(AFP) – Mar 18, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Democrat Barack Obama was expected Tuesday to take on directly the testy issue of race in politics in a major address aimed at distancing himself from the inflammatory statements by his former pastor.
The African-American senator, promising voters racial healing as he battles Hillary Clinton for his party's presidential nomination, has become mired in an uproar around Chicago preacher Jeremiah Wright, who officiated at Obama's wedding and baptized his two daughters, and whose anti-American tirades have become constant fodder across the US media.
Under intense pressure to distance himself from Wright, a reverend at Obama's all-black Chicago church, Obama was to address supporters in Pennsylvania on the theme of "race, politics, and unifying our country."
In an interview late Monday with PBS television, Obama said he would address Wright's remarks -- disclosed in newly unearthed videos -- that America had brought the September 11, 2001, attacks on itself because of its "terrorism".
In fiery sermons from recent years that Obama says he did not witness, Wright also said African-Americans should sing "God Damn America" to protest their treatment at the hands of their white brethren.
The Illinois senator said the reverend's "stupid statements" had no place in his vision of a modern nation that is battling to overcome its racial divide.
Obama's aides have said that Wright, who has now retired from the Chicago church, had resigned from his honorary membership on the campaign's African-American Religious Leadership Committee.
"I think the American people recognize that all of us have friends or associates or people who we meet along the way who are not ideal or perfect, but that's part of, you know, part of what life is about," Obama said on PBS.
"But I'm not sure that we benefit from continuing to perpetuate the anger and the bitterness that I think at this point serves to divide rather than bring us together."
Obama said it would have been "naive" to believe that race would never crop up in his primary battle against Clinton, just as gender was always likely to feature in a race featuring the former first lady.
"But we've got to remind ourselves that what we have in common is far more important than what's different and that if we're going to solve any of these problems," he said.
Clinton aides, normally quick to attack the Obama campaign, have studiously ignored the row over Wright -- but it has been daily fodder on conservative talk radio and television.
"That will be something for voters to assess and I don't have any comment on it beyond that," Senator Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson said.
Comparisons were being made between Obama's planned speech and former Republican contender Mitt Romney's December speech about his Mormonism, itself modeled on president John F. Kennedy's 1960 address on his Catholicism.
"It's one that he's reflected on personally with a great deal of intensity. He really feels that it's important to make this statement," said the senior senator from Illinois, Richard Durbin, an Obama backer.
Durbin said Wright's remarks and those by Clinton backer Geraldine Ferraro last week -- attributing Obama's success solely to his being African-American -- were part of an old mindset.
"America is changing," Durbin told reporters.
"Barack Obama senses that change and wants to move beyond some of the accusatory rhetoric and some of the statements that have been made in the past to a more positive view about where our nation can go."
Meanwhile the fight between Clinton and Obama faced a new hurdle after the Florida Democratic party, whose January primary was annulled over a scheduling row, said it would not hold a revote and challenged the national party to come up with a way to see that the state's voters are represented.
The decision against a primary re-do clouded the picture and left the national party with the dilemma of how to seat delegates from the Sunshine State, and Michigan, at the Denver convention.
Clinton won the primaries in the two election battlegrounds. But the states were stripped of their Denver delegates because they held the contests too early.
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