartford, Connecticut. (Note: Full Disclosure: I have served as both president of my local UCC Church Council and as a member of the UCC's Penn Central Conference Board of Directors.)
This time Trinity UCC's Reverend Jeremiah Wright isn't sitting somewhere off camera while receiving accolades from then-Senator Obama. No, this time Wright is front and center to introduce his famous parishioner -- by videotape.
The 40-plus-minute tape begins with the appearance of then-UCC General President, the Reverend John Thomas, taking the stage to announce Obama's appearance. Thomas explains that Reverend Wright will be introducing Obama.
But wait! There's a catch!
Because of a wedding at Trinity that day, says Thomas, Reverend Wright must do the intro by videotape instead of in person.
Remember now. This is the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. And Jeremiah Wright is a well-recognized figure within the UCC. Indeed, his friend John Thomas would months later ostentatiously go to Chicago and defend Wright from the pulpit at Trinity UCC when the controversy over Wright's sermons finally boiled over. So Thomas knows Wright well -- and has every reason to speak the truth about the Obama-Wright relationship when he introduces the Wright video by saying this:
It had long been our hope that Senator Obama's pastor, the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright would be able to be here to introduce his parishioner to us. Dr. Wright is one of the most distinguished leaders in the United Church of Christ, and it is well known that he and Trinity have had a profound and shaping influence on Senator Obama's ["cation" -- unintelligible]. Unfortunately, Dr. Wright had a longstanding commitment to a wedding at Trinity Church this weekend. And as every pastor in this room knows, if the choice is between a United States Senator and the mother of a bride, (laughter) it's no ("contest"? Unintelligible)….and he made the right decision.
After a few more words from Thomas, the image of the calm smiling Jeremiah Wright flashes on the auditorium television screens.
Before we get to what follows, let's go to a story from the current bestseller by former New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief Edward Klein, The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House.
A story told to Klein in a taped interview by Jeremiah Wright himself.
The subject is the Obama-Wright relationship, and the days leading up to Obama's announcement of his presidential candidacy on February 10, 2007. The announcement was scheduled to be made in Springfield, Illinois. The political purpose: to associate Illinois Senator Obama with Springfield's most famous adopted son -- Abraham Lincoln. The ceremony's invocation was scheduled to be delivered by Reverend Wright in his capacity as Obama's pastor.
It was here that the first tremors in what would be the political earthquake of the Obama-Wright relationship appeared. According to Klein (and others), a February Rolling Stone magazine article on Obama had just appeared. The piece included what Klein calls a "devastating profile" of Wright, depicting Obama's pastor as a far-left radical.
Obama's campaign was, not for the last time but apparently the first time, suddenly alarmed by Jeremiah Wright.
The immediate campaign objective was to make certain that Wright, now nervously seen as a loose cannon for his radical, hot-tempered political sermons, was removed from the public stage of Obama's announcement ceremony. Where Wright was scheduled to give the invocation.
Klein has Wright recounting a tense, behind the scenes effort by Obama aide David Axelrod to force Wright out, replacing him with Trinity's newly arrived younger pastor the Reverend Otis Moss. Axelrod got his way. Wright was present for the announcement, but only to give a backstage private prayer for Obama and his family and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. It was Moss who gave the quite public invocation in front of the cameras and microphones.
For the moment, Wright was effectively separated in a public, televised fashion from Obama -- and silenced. But not for long.
On February 28, 2007, Sean Hannity interviewed columnist Erik Rush on Hannity & Colmes. Rush had noticed on the Senator's bio that Obama was a member of Trinity UCC and looked into the church. Rush -- who is black -- was stunned at what he found. He wound up describing the vision of Wright's church by saying it "more resembles a cult than a church. Only this one has as one of its most prominent members a serious contender for the White House." What he found, Rush said, was scary.
The next night Hannity obtained the first television interview with Wright. The interview was instantly controversial -- in retrospect for those who had never heard of Wright, inevitably so. Out tumbled the story of a black preacher who was decidedly not Martin Luther King, Jr. -- a man devoted instead to "black liberation theology," a doctrine described, in the words of American Thinker writer Kyle-Anne Shiver, as "Marxism dressed up to look like Christianity."
In retrospect, the Hannity appearance was beginning to illustrate exactly why David Axelrod, the aide Obama described to Wright as Obama's "mother hen," was determined to make sure that Wright never shared a stage with Obama in public, much less was in front of a live microphone and cameras with Obama anywhere in the vicinity.
Yet there was a problem. Wright still had value to Obama.
Four months later Obama appears at the gathering of black ministers at Hampton University, captured in the Daily Caller video, which was aired this week on Hannity. These were black ministers, Wright's colleagues. Obama had to say something about his pastor, thus the "special shout out."
