Early reactions to Sen. Barack Obama's Big Speech in Philadelphia last week about his pastor and spiritual adviser of 20 years, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., sound like a mixed review: "It was a nice speech about race, but what about that nutty preacher?"
After all, why was the Illinois senator delivering his brilliantly crafted argument for a renewed national dialogue on race at this moment in his campaign? Because goofy-sounding video clips of his Chicago pastor shouting "G-d damn America for treating its citizens as less than human" were popping up all over television and the Internet.
To stop the spreading damage and to reassure his supporters, Obama delivered his most important speech since the blockbuster that launched him into the national spotlight at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
His new Big Speech elegantly and forcefully steered the conversation from Wright's divisive sound bites to the nation's larger divide over race, culture and class that feed anger, fears, resentments and suspicions along racial lines.
He showed an empathy for grievances held by folks on both sides of the color line that seemed to grow out of lessons learned from his own biracial background.
He ended with an eloquent plea to avoid letting the few things about us that are different get in the way of the many pressing concerns that we have in commonlike jobs, schools, health care and the Iraq war.
I'm sure it reassured his supporters, including the critical superdelegates. But Obama's Big Speech may not have won over new converts, mainly because of some lingering questions about Wright.
Will it reach beyond Obama's base? Considering how many people were likely to take the time to hear or read Obama's speech with an open mind, I was reminded of the famous story about another Illinoisan, two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. When a woman exclaimed to the former Illinois governor that "Every thinking American is voting for you," he responded, "That's not enough, madam, I need a majority."
So does Obama. That became harder for him to achieve after Wright's roars hit the airwaves and the Web.
A Fox News poll released two days after Obama's speech indicated that most Americans do not believe Obama shares the controversial views of his spiritual mentor, but 35 percent said their relationship raised doubts about the senator.
Among Democrats surveyed, 26 percent said the relationship raised doubts about Obama, while 66 percent said it did not.
And when polls ask whether Obama should leave the church even now, the answers come back with a racial divide that eerily resembles reactions to the "not guilty" verdict in O.J. Simpson's murder trial. Most whites think Obama should leave, while most blacks think he should stay loyal to the minister who Obama says led him to Jesus and presided at his wedding.
I'm sure that poll reflects the South Side of Chicago, where Rev. Wright has been a well-respected man for decades. He came to Trinity United Church of Christ in 1972 and built it from about 80 members to a reported membership of 8,000.
Most media, Obama says, have not shown the side of Wright that ABC's "Nightline" showed in a video clip after Obama's speech. It showed a preacher of much quieter temperament praying aloud, "Oh, G-d, we come from many different places and different races, but we are of one race, the human race."
Having heard Rev. Wright at his church before the Obama flap erupted, I can see what Obama means. Unfortunately, the fiery sound bite gets a lot more attention than the quiet, reflective minister.
The irony for Obama, who grew up in Hawaii, Indonesia and rural Kansas, is that he met Wright while trying to get a better handle on black American culture in the 1980s while working as a community organizer. Now pundits ask whether Obama, who has won more white than black votes numerically, is "too black" to win many more white votes.
Quit the church, many tell him. I don't think that will solve his problem. His critics will continue to ask why he stayed so long. Some will even charge him with being a disloyal cynic.
Obama's best bet is to hope Americans get a chance to see a side of Wright that softens the image of the crazy preacher they've seen on TV. In the meantime, Obama finds himself trapped in the racial divide that many still hope he is uniquely qualified to heal.