President Obama’s reelection team on Wednesday downplayed the significance of a recirculating video from 2007, in which Obama suggested racism contributed to the federal government’s lackluster response to Hurricane Katrina.
In taped remarks at Hampton University in Virginia, Obama also spoke highly of controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright Jr., from whom the president has since distanced himself.
The Daily Caller posted video of the speech online Tuesday evening, describing it as footage “obtained exclusively.” Conservative commentator Sean Hannity called the tape a “bombshell” and said during his show on Fox News that it “could dramatically impact the race for the White House.”
But the Obama campaign dismissed the video’s release on the day before the first debate of the general election as an effort by “Mitt Romney’s allies” to “change the subject from his comments attacking half of the American people.”
The Romney campaign said it was not involved in the video’s publication.
Unlike Romney’s comments about the roughly 47 percent of US households that do not pay federal income taxes, which were filmed secretly at a private fund-raiser, Obama’s address was delivered in public—attended and covered by the news media.
Like Romney’s remarks, Obama’s were characterized by sentiments he does not express in high-profile settings.
Speaking to a conference for black clergy, Obama contrasted the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with responses to Hurricane Andrew in Florida and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City. In the latter two cases, Obama noted, the federal government waived a requirement that local governments match every $10 in federal disaster relief funding with $1 of their own.
“What’s happening down in New Orleans? Where’s your dollar?” Obama said, emphasizing that the federal government did not waive the $1 match after Katrina.
“Tells me that somehow the people down in New Orleans — they don’t care about as much,” Obama added.
Obama was in the early stages of his White House bid at the time.
In the speech, Obama also spoke about his Christian faith and credited Wright as the man who “introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ.”
“I’ve got to give a special shout-out to my pastor,” Obama said, “the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He’s a friend and a great leader. Not just in Chicago, but all across the country. Please, everybody, give an extraordinary welcome to my pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr.”
Wright is known as a leader of “black liberation theology,” whose founder, James Cone, taught that “what we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world.”
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt dismissed the video as a distraction from more important topics.
“If the Romney campaign believes that Americans will accept these desperate attacks [on Wednesday] night in place of specific plans for the middle class, it’s they who are in for a surprise,” LaBolt said.Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.