Lost in the furor of the last few days over what Obama said at Hampton that day is what Wright did not say and do. Lost is the realization that while Obama had a "special shout out" to Wright -- in which Obama also describes Wright as "my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He's a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country" -- Wright himself is not anywhere near a microphone, much less Obama himself. He is unseen, off-camera, stuck in the un-panned audience, not even close to Obama on camera.
In other words, Axelrod's concern from February -- letting the unpredictable Wright share both microphone and stage time with Obama -- had arisen yet again. It was resolved in whatever fashion by having Wright in the audience, unseen by the camera, and most importantly neither near the microphone or Obama himself.
Eighteen days later, at the UCC General Synod, the problem of Wright's high profile in another influential organization that Obama needed politically would frustratingly arise again. While the UCC is dwarfed in size by some other faiths, as a large national gathering of a prominent Mainline Protestant church filled with liberal activists, the UCC General Synod was a political gold mine for the still mostly unknown Obama.
What to do?
The General Minister and President of the UCC, John Thomas, was a Wright friend. There was no chance Thomas wouldn't want Wright involved. After all, this was the UCC. Obama was a UCC member, and Jeremiah Wright was not only a prominent leader within the larger denomination -- a "distinguished" UCC leader as Thomas called him from the podium -- in the world of church protocol Wright was Obama's pastor. For Wright to be excluded from this particular Obama appearance would be noticed by the very people Obama was trying to woo in his fight against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Neither of whom were UCC members, neither of whom were invited. (Later, Obama's solo appearance as a favored son launched an IRS investigation of the UCC which, after raising considerable alarm and threatening the loss of the church's tax status or a financial penalty, eventually was resolved, clearing the UCC.)
What could possibly solve Obama's Jeremiah Wright dilemma at the UCC General Synod? What could calm an already jittery David Axelrod, whom Klein has Obama describing to Wright as a "mother hen"? What could keep the radical showman Jeremiah Wright from being behind a live microphone in front of an auditorium filled with liberal church activists? What could keep the increasingly visible and decidedly controversial Jeremiah Wright -- now already profiled in Rolling Stone, written up by Erik Rush, and on national television debating Sean Hannity -- off the UCC stage and away from Obama in front of the cameras?
That's right -- the magic of videotape.
Was there really a wedding in Chicago at Trinity UCC that day of June 23, 2007? A wedding that was so critical that only Reverend Wright -- not his younger colleague Reverend Moss -- was personally required to officiate? Is it possible that the long and extensively-planned multiple-day bi-annual UCC General Synod -- a regular affair for the UCC's "distinguished leaders" like Reverend Wright -- actually coincided with a long-planned wedding at Trinity? That Wright had not taken the precaution of checking his schedule for a potential conflict? Is it possible the UCC had picked the one day in June in which Senator Obama and Wright could not be on the same stage at the same time? That the man whom Thomas described as one of the UCC's "distinguished leaders" and the potential President of the United States upon whom Wright had been such "a profound and shaping influence" -- just couldn't find the time to share a UCC national stage together?
Is all of that really possible? Believable?
Sure. All of this is possible and believable in a normal world.
But a world in which "mother hen" Axelrod is striving to do everything in his power to keep Jeremiah Wright away from Barack Obama -- and has already succeeded on announcement day -- one is left to wonder.
Be that as it may, John Thomas finished his introduction of Jeremiah Wright and the smiling image of one of the UCC's most "distinguished leaders" flickered to life on the large screen dominating the Hartford arena.
He was pre-taped.
Or is the better word "vetted"?
This was not the aggressive Jeremiah Wright taking on Sean Hannity months earlier. It wasn't the man of Erik Rush's column or the Rolling Stone profile. The man on the screen wasn't even close to the image that America would see months later when tapes of Wright's sermons began filling television screens, the pastor shrieking "No, no, NO! Not God Bless America! God DAMN America!!"
This was a smiling, calm and distinctly non-ideological Jeremiah Wright.
"Grace and peace be unto you" he begins, introducing himself in the video for those who might not know him. "It is my signal honor and privilege to be able to introduce to you a man who has been a member of our congregation for 22 years." In a quiet voice, Wright talks glowingly of the "Barack that I have known." In stark contrast to the fiery, racist sermons Americans would soon discover, Wright talks quietly of how his friend Barack believes that "Muslim, Jew, Christian, Atheists, Non-Believers, Black, White, Indonesian, African, South American, Chicano, Native American, Aboriginal, Australians -- all are God's children and all can live together and work together fruitfully and productively on God's earth because God does love the world which includes all people."
One can only wonder, now that the back story of the Obama-Wright relationship is known, what exactly the next sentence means: "I would say to him today the same thing I said to him the day he was elected [to the U.S. Senate] -- keep on being that Barack Obama." Was that, as the media loves to say, a "dog whistle" that only Obama could hear? A message that contained the implied threat that if Obama didn't stick to his far-left politics in public -- by letting Jeremiah Wright out of his increasingly Obama-campaign imposed silence -- Jeremiah Wright would go rogue?
