Confronting the race issue

The revised standard manual of running for president says forcefully that when someone in or close to your campaign becomes an issue, you cut that person loose quickly and completely and head on down the road and never look back. The wisdom of this political brutality has been proven over and over, as candidates who clung too long to a toxic associate have learned to their dismay.

The problem with running as a new and different kind of candidate is that when trouble comes you can’t resort to the well-thumbed playbook without looking like a same-old, same-old candidate.

Thus, it was instructive to see how Barack Obama handled the first real setback of his seemingly charmed campaign — the loopy and overheated musings on 9/11 of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Obama could have been forgiven for a trace of self-pity. It seemed he had only just finished knocking down rumors that he was Muslim and had attended an Islamic school, and now he was being pressured to distance himself from the Trinity Church of Christ pastor who performed his marriage and baptized his children.

Obama elected to address the issue in a lengthy speech in Philadelphia. It speaks to his unusual campaign that the candidate who was first accused of not being black enough and now maybe too black felt compelled to address the question of race, which he did in cool, collected and eloquent fashion.

The contest is still volatile and the jury is still out on how much damage Wright has done to his campaign, but if Obama strides through this unscathed, the Clinton campaign and perhaps the Republicans in the fall will know that they attack him on racial matters at their peril.

As for Wright, Obama said the reverend’s remarks “rightly offend white and black alike,” but if all he knew about the man were the snippets of his sermons on YouTube and the caricatures by critics, “I would react in the same way. But the truth is, that isn’t all I know about the man.”

The upshot: “As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me.”

A mark of high respect in the labor movement is to be deemed a “standup guy.” Maybe “standup guy” will now find a place in the presidential-campaign playbook.