Author Ted Morgan in his magnificent biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt writes, “In presidential politics, As FDR well knew, it isn’t what you’ve done but what you can be attacked for.”
Barack Obama is learning that lesson as this is being written. Actually, Obama is rather lucky in a way. The controversy is being aired while there is an intermission between primaries. The next primary content won’t be until April 22 which gives Obama lots of time of repair the damage the airings of his pastor’s past invective-filled sermons have caused to Obama’s presidential campaign thus far. This is his sternest test thus far and how he handles it will do much to decide whether he will win the nomination or not. His speech in Philadelphia addressing the race issue was well received by the mainstream press but whether it heals the wounds inflicted on his candidacy remains to be seen.
Obama’s pastor is not the first clergyman to inject invective into a presidential campaign. In 1840, a clergyman gave a speech that put President Martin Van Buren in a bad light in the wake of the economic crisis brought on by the Panic of 1837. There was Father Coughlin who regularly abused President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the pulpit. I have vivid memories of the late Reverend Bob Jones, Sr. who, in the early 1980s, supported Ronald Reagan while issuing “Christian” fatwas praying for the death of those who opposed Reagan’s (and Jones’) conservative values.
The crisis also reaffirms that the biggest headache for any presidential candidate is in making sure all your supporters are on the same message. This campaign has seen a lot of aides being let go from their respective candidate’s staffs for saying the wrong things to the press. Today G.O.P. nominee John McCain had to let go an aide for untimely remarks made about Obama. Actor Chuck Norris lost prominence in the Huckabee campaign for making statements that McCain was “too old” to be a good President. (If Ronald Reagan’s win in 1980 did anything for America it was to make the age issue in presidential campaigns a non-issue—and rightly so).
The main issue is how the controversy and Obama’s response to it affects the Democratic Super delegates who will be the true arbiters of who will get the Democratic nomination. It will be their reaction which will decide the fate of Barack Obama. (Personally, I think the Democratic Party should scrap the super delegate concept altogether and if there is a controversy arising as to how the super delegates choose the nominee then the super delegates will be eliminated in the future.
Obama won’t hear the end of this and there will be more to come—if he’s nominated.