David Axelrod, chief political strategist for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and former White House political adviser, defended Jeremiah Wright on Tuesday evening in a speech in Thousand Oaks, CA.
Axelrod described the initial news reports in 2008 on Obama’s long-time family pastor and mentor as “ninety seconds of vitriol plucked from thirty years of sermons by some enterprising opposition researcher.”
The claim that Wright’s sermons were selectively edited by Obama’s political opponents contradicts what is known about Wright’s preaching and the radical, racialist creed of the Trinity United Church of Christ, to which Obama belonged for two decades and to which he contributed a large amount of money.
Axelrod’s claim is also contradicted by Obama himself, who has cited Wright’s enthusiasm for radical politics as the main reason he was attracted to the church.
Axelrod brought up the Wright controversy during a lecture recounting his role as the “architect” of Obama’s rise from the Illinois state senate to the presidency. Axelrod praised Obama’s infamous “race speech,” contrasting his media skills to those of GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
The lecture was part of the Distinguished Speaker Series of Southern California, and was delivered before a largely friendly audience.
Recording was not permitted in the Fred Kavli Theater, but Axelrod’s remarks on Wright are an exact quote, written down and tweeted immediately upon delivery. Axelrod’s tone was somewhat bitter, a brief flash of passion in an otherwise relaxed presentation.
The questions that followed the lecture were non-controversial, having been pre-screened by a sympathetic moderator to weed out any hostile or even remotely challenging inquiries.
Asked to describe the highlights of his service in the White House, Axelrod cited the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; the killing of Osama bin Laden, the nomination of two new liberal Supreme Court justices; the resumption of stem cell research, the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Act (extending the statute of limitations for equal-pay lawsuits); and the vote to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
Almost apologetically, the moderator asked Axelrod to comment on Jodi Kantor’s new and controversial book, The Obamas, which has alleged that First Lady Michelle Obama clashed with the president’s senior advisers. While saying that he generally respected Kantor’s work, Axelrod claimed that Kantor had not spoken to the “best” sources, and described the role of the First Lady in the administration as a positive one.
The audience tittered in agreement when Axelrod criticized the creation of Super PACs, acknowledging the fact that Democrats as well as Republicans had formed them, but noting that Democratic Super PACs were raising far less money. He mentioned that Mitt Romney’s Super PAC was formed by his friends and former aides, but failed to note that former Obama aides had created the pro-Obama Priorities USA Super PAC last year.
Axelrod also claimed that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2009 had let corporations spend massive amounts of money on elections–neglecting to mention that the ruling also applied to unions, and that the case rested on principles of free speech. Conversely, he praised the administration’s efforts to push campaign finance legislation through the Senate–failing to mention that the bill only applied to corporations.
Clearly, Axelrod’s purpose was not to inform, but to inspire. He suggested that Obama would reiterate the “hope and change” message of his 2008 campaign in 2012, and would emphasize economic equality as well as economic growth.
Axelrod’s defense of Jeremiah Wright, however, is a sign that the Obama camp is still resisting and obscuring the degree to which Obama’s own inspirations and ideas remain outside the political mainstream.