About many things, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is spectacularly and self-righteously wrong.
But about his most famous parishioner of 20 years, he got it correct. In an April interview with Bill Moyers, Wright said Barack Obama "goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician."
A few days later, he clarified the point at the National Press Club: "Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls."
Remember Obama in his widely praised speech on race in Philadelphia in March? He said he could no more disown the Rev. Wright "imperfect as he may be" than he could disown the black community or his grandmother.
After Wright's comments with Moyers and at the National Press Club, it was a different story. Obama was all about disowning.
The irony is that Obama had for years neglected to disavow the demonstrably false statements of his pastor that were patently offensive to a broad swath of the American people. But when Wright spoke truthfully about an issue that could only be offensive to a thin-skinned politician, Obama kicked his spiritual mentor to the curb.
People are entitled to change their minds. And changing one's opinion in light of changing facts is a virtue. But if you're running for a position of political leadership not least the office of commander in chief the public is entitled to know why you've done so.
So what changes Barack Obama's mind? One month, Jeremiah Wright is an honored member of his African American Religious Leadership Committee. The next month, Obama said Wright "was presenting a worldview that contradicts who I am and what I stand for."
As an aspiring politician in Chicago in 1996, Obama staked out a position on a candidate questionnaire supporting legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns. When the Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns and after he had alienated people who cling to guns and religion Obama said the D.C. law "overshot the runway."
At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's policy conference, Obama spoke clearly about his commitment to Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Days later he retracted that commitment, telling CNN's Fareed Zakaria that it was an example of "poor phrasing."
On the campaign trail, Obama pledged to filibuster a FISA bill that gave retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies. This month, he voted for a bill with precisely that provision, describing it as "a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act."
Battling Hillary Clinton for votes in the Rust Belt, Obama denounced NAFTA as a devastating mistake. Questioned about his vilification of the trade pact in a Fortune interview after he secured the Democratic nomination, Obama struck a chord that sounded distinctly Wright-like: "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified. Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself."
John McCain, to be sure, is also guilty. His campaign's essential problem, however, is lack of focus.
Obama, on the other hand, articulates his positions with perfect clarity to serve one political purpose then alters them to serve another. From faith-based initiatives to the public financing of campaigns and American flag lapel pins, Obama delivers change we can believe in. And anyone who has fallen for his promise to remove all combat forces from Iraq within 16 months should not be surprised if that promise changes, too.
Rev. Wright was right. Obama, despite his immense talent and intellect, is at base a conventional politician.
What is unconventional is how quickly and how drastically he has changed his positions on so many issues, and how so many people so caught up in the messianic aura of Obamamania were so gullible to believe he would do otherwise.
Note: In a recent column, I made reference to a moving photo that appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The Times' caption described a child who was allegedly injured in political violence by forces loyal to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The Times has subsequently issued a lengthy correction stating that the child's mother had exaggerated the extent of the injuries.