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Ferraro: Obama Wrong to Compare Me to Wright

Former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro responds to a reporter's question during a media availability on the Bryant University campus in North Smithfield, R.I., Thursday, March 13, 2008. (AP.)

By Alec MacGillis
In his landmark speech Tuesday in Philadelphia, Barack Obama urged Americans to use the controversy caused by the airing of his former pastor's incendiary remarks as an opportunity for a broader discussion of race in American society.

Geraldine Ferraro, for one, is more than happy to oblige.

The former New York congresswoman and Democratic vice presidential nominee got the race debate going a few weeks ago with her comments in a California newspaper that Obama had gotten to where he was -- on the verge of knocking off Ferraro's favored candidate, Hillary Clinton -- because he is a black man.

Today, she surfaced again in the same paper, the Daily Breeze in Torrance, to say that she objected vehemently to Obama's linkage in his speech between her comments and the inflammatory excerpts of sermons by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's longtime pastor.

"To equate what I said with what this racist bigot has said from the pulpit is unbelievable," Ferraro told the paper. "He gave a very good speech on race relations, but he did not address the fact that this man is up there spewing hatred."

Overall, Ferraro said, she thought the speech was "excellent," but she lamented that Obama did not go further in condemning Wright. She surmised that Obama was limited in that regard because he did not want to offend black voters, which she called the base of Obama's support.

"I think they got as far as they could go politically," she said. "They're looking at their base. Their base is African Americans. They're looking at that and they're trying to walk a very thin line. They don't want to offend the African Americans, and this is the way he did it."

Ferraro's fresh remarks may well further stoke the embers, echoing as they do Bill Clinton's comparison of Obama's South Carolina victory in South Carolina to those of Jesse Jackson. It is also arguable on the merits -- African Americans have tilted heavily toward Obama, but Obama has also depended on other demographic groups, such as highly-educated liberals and young voters.

In her initial appearance in the Daily Breeze, Ferraro said that "if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

The Obama campaign drew attention to the quote and a small firestorm ensued, with Ferraro standing her ground in a slew of television appearances and charging her critics with reverse racism, before she finally stepped down from her ceremonial post in the Clinton campaign. The spotlight then quickly shifted to Wright's hot-tempered riffs, which included his demand that "God damn America!" for its mistreatment of blacks and his insinuation that the U.S. had invited the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

In his speech Tuesday, Obama linked the Ferraro and Wright episodes, without explicitly stating that they were of the same magnitude.

"On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wild- and wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap," he said. "On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation and that rightly offend white and black alike."

Obama linked the two again later in the speech, saying, "We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro in the aftermath of her recent statements as harboring some deep-seated bias." (He went on to say that such a dismissal would be wrong and inadequate.)

Ferraro told the Daily Breeze she had "no idea" why Obama had chosen to link her with Wright. She also criticized Obama for invoking, in his discussion of Wright, insensitive racial remarks made by his own white grandmother in Hawaii. "I could not believe that," Ferraro said. "That's my mother's generation."

All in all, Obama's association with Wright calls into question his judgment, Ferraro said.

"What this man is doing is he is spewing that stuff out to young people, and to younger people than Obama, and putting it in their heads that it's OK to say 'Goddamn America' and it's OK to beat up on white people," she said. "You don't preach that from the pulpit."

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 20, 2008; 6:27 PM ET
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