WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Democrat Barack Obama said Tuesday he was
outraged and appalled by the latest comments from his former pastor,
who asserted that criticism of his fiery sermons is an attack on the
black church and the U.S. government was responsible for the creation
of the AIDS virus.
The presidential candidate is seeking to tamp down the growing fury over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his incendiary remarks that threaten to undermine Obama’s campaign.
“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 had hoped was dying down.
“This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” Wright told the Washington media Monday. “It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African American religious tradition.”
Obama told reporters Tuesday that Wright’s comments do not accurately portray the perspective of the black church.
“The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago,” Obama said of the man who married him.
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.
Obama said he heard that Wright had given “a performance” and when he watched tapes, he realized that it more than just a case of the former pastor defending himself.
“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.
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 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,” Obama said. “They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced.”
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.