- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Barack Obama’s preacher troubles continue to stalk his campaign. Now it’s his own preachin’ that’s causing him grief.

There he stood, lean, lanky and buff, as if modeling one of his $3,000 bespoke suits in a fashionable Pacific Heights salon in San Francisco, quoting party scripture and winning a full measure of nods, chuckles and cheers from what passed as the amen corner. These were his kind of folks. The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, are very different from you and me. Then the party’s most beautiful person dropped an aside that the beautiful people of San Francisco could appreciate:

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania,” he said, “and like a lot of small towns in the Middle West, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them.” Approving nods all around, with clucks of admiration for the bravery of the man just in from safari to darkest Timbuktu, or at least Wilkes-Barre. “And it’s not surprising then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Mr. Obama speaks of religion (if not necessarily guns) with more respect and reverence at other times and in other places. When he talks of how the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, of all people, led him to faith in Jesus Christ, we must give his affirmation full weight, for only God can look into a man’s heart. (We must pray that one day soon someone will lead the blasphemer and teller of malicious tales to Christ.) But such condescending sneering at the heartfelt faith of others, those who unapologetically “cling to the old rugged cross” as their Ebenezer in the storms that inevitably buffet us all, is strange, indeed, in a man who speaks of his own faith with practiced passion and eloquence.

The senator is a smart cookie, but he forgot that he’s not campaigning in those easy days of yesteryear, when a pol could say one thing to flatter the grit of the God-fearing yeomen of Scranton, and say quite another in San Francisco, where a culture of sophistication and pretense rests on the twin pillars of sodomy and secularism. What happens in San Francisco definitely does not stay in San Francisco, and a careful pol knows better than to scandalize Scranton when taking the waters in San Francisco. To no one’s surprise, a poll out yesterday shows Hillary Clinton regaining her 20-point lead over Barack Obama in the crucial Pennsylvania primary, now only a week away.

The Obama blooper was more about his disdain for religious faith than scorn for guns and the embittered small-town Americans who own them. Because the senator knows this well, he spent the weekend trying to divert attention from his sneer at religious faith by “clarifying” and “refining” his observation that hard times had made small-town America “bitter.” The senator appears to have spent too much time in the pews at Trinity United Church, acquiring a jaundiced view of the world beyond his own. The senator concedes that his words were “poorly chosen,” but a lot of voters, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, will conclude that the words he chose describe exactly what the senator actually thinks. It could be a bitter epitaph for a campaign.

Hillary continues to pound the man from Illinois, exploiting his fumble with the grim intensity of a linebacker. This fits perfectly her strategy of relentless pursuit of the theme that nice guy or not, powerful preacher or not, “Obama can’t win.” Shady associations on the South Side of Chicago, a far-left agenda still hidden in the shadows, a confusing life story riddled with troubling contradictions, his wide and inexplicable selection of bizarre mentors, all render him vulnerable, probably fatally, when the real hitting begins after the conventions.

The label “can’t win” terrifies the best of politicians. “They can say you are a liar, a cheat, a crackpot and a licentious old man,” the late Mike Monroney, a wise old senator from Oklahoma, once said, “and most politicians don’t care. But if they say you can’t win, you’re through.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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