In an attempt to move beyond the controversy over inflammatory sermons given by his longtime pastor, Sen. Barack Obama said he would deliver a “major address” on race and politics in Philadelphia today.
The Illinois Democrat has struggled for several days to deal with comments by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., now retired, after videotapes of past sermons surfaced in which Wright said, among other things, that African Americans should sing “God Damn America” instead of “God Bless America.”
Obama ended a speech at a community college in western Pennsylvania on Monday morning with the words “God bless America” -- an atypical closing for him.
At a news conference later, he repeated condemnations he made of Wright’s remarks shortly after the videos were widely broadcast last week.
But he also said “the caricature that is being painted of [Wright] is not accurate.”
Obama has portrayed Wright as a close spiritual advisor, crediting Wright with leading him from a secular lifestyle to church membership.
The title of Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” is drawn from one of Wright’s sermons.
Obama has been involved with Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Wright was pastor, for nearly two decades. Wright presided at Obama’s marriage and baptized both of the couple’s daughters.
Obama has cast himself as a candidate who can move beyond America’s racial divisions. The controversy over Wright has challenged that image.
Throughout his campaign, Obama has rarely addressed race directly, and he has sought to prevent his campaign from being consumed by the subject.
Aides said Obama’s decision to deliver a speech on race was driven by the Wright controversy as well as by other developments that have heightened attention to issues of race.
These include recent comments by Geraldine A. Ferraro, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1984, in which she said in part: “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.” Ferraro supports the candidacy of Obama’s rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (R-N.Y.).
Clinton focused on the war in Iraq on Monday, delivering what was billed as a major policy speech on the conflict, which marks its fifth anniversary this week.
She said the war “we cannot win” may cost the nation $1 trillion and further strain the economy.
She blasted Obama and the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, arguing that she is the only candidate with a withdrawal plan.
“Sen. McCain would gladly accept the torch and stay the course, keeping troops in Iraq for up to 100 years if necessary,” she said in the address at George Washington University. “That in a nutshell is the Bush-McCain Iraq policy -- don’t learn from your mistakes, repeat them.”
Arguing that victory can only be achieved through political, not military, solutions, Clinton said, “Sen. McCain and President Bush claim withdrawal is defeat.
“Let’s be clear: Withdrawal is not defeat.
“Defeat is keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years.”
McCain, who was in Baghdad, told CNN that Clinton “obviously does not understand nor appreciate the progress that has been made on the ground. . . . The surge is working.”
Clinton also faulted Obama, saying he had not worked “aggressively” to end the war “until he started running for president.”
An Obama administration, she said, would not follow through on campaign promises to end the war.
“I have concrete, detailed plans to end this war, and I have not wavered on my commitment to follow through on them,” she said.
Obama fired back during a town-hall meeting in Pennsylvania.
“I have been consistent as saying that we have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in,” he said, adding that he would endeavor to withdraw U.S. forces while maintaining stability in Iraq. Clinton has not been consistent, he said.
Noting that he opposed the war in 2002 and each year since, Obama said, “I’ve been clear, unlike Sen. Clinton, who voted for war and has never taken responsibility for it.”
Times staff writer Johanna Neuman in Washington contributed to this report.