Greenfield: Obama Failed By Not Disassociating From 'Crackpot'

Like so many of his colleagues, Jeff Greenfield comes to the MSM from a background in Dem politics, having served as a speechwriter for RFK. But more than most, the CBS senior political correspondent demonstrates an ability to put partisanship aside in his analyses.

Witness Greenfields's comments on this morning's Early Show regarding Barack Obama's speech on race on this morning's Early Show. The show's intro referred to the speech as "a defining cultural moment in America" and a "moving moment." Greenfield was considerably more restrained in his praise, suggesting that Obama failed by declining to disassociate himself from a "crackpot."

Co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez spoke with Greenfield and pollster Frank Luntz.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Do you think [the speech] accomplished his task, which was to defuse the Reverend Wright situation?

JEFF GREENFIELD: No. I think absent the controversy with Reverend Wright this would have gone down as a terrific speech, uncommonly blunt, kind of a Nixon-goes-to-China, maybe only an African-American can talk this bluntly about race. But what to me, the comments of Reverend Wright will leave in some people's minds a notion that Obama, who is still an unformed candidate, not nearly as well known as, say, Hillary Clinton or other candidates have been in the past, a question who is this guy, what does he really believe?
How do you sit in church for 20 years, become aware of some of these comments, and not say "I'm sorry, this isn't for me"? Disowning your grandmother's a little different from disowning your pastor. So while the talk about race was I thought exemplary, the lingering problems left by the Wright comments I think will remain, as a low-level fever at least.
Luntz was not quite as critical, but did fault Obama for going on too long, spending too much time on Wright rather than the broader themes, and looking into the teleprompters instead of right at the viewers. Then it was back to Greenfield for a knockout blow.
RODRIGUEZ: Do we give him credit for dismissing the words but not disowing the man, or do you think that that's not enough?

GREENFIELD: The question here for me, actually, and this may seem odd given the context, is really not race. Some of the things that Reverend Wright said--that AIDS was a government conspiracy against black people--these are the words of a crackpot, and the question is, if this is a spiritual mentor, this is a guy who is part of your life, at what point do you look up and say this guy is too much off the rails for me to be associated with him?

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.