We have been talking about Jeremiah Wright and his church (Barack Obama's home church) for a long time on this blog:

the Okie Gardener's extremely prescient original piece from thirteen months ago,

my analysis of the New York Times feature on Obama, Wright, and Trinity United Church of Christ from last April,

and this comment from a regular reader who asserted:

"A candidate's church shouldn't be an issue unless it is something truly weird or cultish... something that would indicate that the candidate is not of sound mind or character."

We have wondered when or if the bright light of public scrutiny might shine on this facet of candidate Obama's personal history, and we have speculated on the possible political impact of such an examination.

Is this church "weird enough" or sufficiently outlandish to influence the campaign?

How will the Radical Religious Left play in the living rooms of America?

Ross Douthat, a great writer and thinker with a sharp feel for politics and history, thinks the Reverend Wright factor may prove telling in Decision 2008. I tend to agree.

Douthat writes today in the Atlantic :

"So far, Obama has attempted to laugh off Wright's penchant for inflammatory rhetoric, comparing him to 'an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with,' and suggesting that this is 'what happens when you just cherry-pick statements from a guy who had a 40-year career as a pastor.' But as Wright's America-bashing gets more airtime -- and as his Obama-boosting sermons put his church's tax exemption at risk -- Obama may have to go further down the road to explicitly disavowing his pastor. His connection to Wright isn't the equivalent of John McCain's going to Liberty University to make nice with Jerry Falwell. It's the equivalent of John McCain taking his wife and children, most Sundays, to Jerry Falwell's church. And the disconnect between Obama's studied moderation and his congregation's radicalism requires more of an explanation than he's offered so far.

"In an election when many expected that Mitt Romney's fate would be determined by how he talked (or didn't) about his Mormon faith, it may be Obama whose candidacy ends up riding on how he addresses the relationship between his politics and his church."

Bottom Line: the key for Hillary has always been staying power. Could she stick around until the final rounds when her experience, training, and tenacity might prove decisive? As we head into the last phase of this campaign like no other, Mrs. Clinton seems increasingly well-positioned to knock out the kid with a vicious left cross.

UPDATE: Senator Obama responds:

"The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation. When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church.

"Let me repeat what I've said earlier. All of the statements that have been the subject of controversy are ones that I vehemently condemn. They in no way reflect my attitudes and directly contradict my profound love for this country."

Say what? Pretty weak. In twenty years he never actually heard "any of the statements that have been the subject of controversy"?

Two questions spring to mind:

How regular was his attendance?

How compliant does he expect us to be on this porous explanation?

UPDATE2: Obama Meltdown Begins.

From MSNBC: "Obama’s campaign announced that the minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., had left its spiritual advisory committee after videotapes of his sermons again ignited fierce debate in news accounts and political blogs."

This is big...and O seems to sense exactly how devastating...