One little-mentioned aspect of Barack Obama's on-going fiasco involving his spiritual mentor is that it makes him look feckless.
Rev. Wright has been a problem Obama knew he was going to have for, roughly, ever. But what has he done about it, besides giving a 5,000 word speech? Did he switch to a Washington D.C. church when he was elected to the Senate in 2005? Did he persuade Trinity to stop selling Wright's sermons on DVD? Did he provide any sort of narrative about the evolving ideological differences between the young and mature Barack Obamas?
In contrast, do you remember how in February 2004, Democratic frontrunner John Kerry was rocked by rumors that he was having an adulterous affair with a young woman? You probably don't remember because, although for about a day it looked like it might derail Kerry's victory march through the primaries, the story quickly went away—when the young lady went away, leaving the country.
Problem dealt with.
I have no idea if the rumors about Kerry were true or if the girl's timely departure from America was a coincidence or what. But, let's assume the worst about Kerry: he wrote a big check from the allowance his wife gives him to his mistress in return for making herself scarce. What can you then say about Kerry?
Well, one thing you can say is that he had a problem and he dealt with it. All else being equal, I'd rather have a President who had a problem and dealt with it than a President who had a problem and failed to deal with it.
Wright should not have been an unsolvable problem for Obama. Wright likes the spotlight, but he also likes other things. (He drives a Porsche, for example).
So, Wright likes money. Obama has friends with money. Right there, you have the makings of a deal. (The payoff didn't have to be crass—just that in return for Wright maintaining a low profile all year, in December 2008 Obama's supporters would start up a charitable foundation for Rev. to run. Obama could have asked Bill and Hill for advice on the fine points of foundations.)
So, why hasn't Obama dealt with it?
1. Maybe it's all part of some brilliant plan Obama has got to heighten the drama before he delivers his master-stroke.
2. Is Mrs. Obama the key to Sen. Obama's Wright problem? Michelle Obama is a formidable woman, and Sen. Obama wouldn't be the first Presidential candidate who's scared of his wife. Maybe she won't let him deal with Wright? It's an intriguing idea, but I haven't been able to find much evidence for a strong connection between Mrs. Obama and Rev. Wright.
3. Rev. Wright is all tied up with Obama's complicated issues of personal identity, as expounded at endless length is his autobiography, so his normally cold-blooded brain fails to work rationally here. It's not uncommon for highly ambitious and effective people like Obama to have an Achilles heel, an area where their feelings of guilt and inauthenticity get concentrated and paralyze them.
4. He's terrified of losing the black vote? I dunno, that sounds implausible.
5. So what if he can't deal with it? He's not running against FDR and Reagan—he just has to beat Hillary and McCain.
6. His campaign, going back to the opening of his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address, is based on white people's assumption that being half-white made him less anti-white than other black leaders. So, Obama is worried that anything having to do with Rev. Wright will just unravel the logic of those fantasies he's elicited in his followers' minds.
I suspect, though, that Obama's overthinking this. People are slow to give up their fantasies due to logical disproof. Sure, Obama misled people about who he really was, but they wanted to be misled. And they still want to be misled.
At the moment, though, Obama doesn't looke like a leader. Obama's problem now is that Rev. Wright's vigor and enjoyment of the situation makes Obama, by contrast, look like a loser. Think about how Reagan wrapped up the 1980 election by turning to Carter in the debate and saying, with a smile on his face, "There you go again." What the hell did that mean? Not much on paper, but on TV it showed that Reagan was enjoying his dominance over the President. Reagan learned that from FDR, who always wore a look of amused mastery as he stuck the shiv in his political opponents. The public likes that in their leaders.
In the Obama vs. Wright battle, Wright is now playing the alpha male.