Distancing himself from the inflammatory remarks made by his longtime pastor, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., today attempted to move beyond the racially charged tone that has dominated the presidential campaign for the last week with a renewed call to focus on "problems that confront us all."
Without question, the Illinois Democrat found himself speaking about race in the city of brotherly love because some rather unloving comments made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright were publicized.
Today, Obama called Wright's statements "divisive," "racially charged" and "views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation."
In a 2003 sermon that has seen much media play this last week, Wright said, "The government gives them drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants to sing 'God Bless America. No, no, no, not 'God Bless America' -- 'God Damn America.'"
That clip and others like it led Obama to distance himself from his longtime spiritual adviser and late last week Wright left the campaign's African American Religious Leadership Committee.
Still, Obama sought to explain his spiritual history with Wright. "As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me."
Comparing Wright to his maternal grandmother, he said, "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," Obama said. "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 part of me," Obama said, "and they are part of America, this country that I love."
Obama's decision to give a speech on race was born last Friday in light of questions about how Wright's inflammatory rhetoric squares with Obama's message of uniting the country, as well as racially charged comments made by the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., most notably those by former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.
"We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demoagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias," Obama said.
"But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Rev. Wright made in his offending sermons about America -- to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality." Obama also framed Wright's remarks in a historical perspective citing "the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through" saying that "understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point."
Citing segregation, legalized discrimination, a lack of economic opportunities for black men, and the lack of basic service in so many urban black neighborhoods, Obama said "This is the reality in which Rev. Wright and other African-Americans of this generation grew up. "