Robert Novak is smarter than a lot of his fellow columnists. Unlike, for example, a Michael Gerson, who happily says the most stupid things to advance the Republican agenda, Novak puts those words into the mouths of others. Perhaps accurately, but let's just say I wouldn't recommend talking to him about a controversial subject lest you become his convenient foil.
Novak starts out by reminding us that it's important for Obama not to be seen as an angry black man.
Did [the latest speech] solve Obama's pastor problem? Leading Democrats certainly hope so, but they are not sure. His vulnerability transcends relations with a radical preacher. If Obama comes to be seen not as a presidential candidate who happens to be black but as a black candidate in the mold of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he will face a difficult struggle in the general election against John McCain even if he bests Hillary Clinton.That's clever. Novak could have issued a straightforward acknowledgment of the fact that only "teh stupids" would conclude that Obama is "in the mold of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton", and that nobody who is familiar with Obama's record would make such an obvious error. But candor is not consistent with Novak's goal, which (of course) is to keep the tarnish on Obama's image, not to clean it off.
So who is Novak's foil?
My friend Armstrong Williams, the African American conservative, told me, "It is not unusual to hear in many black churches the same language that Reverend Wright is being criticized for." I raised this with NPR reporter and Fox commentator Juan Williams (no relation to Armstrong). "Not at all," replied Williams, who also is African American. "It's ridiculous. I never have heard that in church."From what I can see, Williams is Episcopalian. I can't say that I'm surprised that his church experiences would depart from... well, pretty much any church that doesn't offer staid, conservative services that follow centuries of church doctrine and tradition. It would seem, well, vapid to speak of a "white church" experience by comparing Episcopal services to the preaching style of John Hagee, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, Rod Parsley, Jim Bakker.... "That's not a 'white church' experience - I've never heard anything like that in church." Well, duh.
Wright's demagoguery is so unusual in Juan Williams's view that it was necessary for Obama to separate himself from it two months ago. Instead of orating about race in America, Williams says, Obama should have repented as a "sinner" partaking of lies from the pulpit. It was a post-partisan, post-racial opportunity lost by the candidate.
"Partaking lies from the pulpit"? Williams was truly suggesting that Obama's immediate response to the Wright controversy should have been to condemn the entire church, all of its works, and everybody who attended services while Wright was leading the church? That, to Novak, would have been taking a "post-partisan, post-racial opportunity"? I think the laugh track on the Washington Post website must be broken, because at this point we should be hearing raucous laughter. (But at least at this point he's not (overtly) trying to put that suggestion into Williams' mouth.)
The "thrown under the bus" line should be retired, but of course Novak drags it out:
Nobody knows whether Obama's performance has damaged his candidacy permanently, but his supporters hope the issue is out of the news. The difficulty is that Jeremiah Wright, thrown under the bus by his former parishioner, can reemerge any time he wishes and renew discussion of the Democratic presidential front-runner's real identity.And if Wright doesn't wish, he'll have partisans like Novak trying to bring the issue to the forefront at every opportunity.
But for Novak to suggest that Obama's statement threw Wright under the bus? After suggesting that the proper response to the initial scandal would have been to throw Wright, his entire church, and his entire conversation under a Mack truck and run over them fifty or sixty times? If you were ever in doubt that Novak is a man with no shame....