The Note: Wrighting the Ship

For the record, Sen. Barack Obama's commitment to using the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's words to discuss "the complexities of race" lasted slightly beyond the moment that Wright screamed his middle name on a public stage -- but not past the episode where he equated the American military with terrorists, or defended his proposition that the government was trying to harm black people with AIDS.

"The person I saw yesterday was not the person I met 20 years ago," Obama said Tuesday in one of those turning-point campaign moments (for better or worse).

An interesting observation, since neither is Obama the same candidate as he was six weeks ago -- nor is the race the same as it was six days ago, before Wright's wacky, weird, wondrous reemergence.

In seeking to put an end to the firestorm -- and, essentially (and finally), to his relationship with his long-time pastor -- Obama flashed the anger and indignation of a man wronged personally and professionally -- just maybe the qualities an undecided superdelegate wants to see in a presidential nominee.

Obama himself said it perfectly, in summing up the political fallout: "We'll find out."

His extraordinary news conference marked "an effort to curtail a drama of race, values, patriotism and betrayal that has enveloped his presidential candidacy at a critical juncture," Jeff Zeleny and Adam Nagourney write in The New York Times.

What Obamaland knew (and it wasn't hard to know it): "At a minimum, the spectacle of Mr. Wright's multiday media tour and Mr. Obama's rolling response grabbed the attention of the most important constituency in politics now: the uncommitted superdelegates -- party officials and elected Democrats -- who hold the balance of power in the nominating battle," Zeleny and Nagourney write.

The shift in tone and strategy was stark -- and that's what Obama wanted his audience to notice. Now, it's the pivot that matters: Obama has a post-Wright window (until or unless the good reverend finds something else to say) and needs to make the most of it.

Obama "did in a hastily called news conference what he had been reluctant to do since controversy erupted six weeks ago over Wright's sermons, repudiating not merely the words but the worldview of a clergyman who had once been a close spiritual counselor and by Obama's account inspired him to embrace Christian faith," Mike Dorning writes in the Chicago Tribune.

For a cautious politician, these were big steps: "Obama was left with little choice but to denounce Wright more forcefully and make it clear that his relationship with the retiring minister had fundamentally changed, or risk having his presidential campaign engulfed by the controversy," Dorning writes.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet quotes an "Obama adviser" saying that Wright has become a "huge distraction. At a time when Obama is trying to appeal to blue-collar and working-class voters, Jeremiah Wright is dragging this campaign into a conversation about race . . . and that's not what white voters want to hear."

"Nobody even wants to talk about it. It's a disaster," one Obama campaign source tells the New York Daily News' Michael Saul, who described "a usually upbeat headquarters was fighting off its worst morale problem since the primaries began."

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