WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Tuesday he was outraged by the latest divisive comments from his former pastor and rejected the notion that he secretly agrees with him.
Obama is seeking to tamp down the growing fury over Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his incendiary remarks that threaten to undermine his campaign at a tough time. The Illinois senator is coming off a loss in Pennsylvania to rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and trying to win over white working-class voters in Indiana and North Carolina in next Tuesday's primaries.
“I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened by the spectacle that we saw yesterday,'' Obama told reporters at a news conference.
After weeks of staying out of the public eye while critics lambasted his sermons, Wright made three public appearances in four days to defend himself. The former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has been combative, providing colorful commentary and feeding the story Obama, who hopes to become the first black U.S. president, had hoped was dying down.
On Monday, Wright criticized the U.S. government as imperialist and stood by his suggestion that the United States invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against minorities. “Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything,'' he said.
And perhaps even worse for Obama, Wright suggested that the church congregant secretly concurs.
“If Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected,'' Wright said. “Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls.''
Obama stated flatly that he doesn't share the views of the man who officiated at his wedding, baptized his two daughters and been his pastor for 20 years. The title of Obama's second book, The Audacity of Hope, came from a Wright sermon.
“What became clear to me is that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for,'' Obama said. “And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I'm about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and I see the commonality in all people.''
In a highly publicized speech last month, Obama sharply condemned Wright's remarks. But he did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member.
On Tuesday, Obama sought to distance himself further from Wright.
“I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992, and have known Reverend Wright for 20 years,'' Obama said. “The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.''
Obama said he heard that Wright had given “a performance'' and when he watched news accounts, he realized that it was more than just a case of the former pastor defending himself.
“His comments were not only divisive and destructive, I believe they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate,'' Obama said. “I'll be honest with you, I hadn't seen it'' when reacting initially on Monday, he said.
Wright had asserted that criticism of his fiery sermons was an attack on the black church. Obama rejected that notion.
Obama said his earlier mild reaction came because he gave him the benefit of the doubt, but that evaporated when he saw Wright's speech. Wright's comments may well have severed the relationship.
“He has done great damage, I do not see that relationship being the same,'' said Obama.
“What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts what I am and what I stand for,'' Obama said.
Wright recently retired from the church. He became an issue in Obama's presidential bid when videos circulated of Wright condemning the U.S. government for allegedly racist and genocidal acts. In the videos, some several years old, Wright called on God to “damn America.'' He also said the government created the AIDS virus to destroy “people of color.''
Obama said he didn't vet his pastor before deciding to seek the presidency. He said he was particularly distressed that the furor has been a distraction to the purpose of a campaign.
“I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia explaining that he's done enormous good. … But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS. … There are no excuses. They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced.''