Only history will be able to tell us if Reverend Jeremiah Wright is an important figure in the 2008 presidential election or a footnote to a very strange primary season. What we know right now is that he has managed to darken the once-golden air around Barack Obama with the most painful shrapnel of accusations and denunciations over race and patriotism and divergent views of the world. Were Pastor Wright some bigoted, stereotypical right-wing white radio commentator, we’d probably chalk it up to the zaniness of our media age. But Pastor Wright is a voice from the Black church, a powerful center of African American life. He speaks for himself, not for the group, and yet his words have impact beyond his individual point of view.
Senator Obama has denounced Wright’s remarks about the role of the United States in terrorism, the spread of AIDS and other conspiracy theory views that Wright has espoused as late as this week. But of course, the problem is that those political commentators who are looking for any reason to attack an African American candidate for the presidency are in a feeding frenzy over this controversy.
The greatest damage that any leader can face comes from within. People expect a leader to be able to marshal the strength and resources to combat an external enemy successfully; that’s almost a given for any presidential candidate to make it to the convention. But the true test of leadership comes when those who were once your closest friends and counselors choose betrayal over loyalty. History has more examples than we can even count; just ask Julius Caesar how close he once was to Brutus. Et tu, Brute?
A few months ago, when Senator Obama was emerging as the most likely Democratic nominee, nobody anticipated that his greatest test of leadership would come from within the African American community. How he handles this extraordinary challenge now becomes the ultimate test of his leadership ability.
How Democratic delegates, superdelegates and American voters handle this controversy becomes our latest test of political maturity, common sense and fundamental fairness.
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