Barack Obama has now reached the low point of his campaign. He hopes.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was Obama's pastor for 20 years, has turned out to be the (totally) wild card in what heretofore was an unusually well-planned and well-executed campaign. Wright is no longer a part of the Obama campaign, but that hardly matters.
Before Wright burst forth in a series of appearances in the past few days, Obama's worst-case scenario was to run out the clock until the Democratic convention, beating Hillary Clinton by the sheer weight of his pledged delegate majority and the unwillingness of superdelegates to overturn the choice of the people.
But the recent rantings of Wright have put that plan in some peril.
It will still be difficult for Obama to lose the nomination, but if he does, he can blame Wright. And this is not just because Obama currently is trying to woo white voters who now may be even more suspicious of him.
It is because Wright's message is the opposite of Obama's. Obama's chief selling point is that he is a healing force in American politics. Obama tells us he can bring people together.
But Wright isn't interested in bringing people together. He is interested in dividing them.
Wright is also interested in taking Obama down a peg or two. In his speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Wright was contemptuous of Obama, accusing him of being just another hypocritical politician.
Why? I imagine because Obama had the audacity to distance himself from Wright and some of his more inflammatory statements a few weeks ago.
Wright is clearly angry with this and went out of his way to say that Obama really hadn't distanced himself. Obama was, Wright said, just playing politics.
"If Sen. Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected," Wright said. "Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls."
In other words, Obama is not to be believed when he says he disagrees with Wright's attacks on this country. Obama is merely saying this in order to "get elected," according to Wright.
"He had to distance himself, because he's a politician," Wright said.
On Monday evening, Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, went on "Hardball With Chris Matthews" and said of Wright's press club speech: "It isn't helpful, and I don't think it is necessarily meant to be helpful."
Exactly. Wright's speech was not meant to be helpful to Obama. It was meant to soothe Wright's wounded ego and punish Obama for trying to push him away. And Wright knew who was superior.
"I do what pastors do," Wright said. "He does what politicians do."
Which is not to say Wright was entirely negative. No, he had high praise for Louis Farrakhan.
"He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century," Wright said. "That's what I think about him."
Got that? Obama is just another hypocritical politician saying what it takes to get elected, but Farrakhan is one of the most important voices of our time.
Wright is not just a loose cannon; he is a loose weapon of mass destruction and one that can easily be used by Obama's opponents.
Remember how, to his credit, John McCain strongly denounced the talk show host who repeatedly used Obama's middle name at a speech? Well, McCain doesn't have to denounce that in the future. Wright made it legitimate.
"Please run and tell my stuck-on-stupid friends that Arabic is a language; it's not a religion," Wright said at a speech to the NAACP on Sunday. "Barack HUSSEIN Obama. Barack HUSSEIN Obama. Barack HUSSEIN Obama."
Gosh, that muddled point really helps in a country where 15 percent of voters already mistakenly believe Obama is a Muslim.
Clinton is using Wright in two ways: one direct and one indirect. Her direct argument is that she would not have stayed in Wright's church for 20 years while he was making odious statements.
Her indirect argument is that if Obama is the nominee, Republicans will bludgeon him over the head with Wright, making the Swift Boat attacks of four years ago look like small potatoes.
Obama, having said during his March 18 speech that he could no more "disown" Wright than he could his own white grandmother, on Tuesday finally unloaded on Wright.
Obama called some of Wright's utterances "ridiculous" and said: "They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans, and they should be denounced. And that's what I'm doing very clearly and unequivocally today."
Clearly, Wright could not care less what Obama thinks. And if Wright sinks Obama's chances for the White House, it will merely deepen Wright's sense of martyrdom.
Wright said Monday he had waited to speak out until now because of his "mother's advice," which was, "It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."
He should have listened to his mother.