Barack Obama’s speech has obviously failed in one key respect, where it might not have been possible for him to succeed. It did nothing to mollify Obama’s conservative critics. That’s not the end of the world, since these people weren’t going to support him or vote for him anway, but it is interesting nevertheless.
Up until now, conservatives have been conflicted about Obama. They haven’t been sure whether they should root for him as the Hillary slayer or fear him as a tough general election opponent. But many conservatives, especially elite conservatives, kind of liked him and sympathized with him as he was being attacked by the Clintons. I was listening to talk radio last week and some of the hosts sounded like their heads were going to explode talking about the Geraldine Ferraro incident: Do I attack Ferraro as a liberal racist or condemn Obama’s campaign for playing the race card?
The Jeremiah Wright incident has changed all that. It has defined Obama in the minds of conservatives as a racially charged demagogue, a race hustler who would throw his white grandmother under the bus for votes, a man whose patriotism is suspect and whose commitment to racial equality is fake, at least as far as white people are concerned. I think some of this assessment is unfair and even a bit over the top. Conservatives used to be able to discuss thorny, nuanced issues without sputtering, “But, but, did you hear what that reverend said?” But I understand the visceral reaction to Wright’s repugnant utterances and think the conservative verdict on Obama is at this point irreversible.
Unless there’s more where “God damn America” came from, Wright isn’t going to be the silver bullet Hillary Clinton hoped for. But he is a gift to John McCain. He can now rest assured that whoever the Democratic nominee is, it will be someone conservatives badly want to see defeated. The Democrats can rally the Republican base better than McCain himself.