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Self-Wrighteousness

It's still too soon to know if actual voters will care about this, but the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's self-exculpatory publicity offensive (encompassing, so far, a PBS intervew with Bill Moyers, a speech to an NAACP gathering, and a National Press Club appearance) is clearly not good news for the campaign of Barack Obama. The Right is in full cry over it. Progressives seem divided over how they and/or Obama should respond, if at all. And Hillary Clinton's campaign, while officially quiet on the latest Wright controversy, will obviously exploit it under if not over the radar screen in NC and IN.

The timing couldn't be much worse for Obama; he's locked into a close race in IN; his lead in NC (where HRC just obtained the endorsement of Gov. Mike Easley, a guy popular with conservative white voters in the state) may be shrinking. Worse still, though it could be an outlier, there's finally a national general election poll (AP/Ipsos) that provides some evidence for Hillary Clinton's relentless argument to superdelegates that she's more electable than Obama (it has her up 9 points over McCain, while Obama's lead is 2 points).

Perhaps the worst thing for Obama is that the Wright furor appears to be beyond his control at present. He's already done one "big speech" on the subject. His efforts to make his relationship with the theoretically-retired Wright a thing of the past have been completely blown up by Wright's highly visible re-emergence. It's reasonably clear that Wright, who obviously feels he has bigger fish to fry than just some presidential election, may not relinquish the spotlight any time soon. And since the main impact of Wright's latest remarks--particularly at the Press Club--is to reinforce some of his most controversial past statements, it will be difficult for Obama to act as though something new has happened that requires a different response than his denounce-not-renounce posture in his "big speech."

Maybe it will blow over in a day or two. Maybe the excitement of the chattering classes over Wright will once again prove to be less than communicable to voters. Maybe Obama will even benefit from some sympathy at his plight, or from a long-overdue media scrutiny of John McCain's much larger group of nutty clerical supporters. And maybe he'll follow Todd Gitlin's advice and take on his pastor as a man who's crossed the line from prophetic courage to self-Wrighteous narcissism.

None of this brouhaha, BTW, changes the relentless mathematics that makes Obama's nomination likely no matter what happens next Tuesday in IN and NC.

But at a time when Barack Obama wants voters to focus on his economic views, it's the wrong time for Wright to crash back onto the national stage.