Susan Estrich: Judgment and Character

Barack Obama is right.

Enough is enough, certainly when it comes to his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

On Tuesday, the Illinois senator finally did what he should have done a month ago, which was to express outrage at Wright’s comments, make clear that he is running as the antithesis of everything Wright wrongly stands for and, in political terms, throw him overboard.

But will that put an end to the controversy?

Of course not.

Even before Tuesday, I think you would have been hard-pressed to find too many people who honestly believed that Barack Obama, running on a platform of unity and hope and optimism, actually shared any, much less many, of the most controversial beliefs of his former pastor, spinner of conspiracy theories about the U.S. government and AIDs, admirer of Louis Farrakhan and spewer of sermons damning America instead of praising it.

No, the issue was never whether Obama took his message from Wright or shared the reverend’s rants. It’s always been about judgment. Judgment and character.

Why did he join that church, stay in that church, remain loyal to Wright, refuse to condemn him when his sermons became public, compare him to an uncle and even his white grandmother?

Why didn’t he follow Oprah’s lead and quit a church that was known among African-Americans in Chicago not only for its charitable work for the needy of the South Side but also for the extremist rhetoric of its charismatic pastor?

It’s not as if Obama wasn’t familiar with the age-old political ritual of throwing people overboard when they cause you a problem. Loyalty, as anyone who has ever worked on a political campaign should know, is a one-way street in this business.

Samantha Power found that out when she called Hillary Clinton a "monster" in a supposedly off-the-record interview with a foreign newspaper. I’m told that Obama has been quite solicitous of Power after the incidence in question, remaining in touch with her to make sure that the fall off the boat didn’t hit too hard.

But off the boat she went, and the incident, and its potential for costing Obama, ended. Wright was bound to be a bigger problem for Obama than Power, a pastor of 20 years standing versus a newly minted foreign policy adviser, not to mention that one was exploiting racial divisions while the other was simply criticizing his opponent.

But that is all the more reason why it was critical for Obama to move even more swiftly and decisively in the case of Wright than he did with Power.

And so the question lingers: What took so long? Why did it take the Bill Moyers interview and the NAACP speech and the National Press Club appearance for Obama to reach the conclusion that Oprah reached without any of them?

Why did he defend a man who clearly, by these recent appearances, has shown himself to have absolutely no loyalty to his former parishioner, who couldn’t be doing more to help elect John McCain president if he tried? Was he really fooled by Wright?

Did he really believe him to be a better, more decent, more honorable man than he was? Or was he afraid that black voters would be offended by his denunciation of someone who, at least initially, was advertised as a respected figure in the black church?

Barack Obama doesn’t have to convince anyone that he disagrees with what Wright has to say and what he stands for. That’s easy. You can’t have heard a single speech that Obama has given in the last year and make that mistake.

What he has to do, if he is to effectively put this bad chapter to rest, is provide some explanation for why it took him so long and why he seemed to find it so difficult to do to this guy what most of us wanted to do to him the first time we saw a single clip of his hateful rants.

Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for