Friday, March 14, 2008

Showtime for Obama

In the lull between now and the remaining primaries, it's time for Barack Obama's crucial closeup. Casual dismissals of his minister's troubling views and his ties to indicted fixer Tony Rezko won't be enough to withstand last-minute attacks from the Clinton campaign and, if Obama is nominated, from salivating free-lance Republican swiftboaters.

Over a year ago, the candidate introduced himself and his family on 60 Minutes, with a tour of his old neighborhood. Now Obama, who has said he doesn't want to "airbrush" his past, should follow up by answering the tougher questions that have come up during the campaign.

The drumbeat of accusations is on. Today's Wall Street Journal harps on the tirades of Obama's minister and mentor, Jeremiah Wright, charging that Americans "care nothing about human life if the end justifies the means" by importing drugs, exporting guns and starting the AIDS virus, among other iniquities.

Dismissing Wright as "an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with," as Obama did recently before Jewish leaders, doesn't erase all doubts about the influence on his thinking of the man from whom he borrowed the title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope."

Even more disclosure is needed about the candidate's ties to Tony Rezko, now on trial for corruption in federal court. Returning campaign contributions and waving away Rezko's involvement in the Obamas' purchase of their home as "boneheaded" on his part barely dent the surface of what the Presidential candidate should explain to voters who have signed onto his promises of a new kind of politics.

Starting with Bill Clinton's response (or non-response, as some saw it) to Gennifer Flowers accusations in 1992, 60 Minutes has come as close to being an arbiter of Presidential character as we have.

If 60 Minutes can get Obama to cooperate in an appraisal of the questions about him, the next step should be a no-holds-barred followup on John McCain's ties to lobbyists.

The time for sound bites and evasions is over.

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