Analysis

Analyzing the Impact of Rev. Wright's Comments

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Will the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's most recent address have any impact on the Democratic primary battle between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton? Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and Rep. David Price of North Carolina offer their thoughts in a conversation with Melissa Block.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Earlier today before Senator Obama made those remarks, I spoke with two Democratic congressmen about Reverend Wright. Emmanuel Cleaver, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton and is also an ordained Methodist minister, and David Price of North Carolina, who has endorsed Barack Obama.

Congressman Price, let me start with you as a supporter of Barack Obama. When you listen to Reverend Wright speak today, did you feel he was helping or hurting your candidate?

Representative DAVID PRICE (Democrat, North Carolina): I think the real question is whether we're going to dwell on this matter of Reverend Wright and his pronouncements or whether we're going to focus on the real issues at stake in a campaign. We happen to have Senator Clinton and Senator Obama both in North Carolina as I'm speaking at this very moment. I've been out there a fair amount; I certainly haven't heard a lot of concerns expressed about the Reverend Wright issue. I hear a lot about the economy and about housing and about Iraq and about the need for a fresh start in our diplomacy. I don't hear much about Reverend Wright.

So Senator Obama has realized he needs to deal with this. He's, quite straightforwardly, criticized the Reverend Wright for some of these over-the-top comments, but he's also gone beyond that. He's made a very moving and thoughtful speech, gave a speech a few weeks ago about race in America. I think he's handled this very responsibly and so this guilt by association just really isn't what the campaign's about and it needs to stop.

BLOCK: Congressman Cleaver, let me turn to you. Reverend Wright talked today about moving the dialogue on rates form alienation to reconciliation. Did you hear any notes of reconciliation in what he had to say today?

Representative EMANUEL CLEAVER (Democrat, Missouri): Well, I think Reverend Wright - contrary to what the image has been projected, is a man of reconciliation. And I did in fact and do continue to support Senator Clinton. I'm not opposed to Senator Obama in terms of (unintelligible) a campaign without the baggage that is being strapped around him by those who are attacking Reverend Wright.

Now, for those of us who have known Reverend Wright over the years, which I have, we know him to be a very, very articulate and capable spokesperson. One of the things that is - really saddens me is that the country doesn't know how to handle what's going on right now, and that's to our embarrassment but we can correct it. And by that I mean most of the people in this country have never ever, ever been inside a black church. And so, they have no idea what takes place there and they don't understand it. It shows that a dialogue is needed, but I'm not sure that the nation is ready for a dialogue because anytime someone makes an awkward comment, it ends up being mined for any nugget of controversy that can be pulled out.

BLOCK: Congressman Price, when you talk with the Obama campaign, as I assumed you do, do you advise them that he needs to address this as it comes up again, or do you say, he - it's been asked an answered. He spoke about it in the speech on race, called it divisive and a distorted view of the country and that's enough?

Rep. PRICE: Well, let me first just take a second to comment on Emanuel's point about a dialogue. There are many things in this country that we need to dialogue about. And one other, I believe is, the relationship of faith and politics.

A minister, who I have the great deal of admiration for, once said, you know, there are three kinds of patriots or three kinds of patriotism. There are the uncritical lovers of their country, there are the loveless critics of their country, and then there's that third kind of patriot - people who love their country but who want to mend its flaws.

Now, I would say Reverend Wright, in those sound bites anyway, didn't get that quite right. But we need to understand that it is a legitimate and an important role of religious faith to be a loving critic of America. And that's a dialogue that I think we much need to have both within and beyond the church. In terms of the way Senator Obama deals with this - and by the way, Senator Obama has had some very interesting things to say about faith and politics, very thoughtful things to say, and people really might want to look at that as opposed to imputing to him the sound bites that have been circulated.

But, yes, he dealt with this very straightforwardly, and he put it in a context of a broader, thoughtful speech about race in America. But, you know, the way a presidential campaign is and the news cycle that's out there, he may well need to address it again. I imagine he will want to.

NORRIS: Well, what will you tell them that he should say?

Rep. PRICE: I think what he said before was quite straightforward. He left no doubt that he took exception to the sound-bite snippets that had been out there from Reverend Wright, although he had not been in the congregation the day those things were said, and didn't know the broader context, perhaps.

At the same time, he addressed thoughtfully the question of race and social justice in America, and that's one reason I have felt confident supporting him. I knew about Reverend Wright's statements, but that had nothing to do with my endorsement because I'm not going to be interested in what some third party said, I'm interested in what Barack Obama says and thinks.

And I believe he's in a unique position to unite this country and to take us beyond the resentments and the conflicts of the past. I have great hope in his ability to do that. And I think what I'm hoping he will do and expect that he will do here in North Carolina today is, once again, articulate that vision.

NORRIS: I want to ask you both, assuming if Barack Obama does become the Democratic nominee, how do you think Reverend Wright's statements and sermons might be used against him? Congressman Cleaver?

Rep. CLEAVER: I don't think there's any question at all that the Republicans will use it anywhere they can use it; it will become the 2008 swift vote ad. And the purpose of it will be generating this unrighteous indignation about what a man says who was talking to his family - the church family at Trinity - That was not intended for the country. And I think the Republicans unfortunately, tragically and painfully, are going to just splatter it all over the television screens between now and November. The only question is whether or not that the nation will buy it. I've got to end right here that we got to also keep in consideration that it could be Senator Clinton getting the nomination.

NORRIS: And Congressman Price, what do you think?

Rep. PRICE: I'm afraid we have all too much experience with the swift voting tactics and, really, the abilities of our Republican adversaries. I think we will see those no matter whether the nominee is Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, and I think we're going to have to expect that and be prepared to deal with it forcefully and effectively. This won't be the only thing in the mix. We know its coming.

NORRIS: We heard there from Democratic Congressmen David Price of North Carolina and Emmanuel Cleaver of Missouri.

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