Barack Obama's speech on race was an eloquent, heartfelt dissection of America's original sin. He touched all the right bases, historic as well as contemporary, and drew on his own biracial heritage to vividly describe the anger blacks and whites often express about each other.
It was sober and intelligent, a vindication of the risks he took in confronting the hot topic in the first place. But the speech alone can't and didn't secure for Obama the Democratic nomination.
For one thing, there were some contradictions with earlier statements Obama made. For another, there were some problems with his logic, as when he seemed to equate his pastor's outlandish allegations that the U.S. government created AIDS to kill nonwhites with white resentment over job losses and affirmative action.
More importantly, Obama's political problems are bigger than race. Those problems can be summed up in a single word: doubts. They are growing about him at the worst possible time.
His campaign hasn't had two good days in a row in several weeks, and questions about his ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright are only the latest reason. First, there was the report of an aide telling Canadian officials that his anti-NAFTA comments were more political than real. Then came a similar claim from another aide regarding Iraq, with theaide telling a BBC reporter Obama's plans for troop withdrawal would likely have to be changed if he were elected.
Like a dog with a bone, Hillary Clinton seized on both events to argue that Obama doesn't mean what he says. It's an extension of her argument that his scintillating words do not prove presidential ability. Now she had ammunition to say even his words were false.
Her claims, along with that effective ringing red-phone ad, helped deliver the popular vote for her in Ohio and Texas. Even if they didn't help her much in the delegate race, those victories kept Clinton alive and Obama on the defensive.
The results illustrated the doubts many Democrats already felt about Obama, which is why he has failed three times to deliver the knockout punch to Clinton. From New Hampshire in January to Super Tuesday in February through Ohio and Texas this month, the clincher has eluded him.
Comes now Rev. Wright and, for Clinton, he is a gift that has been giving for nearly a week. Apart from Wright's many shocking comments, the problem for Obama is that the incident reinforces the pattern the NAFTA and Iraq issues established. Throw in Michelle Obama's recent remark that "for the first time in my adult lifetime I am really proud of my country" and you have a nasty brew of doubts that Obama is the authentic break from the past, racial and otherwise, he claims to be.
It was inevitable, of course, that he would face tests. No rookie could burst onto the stage and sweep to the nomination without near-death experiences. He is having one now that he might not survive.
His mood signaled as much Tuesday. He looked uncomfortable, even unhappy, and his few attempts at soaring rhetoric never got off the ground.
There was also a hint of fatalism near the end when he warned against the usual narrow band of race talk, whether it was his relationship with Wright or what he called "some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card."
If that happens, he said, "I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change."
Even in that self-serving scenario, his image of defeat was incomplete. For one man's distraction is another man's doubt. And right now, doubts about Obama are piling up faster than he can talk them away.