Cafferty: Wright's Racism Not Bad As Falwell & Robertson on Abortion

During the roundtable segment on Monday's The Situation Room, CNN's Jack Cafferty compared the racist and anti-American words of Barack Obama's pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, to Jerry Falwell's and Pat Robertson's condemnation of the many abortions in America. Cafferty, who in January suggested that abortion is a "crap" issue, asserted: "How is this different than John McCain chasing after Pat Robertson or the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, who talk about how we have a culture of murdering unborn children in this country and that we've turned into Sodom because we coddled the gay community in this country? I mean, to me, that stuff is considerably more offensive than decrying racial violence and intolerance in this country, which members of the black community have some firsthand knowledge of." (Transcript follows)

Of the roundtable participants -- Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin, and Cafferty -- Toobin was the most defensive of Obama, arguing that those who try to use Wright against the Democratic candidate are "playing with fire," and that the issue "is likely to boomerang on anyone who uses it against Obama." Both he and Cafferty also labeled the sound bites of Wright as "out of context."

Even Borger, who more directly argued the importance for Obama to distance himself from Wright's comments, seemed to think Obama's association with Wright could have an innocent explanation as she agreed with Cafferty's contention that "my minister is an important figure in my life, too, but that doesn't mean I buy everything they say lock, stock and barrel."

GLORIA BORGER: But this is a man whom Obama has said has been an important figure in his life, almost his spiritual mentor. Which is why I think-

JACK CAFFERTY: Well, my minister is an important figure in my life, too. But that doesn't mean I buy everything they say lock, stock and barrel.

BORGER: Exactly. But that's why I think he needs to get out there and explain that. And he needs to say that specifically.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Monday March 17 The Situation Room on CNN, which ran at about 6:30 p.m.:

WOLF BLITZER: So will Barack Obama's speech help answer why he followed this pastor who's made these controversial statements? Let's get to our roundtable. Joining us now, our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. Jack Cafferty in New York, as well. And senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington. They're all part of the best political team on television. What do you want to hear from Obama tomorrow, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY: Well, it's not so much what I want to hear. I think he might be a little late getting in front of this story, or trying to get in front of it. The story kind of took him over the end of last week. If he was paying attention at all, he had to be aware that, potentially, some of the things this guy said could be considered controversial. And what he needs to do is, to the degree he's able tomorrow, put it behind him so he can get back on message with the campaign. Some of what the fellow said in Carol's piece there, that when the expression is different, the experience is different, the expression might be different is an interesting way to look at it. And then when you begin to look at some of the people who have attended this church, particularly the Chicago anchorwoman's description of "unapologetically Christian," and, what did she say, "absolutely black," or whatever it was, it's not the kind of extremist hot bed of racist rhetoric that sometimes the news media has portrayed it to be by running these sound bites out of context over and over and over again for the last five days.

BLITZER: Gloria, how much of a political problem does Barack Obama have?

GLORIA BORGER: I do think that the Reverend Wright's incendiary statements, the ones we have been seeing, are a real political problem for Obama. And I think that's largely because the question of who Barack Obama is is still very unsettled with the American public. And that's one of the reasons he is giving this speech tomorrow. I talked with one of his top advisors, David Axelrod, today. And he said look, race and politics was bound to come up at some point, and this is as good a time as any for Obama to give a speech. But I think he can't only give a speech from the high altitude, Wolf. I think he also needs to answer some very specific questions about his relationship with the Reverend Wright, how he could be a member of this church for 20 years, an active member, and not have heard any sermons, such as the ones that we've been hearing from this DVD, and let the American public in a little bit about why he personally is not as angry as the Reverend Wright seems to be.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, what do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: I really do disagree. I think Obama's critics ought to be careful in playing with this whole issue. You know, he doesn't vouch for everything his pastor says. He wasn't present during all of, during all of these allegedly incendiary things. I mean, some of them clearly are incendiary. But, you know, in a guy who's been a pastor for decades, to pick a few things out of context and to say that Obama should have quit his church over it, I think it's playing with fire. And I think the Clinton campaign is wise to do what it's doing and say nothing about it because I think this is likely to boomerang on anyone who uses it against Obama.

CAFFERTY: You know, this might be hard for a lot of people to believe, but I go to church probably 45 weeks out of the year. And there have been numerous times, and I've gone to the same church for the last 18 or 19 years. And there have been numerous times I've been sitting there and the pastor will say something and I'll go, "What the hell are they thinking?" It doesn't mean I get up and quit the church. It means that day the guy was off his game and said something I didn't happen to agree with. And I think Jeff's point is very well taken. You don't go 20 years and turn the spiritual teaching of your children over to someone if you're not pretty sure that they're on a sound footing. And if they're not on a sound footing and you do it anyway, then you probably don't have the judgment to be President. So I think Jeff's probably got a point.

BORGER: But this is a man whom Obama has said has been an important figure in his life, almost his spiritual mentor. Which is why I think-

CAFFERTY: Well, my minister is an important figure in my life, too. But that doesn't mean I buy everything they say lock, stock and barrel.

BORGER: Exactly. But that's why I think he needs to get out there and explain that. And he needs to say that specifically.

TOOBIN: Really, Gloria?

BORGER: Yeah, I do. I really do. I really do.

TOOBIN: I mean, I just wonder what it's like to, you know, to force a presidential candidate or insist on a presidential candidate, you know, defining his spiritual life in such a degree in public that, well, I agree with this, I don't agree with that.

CAFFERTY: Yeah.

TOOBIN: This is a guy, for example, Barack Obama, who's written a great deal about his spiritual life-

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: -in his book. And I think it's pretty well known what he thinks. And I don't think it's all that relevant what his pastor thinks on a handful of issues.

BORGER: And, look, as his campaign said, they said to me, these are not Barack Obama's words, don't forget, these are not his words, these are the Reverend Wright's words.

CAFFERTY: Well, the other thing you could bring up is how is this different than John McCain chasing after Pat Robertson or the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, who talk about how we have a culture of murdering unborn children in this country and that we've turned into Sodom because we coddled the gay community in this country? I mean, to me, that stuff is considerably more offensive than decrying racial violence and intolerance in this country, which members of the black community have some firsthand knowledge of.