Wright ends by asking the attendees to "please put your hands together and welcome this Christian gentleman, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago, Senator Barack Obama."
The image of this exceedingly calm, polite pastor who speaks on video tape from Chicago fades from the screen, the applause rises -- and in Hartford, Connecticut, out onto the arena stage steps Senator Obama. He receives a bear hug from Reverend Thomas and settles into his talk.
Obama begins by acknowledging all manner of people from the UCC hierarchy who are present -- reading from notes. Finally mentioning "of course, my pastor, Dr… Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr." He recommends Trinity and Trinity's choir. He invites everybody to visit. Then, in a performance that Americans have now seen countless times, he begins relying on his teleprompter.
What followed (here's the official text) is a speech titled "A Politics of Conscience." Tracing his own journey of faith, Obama returns to the topic of the quiet, peaceful pastor UCC Synod delegates have just seen on the large screen behind the podium. In words that would become a familiar part of the Obama campaign pitch until the Obama-Wright relationship exploded in full public view, with Obama giving a speech denouncing Wright, he said this:
So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.
The rest of the speech is the calm, deliberate presidential Obama of today -- albeit filled with left-wing boilerplate. Occasionally the voice rises as liberal indignation sets in over Iraq or the role of "the Christian Right." But that's it.
So the question.
Why is this old tape from 2007 important now?
Because what America is seeing here is a pattern of deceit.
The racially divisive Barack Obama of a mere 18 days earlier has vanished. There is no divisive shouting of racism in front of this mostly religious, white audience as there was in front of a religious black audience. There is no angry accusation of the U.S. government abandoning blacks in New Orleans. After all, while the UCC has a lot of liberals in its ranks -- it has a lot of conservatives who voted over the years for Reagan and the Bushes. There is no mileage here in accusing some in his UCC audience of being racists. Instead, when it comes to race Obama waxes enthusiastically about being inspired by the civil rights activists of the 1960s. While he was too young for that moment, he calls himself a member of the "Joshua Generation" -- which is to say the generation after Moses.
Wright's video too is totally devoid of "God Damn America" language and sentiments. It was the kind of bland pastoral pabulum that could have been delivered not just by Wright but any pastor, the late Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson included.
Was it written by Wright? Was that video vetted by Axelrod or some other Obama campaign functionary? A functionary "mother hen" who knew all too well what Wright was capable of? A functionary who was determined to make sure Wright was as far away from Obama that June day in Hartford as he could possibly be? A functionary who insisted on Wright appearing only on a vetted video tape made in Chicago and using a wedding as an excuse for absence?
In truth, we do not know.
What we do know now after this week's double-revelations of the Hampton University video tape and the Obama performance in the debate with Mitt Romney, is that like the famous scene in The Wizard of Oz, the curtain has been pulled back on the real Barack Obama.
Yes, he is perfectly capable of playing the race card -- it is a trademark of the left and he is well capable of playing it. The pretense to ending divisions is just that -- pretense. Without dividing by race (and class and gender), liberals cannot win.
And yes, for a time at least -- until he really got angry with Obama -- Jeremiah Wright was willing to submit to the Obama campaign machinations that tried to silence him. Wright went along with having Otis Moss substitute for him at the Obama presidential announcement. Wright sat quietly in the audience at Obama's Hampton University appearance. Wright dutifully and politely made the video for the UCC General Synod. The latter two instances, of course, were but the latest examples where Jeremiah Wright had lent his prestige to Obama, something he had done repeatedly in the politics of Chicago and Illinois.
But Jeremiah Wright's patience was growing thin. As videos of his sermons were eventually discovered and played on television screens, he found his great friend and pupil of 22 years walking away from him. There was, according to Jeremiah Wright himself to Ed Klein in The Amateur, an offer through an intermediary of $150,000 if Wright would simply be quiet until after the 2008 elections. Wright refused.
Finally, in April of 2008, the Obama-Wright relationship exploded, as seen here. An angry Obama went to the press to personally denounce his old friend, calling Wright "divisive and destructive" and "not the person that I met 20 years ago."
In light of the uncovering of the Hampton University video of Obama by Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, its appearance on the Drudge Report and its televising by Sean Hannity, and in light of Obama's incredibly poor performance when confronted directly in debate by a polite, persistent, and knowledgeable Mitt Romney -- the obvious question arises.
Is Barack Obama really the person his buddies in the liberal media have been trying to sell to Americans for the last eight years since Obama burst onto the national scene with his 2004 speech at the Democratic Convention?
Is the whole Obama-era a confected sham that boils down to a nice looking guy with teleprompter skills and far left politics, shielded and protected by the media?
And only now being outed -- by the odd combination of an old video tape and Mitt Romney?
Is that why the furious functionaries of the Obama campaign are now lashing out at Romney, who in fact had nothing to do with the videotape if everything to do with the outcome of the debate?
What was that line again from The Wizard of Oz? Oh yes.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.