Obama Rejects Wright, Repudiates 'Outrageous' Behavior

"He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children," Obama said in that speech. "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."

But Wright criticized Obama on Monday, saying, "I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do. I am not running for office," suggesting Obama's previous criticisms of Wright's sermons — including that speech on race relations in Philadelphia — were insincere.

"If the Rev. Wright thinks that's just political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well, and based on his remarks (on Monday), well, I may not know him as well as I thought either," Obama said.

Obama did not say if he would stop attending Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago. A new pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss, recently took over for Wright, after Wright's retirement from the pulpit.

Backlash for Obama?

Obama's strong words are a high stakes gamble by his campaign to control a spreading political firestorm.

"He threw him under the bus. But, you know, if you watched him as he spoke, there didn't seem to be any pleasure in him doing this. And there was a sadness about it ... even if it helps him with voters, it had a tragic quality to it," said Lynette Clemetson, managing editor of TheRoot.com.

Many party insiders say Wright gave Obama no choice and that his decision to distance himself from Wright today showed courage.

"I thought it took a lot of courage for a man to have to say some unequivocal statements against someone that has been dear to him, his pastor," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who sought the Democratic Party's nomination in 2004.

"And to say it, knowing that he's going to take a lot of flak from certain elements and certain portions of his base political constituency," Sharpton said. "But I think whether one agrees with him or not, he spoke his conscience."

"I didn't vet my pastor before I decided to run for the presidency," Obama said.

Nevertheless, the political damage may be done. In some ways, Obama's break with Wright is what — in politics — they now call a "Sister Souljah moment" — referring to Bill Clinton's denunciation of a rap singer in 1992, breaking with the base to appeal to centrist voters.

But Obama's connection to Wright runs much deeper than Clinton's to Sister Souljah. This was, after all, the pastor who officated at his wedding and baptized his daughters.

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