Obama had to know all along that his Rev. Wright was a potential millstone around his neck. Last fall, though, fate handed him a potential solution when Don Imus made a vulgar off-hand comment on the radio about black lady basketball players. This set off one of our routine national moral panics over race where the usual suspects rushed to call for the white guy's head.My vague recollection is that Obama was a little slow off the mark to demand Imus's firing, but with Jesse Jackson taking the lead, Obama, always worried about being black enough, soon fell into line and denounced Imus. And Imus got fired. (But now he's back on the air on a different network, because it was all pretty stupid).
What Obama should have done with the silly Imus brouhaha was to take a stand for Imus in order to pre-emptively laugh off the Wright controversy before it (inevitably) started. Obama should have said, "Imus apologized, so let's give it a rest. Come on, lots of people say something outrageous now and then. Hey, at my church, we'd have to fire our pastor about once a month — he's alway saying something over the top to get a reaction out of the congregation. Yeah, Rev. Wright's kind of a shock jock of the pulpit. So, let's not get so huffy about every little thing somebody says."
Would this have worked?
Maybe. It certainly would have reframed Rev. Wright as a less serious figure, while letting Obama look even-handed and even-tempered.
But there would have been problems: