Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama Responds to Rev. Wright Controversy

Obama's Press Conference on Wright
Barack Obama

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

April 29, 2008

OBAMA: I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap
between different kinds of people. That's in my DNA. Trying to promote
mutual understanding, to insist that we all share common hopes, and
common dreams, as Americans and as human beings. That's who I am,
that's what I believe, that's what this campaign has been about.

Yesterday we saw a very different vision of America. I am outraged by
the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we
saw yesterday. I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ
since 1992. I've known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person
that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His
comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that
they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe
that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black

They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if
Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it,
then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday,
well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.

Now, I've already denounced the comments that had appeared in these
previous sermons. As I said, I had not heard them before. And I gave
him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia, explaining
that he has done enormous good in the church. He has built a wonderful
congregation. The people of Trinity are wonderful people, and what
attracted me has always been their ministries reach beyond the church

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as
the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests
that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices
of the 20th and 21st centuries, when he equates the United States
wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

They offend me. The rightly offend all Americans. And they should be
denounced. And that's what I'm doing very clearly and unequivocally
here today.

Let me just close by saying this. We started this campaign with the
idea that the problems that we face as a country are too great to
continue to be divided, that in fact all across America people are
hungry to get out of the old, divisive politics of the past.

I have spoken and written about the need for us to all recognize each
other as Americans, regardless of race or religion or region of the
country, that the only way we can deal with critical issues like
energy and health care and education and the war on terrorism is if we
are joined together.

And the reason our campaign has been so successful is because we have
moved beyond these old arguments.

What we saw yesterday out of Reverend Wright was a resurfacing and, I
believe, an exploitation of those old divisions. Whatever his
intentions, that was the result. It is antithetical to our campaign.
It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America
stands for.

And I want to be very clear that, moving forward, Reverend Wright does
not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign. I cannot prevent
him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks, but what I do
want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the
American people, is that when I say that I find these comments
appalling, I mean it.

It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am. And anybody
who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who
has seen what this campaign is about, I think, will understand that it
is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take
this country.

Last point. I'm particularly distressed that this has caused such a
distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the
American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign
has never been about me. It's never been about Senator Clinton or John
McCain. It's not about Reverend Wright.

People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better
future for themselves and their children. And that's what we should be
talking about.

And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was
appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in
the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me
angry, but also saddens me.

So with that, let me take some questions.

QUESTION: Why the change of tone from yesterday? When you spoke to us
on the tarmac yesterday, you didn't have this sense of anger and

OBAMA: Yes, I'll be honest with you -- because I hadn't seen it yet.

QUESTION: And that was the difference you...


QUESTION: You heard the reports about the AIDS comments.

OBAMA: I had not. I had not seen the transcript. What I had heard was
he had given a performance, and I thought at the time that it would be
sufficient simply to reiterate what I had said in Philadelphia.

Upon watching it, what became clear to me was that it was more than
just him defending himself. What became clear to me was that he was
presenting a worldview that contradicts who I am and what I stand for.

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow
that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political
posturing. Anybody who knows me and knows what I am about knows that I
am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the commonality in all

And so when I start hearing comments about conspiracy theories and
AIDS and suggestions that somehow Minister Farrakhan has been a great
voice in the 20th century, then that goes directly at who I am and
what I believe this country needs.

QUESTION: Senator, what do you plan to do about this right now to
further distance (inaudible) and the need to do that? And what does
this say about your judgment of super delegates, who are right now
trying to decide which Democratic nominee is better? Your candidacy
has been based on judgment. What does this say about...?

OBAMA: Well, as I said before, the person I saw yesterday was not the
person that I have come to know over 20 years. I understand that I
think he was pained and angered from what had happened previously
during the first stage of this controversy.

I think he felt vilified and attacked, and I understand that he wanted
to defend himself. I understand that he's gone through difficult times
of late and that he's leaving his ministry after many years. And so
that may account for the change.

But the insensitivity and the outrageousness of his statements and his
performance in the question and answer period yesterday, I think,
shocked me. It surprised me.

