WASHINGTON – Barack Obama essentially severed his friendship with his former pastor Tuesday, calling the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s speech a day earlier at the National Press Club “a show of disrespect to me” and saying it “directly contradicts everything that I’ve done during my life.”
Obama’s remarks in a televised news conference from North Carolina came as he responded to increasing pressure to distance himself from the racially divisive Wright in order to build trust with working-class white voters in his bid to secure the Democratic presidential nomination.
On Tuesday, the Illinois senator used words such as “divisive and destructive,” “ridiculous,” “outrageous” and “wrong” to describe the words of Wright, a man who was Obama’s pastor for two decades, performed his wedding and baptized his children. Obama also said he was “particularly angered” by Wright saying that Obama’s denunciation of some of Wright’s earlier remarks was only political posturing.
He said Wright isn’t the same man he thought he knew 20 years ago and that some of Wright’s ideas have given “comfort to those who prey on hate.”
With two potentially pivotal primary elections next Tuesday, Obama hopes he can seal the nomination with wins in North Carolina and Indiana. But polls show that Indiana is up for grabs and that Obama’s lead over rival Hillary Clinton in North Carolina has shrunk because of doubts among white voters.
On Monday, in his third public appearance in four days, Wright went to the National Press Club in Washington and defended his previous controversial remarks, including that he blames the U.S. government for spreading AIDS in the African-American community and comparing U.S. foreign policy to terrorism.
Until Tuesday, Obama had sought to denounce some of Wright’s comments while generally supporting him and characterizing his anger as the legacy of generational bitterness. In a March 18 speech on race, Obama said he could no more disown Wright than disown the black community, or his white grandmother, who had made racist statements.
But Obama’s tone changed Tuesday.
“All it was was a bunch of rants that aren’t grounded in truth,” he said of Wright’s Monday remarks.
“Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that I’m about trying to bridge gaps, and I see the commonality in all people,” Obama said.