- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor defiantly embraced his racial and anti-government sermons, calling the criticisms of his religious philosophies “an attack on the black church” and suggesting anew that the U.S. government may have engineered AIDS to infect black communities.

“I believe our government is capable of doing anything,” the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington.

Rekindling the issue of race just as Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign courts skeptical white working-class voters, Mr. Wright suggested that Mr. Obama disavowed his pastor’s comments for political reasons.

“He had to distance himself, because he’s a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American,” Mr. Wright said. “I offered words of hope. I offered reconciliation. I offered restoration in that sermon. But nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon.”

The speech marked the third time in four days that Mr. Wright has claimed the national media spotlight, appearing Friday on PBS’ “Bill Moyers Journal” and Sunday as the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner for the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Wright, who retired in February after 36 years as church pastor, said he was speaking out now not to defend himself or Mr. Obama but to counter what he called “an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.”

But the reverend’s media blitz threatened to rekindle questions about Mr. Obama’s 20-year relationship with the pastor and his church, Trinity United Church of Christ, which publicly declares that its ministry is founded on a 1960s black-power theology book that espouses “the destruction of the white enemy.”

“I don”t think having Jeremiah Wright pop up a week before the votes are cast [in Indiana and North Carolina] is helpful to Obama,” said political scientist G. Terry Madonna, director of the polling center at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

He noted that exit polls from the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania — which rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York won by a nearly 10-point margin — showed a growing racial divide in the electorate after media scrutiny of Mr. Wright”s sermons.

About 12 percent of white voters in Pennsylvania said race influenced their vote, a group that overwhelmingly backed Mrs. Clinton, 76 percent to 12 percent. White voters in general picked Mrs. Clinton 63 percent to 37 percent while 90 percent of black voters chose Mr. Obama, exit polls show.

“There is clearly something going on with the racial aspect of the voting,” said Mr. Madonna.

Indiana and North Carolina voters go to the polls on May 6.

Mrs. Clinton took a nine-point lead over presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona in a general election matchup, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll out yesterday that aided her argument that she is the most electable Democrat.

The poll showed Mr. Obama roughly tied with Mr. McCain, the same spot that both Democrats were in three weeks ago before Mr. Obama”s loss in the Pennsylvania primary raised new concerns about his ability to win over white working-class and rural voters.

At the press club, Mr. Wright did little to assist Mr. Obama”s run.

He defended his remark that the U.S. bore responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks, citing Jesus” words: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you,” Mr. Wright said. “Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.”

He refused to apologize for his infamous “God damn America” sermon, saying the U.S. government owed blacks an apology for slavery.

The pastor stood firm in his praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and said he would not “put down” one of today”s most influential black religious leaders.

“Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy,” he said. “He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn”t make me this color.”

Mr. Wright also said he gave a warning to Mr. Obama: “If you get elected, November 5 I”m coming after you, because you”ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.”

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