04/29/2008 09:35 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama vs. Wright: A Silver Lining For Democrats?

A lot of people, not including me, believe that bad things happen to good people because God wants to test them. According to the Hebrew Bible, God wanted to see whether Abraham was willing to obey His command to slaughter his son Isaac; and whether Job, a thoroughly innocent man, would denounce the Almighty when God brought a series of disasters upon him for no apparent reason.

Both Abraham and Job passed their tests. The question now is whether Barack Obama will pass his. In Obama's case, it is not the Lord who will determine his grade.

If there is a silver lining in the black cloud that threatens Obama's presidential bid, at least for other Democrats, it is that they will have a chance to determine whether he has the guts, intelligence and fighting spirit necessary to counter the attacks from his political foes resulting from the rants and raves of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

If so, they can nominate him. If not, they can choose Hillary Clinton, whose brains and fortitude are certainly not in doubt, despite all her baggage and negatives. Supreme toughness and combativeness will be necessary for whomever the Democrats nominate, to win the White House.

To date, Obama has failed to demonstrate much of either. Instead, he's preached the soft message of bipartisanship and national unity. Given the radical partisanship of all but a very few Republicans in Congress and elsewhere in government, Obama's unity message is a bedtime story for adults. If he is to have a successful candidacy and a successful presidency, he will have to change his tune and his tactics. This is a chance to see if he can do so.

It might have helped if Democrats had had such an opportunity to observe John Kerry's behavior four years ago. Kerry failed his test, although he was a real war hero running against two draft dodgers, one of whom, Cheney, literally took to his wife's bed to gain a fifth deferment from the Vietnam war. Incredibly, Kerry proved unable to defend himself against the Swift Boat liars. And that was a key factor in his loss.

Personally, it's hard for me to believe that anyone would vote for or against a candidate because of what his clergyman had to say. I am not a believer, and on those rare occasions when I do attend services, I work hard to find a seat near the door so I can leave as easily as possible before the sermon.

Obama's connection with his pastor was, of course, much closer. So he will have to convince a lot of skeptical voters fed by opposition propagandists that Wright's far-out views are absolutely unthinkable to him. He made a start today, calling them outrageous, disrespectful, insulting and "giving comfort to those who prey on hate." But he has a long way to go to persuade doubters, an unknown number of whom would not vote for an African-American for president under any circumstances.

As for Rev. Wright, some people have praised him as a "hero" to whom African-Americans "owe a great debt." In fact, exactly the opposite is true. His spiteful divisiveness has done all Americans -- especially African-Americans--a historic disservice.

Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, summed it up best: "The question that cries out for an answer from Mr. Wright," Herbert wrote, "is why -- if he is so passionately committed to liberating and empowering blacks -- does he seem so insistent on wrecking the campaign of the only African-American ever to have had a legitimate shot at the presidency."