As I said before, this is an individual who's built a very fine
church, and a church that is well respected throughout Chicago. During
the course of me attending that church, I had not heard those kinds of
statements being made or those kinds of views being promoted.

And I did not vet my pastor before I decided to run for the
presidency. I was a member of the church. So what I think it says is
that I did not run my pastor through the paces or review every one of
the sermons that he had made over the last 30 years. But I don't think
that anybody could attribute those ideas to me.

QUESTION: What effect do you think this is going to have on your campaign?

OBAMA: That's something that you guys will have to figure out.
Obviously, we've got elections in four or five days, so we'll find out
what effect it has.

But ultimately, I think that the American people know that we have to
do better than we're doing right now. I think that they believe in the
ideas of this campaign. I think they are convinced that special
interests have dominated Washington too long. I think they are
convinced that we've got to get beyond some of the same political
games that we've been playing.

I think that they believe that we need to speak honestly and
truthfully about how we're going to solve issues like energy or health
care. And I believe that this campaign has inspired a lot of people.

And that's part of what -- going back to what you asked, Mike, about
why I feel so strongly about this today -- after seeing Reverend
Wright's performance, I felt as if there was a complete disregard for
what the American people are going through and the need for them to
rally together to solve these problems.

Now is the time for us not to get distracted. Now is the time for us
to pull together. And that's what we've been doing in this came. And
there was a sense that that did not matter to Reverend Wright. What
mattered was him commanding center stage.

QUESTION: Have you had a conversation with Reverend Wright lately?


QUESTION: What's going to happen with these distractions that have taken you...?

OBAMA: Well, I want to use this press conference to make people
absolutely clear that, obviously, whatever relationship I had with
Reverend Wright has changed, as a consequence of this.

I don't think that he showed much concern for me. More importantly, I
don't think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in
this campaign and what we're trying to do for the American people and
with the American people.

And, obviously, he's free to speak out on issues that are of concern
to him, and he can do it in any ways that he wants. But I feel very
strongly that I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe
to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they
are destructive. And to the extent that he continues to speak out, I
do not expect those views to be attributed to me.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

OBAMA: Well, the new pastor, the young pastor, Reverend Otis Moss, is
a wonderful young pastor. And as I've said, I still very much value
the Trinity community. I'll be honest. This has obviously put strains
on that relationship, not because of the members or because of
Reverend Moss, but because this has become such a spectacle.

And when I go to church, it's not for spectacle. It's to pray and to
find a stronger sense of faith. It's not to posture politically. It's
not to hear things that violate my core beliefs. And I certainly don't
want to provide a distraction for those who are worshiping at Trinity.

So as of this point, I am a member of Trinity. I haven't had a
discussion with Reverend Moss about it, so I can't tell you how he's
reacting and how he's responding.

QUESTION: Senator, I'm wondering -- sort of following on Jeff's
question about why it's so different now -- have you heard from some
of your supporters. You have some, obviously, supporters who expressed
any alarm about what this kind of thing is doing to the campaign?

OBAMA: I don't think that it's that hard to figure out from if it was
just a purely political perspective. My reaction has more to do with
what I want this campaign to be about and who I am. And I want to make
certain that people understand who I am.

In some ways what Reverend Wright said yesterday directly contradicts
everything that I've done during my life. It contradicts how I was
raised and the setting in which I was raised.

It contradicts my decisions to pursue a career of public service. It
contradicts the issues that I've worked on politically. It contradicts
what I've said in my books.

It contradicts what I said in my convention speech in 2004. It
contradicts my announcement. It contradicts everything that I've been
saying on this campaign trail.

And what I tried to do in Philadelphia was to provide a context and to
lift up some of the contradictions and complexities of race in
America, of which Reverend Wright is a part and we're all a part, and
try to make something constructive out of it.

But there wasn't anything constructive out of yesterday. All there was
was a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth. And I can't
construct something positive out of that.

I can understand it. People do all sorts of things. And as I said
before, I continue to believe that Reverend Wright has been a leader
in the Southside. I think that the church he built is outstanding. I
think that he has preached in the past some wonderful sermons. He
provided valuable contributions to my family.

