There seems to be a surprising consensus that Jeremiah Wright did not do his friend Barack Obama any favors with his appearances before the NAACP and National Press Club. He made it quite clear that the highlight reels of his sermons do not present his views out of context and that he is a man who believes that the United States is an imperialist nation that is a force for evil in the world and a fundamentally unjust place in which little racial progress had been made. He made clear, moreover, that these views are part and parcel of his theology and definition of church. It is inconceivable that anyone could sit in his church for any appreciable length of time or have more than a passing acquaintance with him without knowing this.
So what does this have to do with Barack Obama and how should he "handle it?" For a candidate like Obama, whose ascent to the national stage is so recent and about whom we know little, it's another bit of information about who he is. It's not, as I have said, that he shares all of Wright's more outrageous views. It's that his longstanding relationship with Wright - along with his privileging of Wright as a person who has, perhaps, had more influence on his public life than any other,implies a certain sympathy for Wright's crtitique of America. When you add this to the many other things - sdome of which Obama calls "distractions" - such as his voting record, overwrought rhetoric, condescension toward the unwashed ignorant of rural Pennsylvania, removal of a flag pin as a political statement, reference to Bill Ayers as just a "professor," etc., we see begin to see someone who is not the postideological candidate that he wants to say that he is. As we used to say, meet the new boss (same as the old boss).
This is important because, whether we think they should or not, voters respond to cues and shortcuts in choosing candidates. They are, public choice theory tells us, rationally ignorant about politics. No one vote matters much so there is little incentive for the average voter to acquire much political information. Although the left wants to say that the manipulation of these shortcuts is a right wing phenomenom, the fact is that both sides do it. Republicans, say the Democrats, are cruel martinets for the rich. They don't care about the earth and enjoy war. Maybe the charges that each side fling at each other reflect real differences (both sides claim that it does) and maybe they don't. (My sense is that they do but overemphasize and unfairly emotionalize them.)
We can argue about whether the use of these cues constitutes political "market failure" or results in voters choosing candidates other than those they would choose if they were fully informed. But the fact remains that candidates who have come to be widely viewed as overly internationalist or pacificist in foreign affairs, who are committed to high levels of government intervention in the economy and seen as champions of the social views of liberal elites lose Presidential elections. There are no recent exceptions.
So what can Barack Obama do about Reverend Wright? Nothing. Anything that he might say now won't be believed and probably justifiably so. What he has to do is work on the image that is being rapidly being formed because of things like Wright, et al.
What he should not do is complain about being treated unfairly. He's not and, even if he were, complaining will only make it worse.