Barack Obama tried Friday to clear the deck with the Tony Rezko and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversies. What’s interesting is how he went about doing it. He appeared on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC Friday evening, but during the day he met with Chicago reporters who have been dogging Obama about the Rezko story for a solid year. Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet sets the table:
Obama held two extensive, separate sessions with journalists from the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. An unassuming Obama entered a 10th-floor Sun-Times conference room for a conversation Friday, not as the hotshot at a rally. It was his moment — his time, as he himself might say — to try to bring this to an end.
“I think it’s really important to make sure that you guys feel like you’ve got it all,” Obama said.
Carol Marin (Sun-Times):
Watching Obama as he answered questions from this paper’s reporters and editorial board, I was struck by two things.
One, how much better it would have been if he had offered these details earlier. Because the senator’s description of his relationship with Rezko is entirely plausible.
“My guard would have been up had I seen a pattern of him asking for favors, or even being obtrusive. He wasn’t one of these people who wanted pictures taken all the time,” said Obama, “or was calling you to show up for things. He was a very gracious individual.”
The second thing that struck me Friday had to do with loyalty.
This could not be a more intense time for Obama as he slugs it out with Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And it arguably would be a fine time to throw Tony Rezko under the bus.
But Obama remains grateful that Rezko supported him in his failed congressional race against Bobby Rush when, given a relationship with Rush, it wasn’t easy. “That was loyalty that I appreciated,” the senator said.
And so Obama still calls Rezko “a friend, with the caveat that if it turns out the allegations are true, then he’s not who I thought he was, and I’d be very disappointed with that.”
So, candor — though delayed — gives us a clearer view.
And friendship — tested but not abandoned — looks more like a virtue than a fault.
Mark Brown (Sun-Times):
I don’t think anybody at this newspaper can make the claim any longer that he hasn’t answered our inquiries after an exhaustive 80-minute interview session Friday evening. I won’t.
He patiently took all comers, and, when it was over, the biggest outstanding question was why he hadn’t done so sooner.
Am I satisfied with all his answers, especially in relation to the house transaction about which I’ve been harping?
Not entirely. But, barring some new facts or information from some other source that would contradict him, I don’t know how much further we can push the issue.
John Kass (Chicago Tribune) is less satisfied, but I think that’s his default mode:
“I know that there are those, like John Kass,” Obama said, “who would like me to decry Chicago politics more frequently.”
Just the corrupt parts, I said.
(Obama) did state, unequivocally, that if elected president, he would keep U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald as the federal hammer in Chicago, no small announcement given that Rezko is on trial and Obama ally Mayor Richard Daley is feeling federal heat.
Obama and Republican John McCain are the only presidential candidates who have formally committed to Fitzgerald. Hillary remains mum on the subject. Perhaps she and Bill hope to hold a federal carrot or a stick out to the Daley boys, should she win the Democratic nomination.
“I think he [Fitzgerald] has been aggressive in putting the city on notice and the state on notice that he takes issues of public corruption seriously,” Obama said.
Will this announcement on Fitzgerald harm your relationships with Chicago politicians?
“I can’t speculate on that,” he said. “You can.”
The Chicago Tribune editorial board, however, came away pleased:
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism. But when he finally sat down with the Tribune editorial board Friday, Obama offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.
The most remarkable facet of Obama’s 92-minute discussion was that, at the outset, he pledged to answer every question the Tribune journalists crammed into the room would put to him. And he did.
We fully expect the Clinton campaign, given its current desperation, to do whatever it must in order to keep the Rezko tin can tied to Obama’s bumper.
When we endorsed Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination Jan. 27, we said we had formed our opinions of him during 12 years of scrutiny. We concluded that the professional judgment and personal decency with which he has managed himself and his ambition distinguish him.
Nothing Obama said in our editorial board room Friday diminishes that verdict.
Obama should have had Friday’s discussion 16 months ago. Asked why he didn’t, he spoke of learning, uncomfortably, what it’s like to live in a fishbowl. That made him perhaps too eager to protect personal information—too eager to “control the narrative.”
And as a sidebar to the Jeremiah Wright controversy (Mary Mitchell, Sun-Times) :
Although still a member of the church, Obama acknowledges that these ongoing controversies have put “strains” on his relationship with his pastor.
“I have felt frustrated by how the church has been characterized and by the suggestion that this is somehow a separatist church and by other statements made on these talk shows,” he said.
“Anybody who has been to the church knows this is a terrific, welcoming church,” Obama noted. Trinity “is a wonderful faith community that has done very positive things in the community and also in my life.”
From the Chicago Tribune transcript:
Tribune: Geraldine Ferraro, she’s asked to leave, she leaves the campaign, she should have left. And some people see that, legitimately so. Then how should we see . . .
Obama: I think people should raise legitimate concerns about it. And the fact that he’s retiring and we’ve got a young pastor, Otis Moss, coming in, means that people should understand the context of this relationship. That this is an aging pastor who’s about to retire and that I have made and will make some very clear statements about how profoundly I disagree with these statements. I don’t think they are reflective of the church.
They’re certainly not reflective of my views. I do think there is an overlap in the sense that there is a generational shift that is taking place and has constantly taken pace in our society. And Rev. Wright is somebody who came of age in the 60s. And so like a lot of African-American men of fierce intelligence coming up in the ’60s he has a lot of the language and the memories and the baggage of those times. And I represent a different generation with just a different set of life experiences, and so see race in just a different set of terms than he does, as does Otis Moss, who is slightly younger than me. And so the question then for me is what’s my relationship to that past?
You know, I can completely just disown it and say I don’t understand it, but I do understand it. I understand the context with which he developed his views, but also can still reject unequivocally. . .
Tribune: You reject his views, you won’t reject the lens. Is that it?
Obama: Yeah, exactly. And this is where the connection comes in. I mean, I do think that Geraldine Ferraro, the lens through which she looks at race, is different. She’s 70 years old. She’s grown up in different times. The Queens that she grew up in is, I’m sure, a different place than it was then. Just as Chicago is a different place than it was then.
So part of my job is to see if I can help push the country into a different place with a different set of understandings. But as I said, it doesn’t excuse what the reverend said, and I’m very troubled by it. And if, as I said, if I had heard those sermons, if I had been there when those sermons were taking place, I would have raised that with him, and if I had thought that that was the message being promoted on a consistent basis within that church, I don’t think I could be a consistent part of it.
The Chicago Tribune posted the audio from its Friday interview … but now I can’t figure out where they’ve tucked it away.