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'Gasoline on the fire': Barack Obama on Jeremiah Wright

May 4, 2008 | 12:45 pm

Today's "Meet the Press" on NBC featured a full hour with Sen. Barack Obama, and it's no surprise that the first third of the interview focused on the inflammatory remarks of Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and their effect on Obama's quest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

After snippets of some of Wright's more controversial sermons "were looped on cable stations 24 hours a day for about five straight days," Obama said, "I did what I thought was right, which was to denounce the words, not denounce the man."

After all, the Illinois senator noted, he had known Wright as a former Marine and a pillar of the community, and "I think that the American people understand that when I joined Trinity United Church of Christ, I was committing not to Pastor Wright; I was committing to a church and I was committing to Christ."

But last Monday, Obama said, "when [Wright] came out ...

... at the press conference of the National Press Club, not only did he amplify some of those comments and defend them vigorously, but he added to it."

Wright's "divisive, hateful language" -- about terrorism, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and a possible government conspiracy to harm blacks with the AIDS virus, among other things -- "put gasoline on the fire," Obama said.

"What really changed was a sense that he was going to double-down on the statements that he had made before," Obama said -- an indication that "he did not share my fundamental belief and my fundamental values in terms of bringing the country together and moving forward, and the pride that I've got for this country."

Asked whether he could have handled the situation better by cutting his ties with Wright earlier, Obama responded: "When you're in national politics, it's always good to pull the Band-Aid off quick.... But life's messy sometimes, and, you know, it's not always neat, and things don't proceed in textbook Political 101 fashion."

If he becomes president, will he seek Wright's counsel?

"Absolutely not," Obama replied.

-- Leslie Hoffecker