Like the superhero Iron Man, who can withstand several blows to his titanium alloy and still emerge undeterred, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has had to overcome several hits to his campaign that would have crippled a weaker man.
First, there was the Tony Rezko connection. Rezko, a real estate developer currently on trial for demanding kickbacks from businesses, was also a contributor to Obama’s campaign. The story hurt Obama’s credibility a bit, but his message continued to resonate among his supporters.
Then there was the issue involving his former minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright’s comments vilifying the “white power struggle,” though admittedly unfairly connected to Obama, were nevertheless still ill-advised and anachronistic.
Wright or wrong, going public with these divisive sentiments screamed of selfishness, arrogance and attention-seeking. Wright came off as a man who feels he should say whatever he wants, without regard to the feelings of others, notably those that have supported him while he ranted from the pulpit. The fact that he claimed to “represent the church,” made it all the worse. Obama barely made it out of that PR assault with his political life.
Fortunately, the damage control he displayed stopped the bleeding long enough to rebuild the obelisk of hope.
However, this time one wonders if he can do it again. Speaking firmly yet defiantly to Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, Obama lashed back at those who dare to attack his wife’s patriotism. In February, while campaigning for her husband in Tennessee, Michelle stated that, for the first time in her life, she was really proud of her country. Suddenly, the GOP attack machine was on the offensive, claiming her remarks display a disdain for the country she is working to assure her husband will lead.
“I find [the criticism] unacceptable,” he told Sawyer, “the notion that you start attacking my wife or my family. Michelle is the most honest, the best person I know. She is one of the most caring people I know. She loves this country. And for them to try to distort or to play snippets of her remarks in ways that are unflattering to her, I think, is just low-class.”
The situation is reminiscent of the one that faced Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004, when his wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, told Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Editor Colin McKickle to “shove it.” That was a public relations headache for Kerry, one that put him on the fence between his political future and his duty as husband. It may not have been the reason he lost the race, but it certainly hurt his chances to prove himself willing to show the kind of strength that his candidacy needed. He just seemed at a loss to control his more take-charge wife.
To his credit, Obama did what he felt was right, which is defend his wife while also helping stem the “is he patriotic enough?” questioning from the swing states. His sudden decision to wear American flag pins seems too coincidental for their own good, but it is what he needs to do in these final months to secure his nomination.
However, in handling the situation in this manner, he risks raising more eyebrows about whether he possesses the toughness to lead this nation. Skeptics will ask: “Gee, if he will not correct his wife when she is making a flagrantly un-American statement, what would happen if he must show toughness against Iran President Ahmadinejâd?” It could turn into the one weak spot that cripples his campaign even if he does secure the nomination.
“Lay off my wife,” said Obama, addressing his critics and political adversaries. He seems to disregard Michelle’s comments by chalking them up to her “outspoken nature,” similar to what Kerry did.
Michelle Obama meant well, but I think that Barack would be better suited to find a middle ground that suits all of his needs, both political and personal. He should argue that the comment was merely meant as hyperbole and then show the ways that his wife has displayed her patriotism. Then just move on. As long as this soundbyte remains in the ether without a definite and clear justification, Obama is going to remain a messenger of hope without the clarity to resonate with voters who say they would “vote for John McCain if Hillary Clinton drops out.”
If he takes one more blow, his suit of armor may not be able to withstand it,