But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you
believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you
believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough.
That's a show of disrespect to me. It is also, I think, an insult to
what we've been trying to do in this campaign.

QUESTION: Senator, did you discuss with your wife after having seen
Reverend Wright's performance in what was...?

OBAMA: Yes, she was similarly angered.

QUESTION: Reverend Wright said it was not an attack on him, but an
attack on the black church. First of all, do you agree with that? And
second of all, the strain of theology that he preached -- black
liberation theology -- explain something about the anger that seems to
be some of the sentiments in the church in (inaudible). How important
a strain, then, is liberation theology in the black church? And why
did you choose to enter the church then?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, in terms of liberation theology, I am not a
theologian. So I think to some theologians there might be some well
worked out theory of what constitutes liberation theology versus
non-liberation theology.

I went to church and listened to sermons. And in the sermons that I
heard -- and this is true, I do think, across the board in many black
churches -- there is an emphasis on the importance of social struggle,
the importance of striving for equality and justice and fairness, a
social gospel.

So I think a lot of people, rather than using a fancy word like that,
simply talk about preaching the social gospel. And there's nothing
particularly odd about that. Dr. King, obviously, was the most
prominent example of that kind of preaching.

But what I do think can happen -- and I didn't see this as a member of
the church, but I saw it yesterday -- is when you start focusing so
much on the plight of the historically oppressed that you lose sight
of what we have in common, that it overrides everything else, that
we're not concerned about the struggles of others, because we're
looking at things only through a particular lens, then it doesn't
describe properly what I believe in the power of faith to overcome,
but also to bring people together.

Now, you had a first question, Joe, that I don't remember.

I did not view the initial round of sound bytes that triggered this
controversy as an attack on the black church. I viewed it as a
simplification of who he was, a caricature of who he was, and more any
thing, something that piqued a lot of political interest.

I didn't see it as an attack on the black church. And probably the
only aspect of it that probably had to do with specifically the black
church is the fact that some people were surprised when he was

That is just a black church tradition, and so I think some people
interpreted that somehow as, wow, he's really hollering, and black
preachers holler and whoop. And so that, I think, showed sort of a
cultural gap in America.

The sad thing is that although the sound bytes that, as I stated,
created a caricature of him, and when he was in that Moyers interview,
even though there were some things that continued to be offensive, at
least there was some sense of rounding out the edges, yesterday I
think he caricatured himself. And as I said, that made me angry, but
also made me saddened.

QUESTION: Previously, you talked about giving him the benefit of the
doubt for -- especially, I guess, in the Philadelphia speech -- for
trying to create something positive about that. Did you consult him
before the speech or talk to him after the speech in Philadelphia to
get his reaction or his input?

OBAMA: I tried to talk to him before the speech in Philadelphia,
wasn't able to reach him because he was on a cruise. He had just
stepped down from the pulpit. When he got back, I did speak to him. I
prefer not to share sort of private conversations between me and him.
I will talk to him, perhaps, someday in the future.

But what I can say is I was very clear that what he had said in those
particular snippets I found objectionable and offensive and that the
intention of the speech was to provide context for them, but not to
excuse them, because I found them inexcusable.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Sunday, you were asked whether to respond to
(inaudible) saying that Bill Clinton had (inaudible). Is the decision
(inaudible) irreparable damage? Is this relationship with Reverend
Wright irreparable damage, do you think?

OBAMA: There has been great damage. It may have been unintentional on
his part, but I do not see that relationship being the same after

Now, to some degree, I know that one thing that he said was true, that
he was never my, quote/quote, "spiritual advisor." He was never my
spiritual mentor. He was my pastor. And to some extent how the press
characterized in the past that relationship, I think, was inaccurate.

But he was somebody who was my pastor, and he married Michelle and I,
and baptized my children, and prayed with us when we announced this
race, and so I'm disappointed.

Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.
Barack Obama is a Democratic Senator from Illinois and a candidate for
the Democratic presidential nomination.


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