WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Michael Pfleger's "I'm white! I'm entitled ... black man stealing my show" outburst about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from the pulpit of the Obama family church, Trinity United Church of Christ, created a political problem for likely Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama that won't disappear.
Pfleger's crusades against guns, prostitution, porn and tobacco have made good copy for years for a fairly admiring local press corps hooked on cheering for the underdog, the poor and the powerless.
Pfleger is the subject of a documentary being made by Chicago-based David Axelrod, Obama's top strategist. On Friday, Axelrod told me in an e-mail that the film project has "been dormant for much of the last two years due to other commitments."
Pfleger -- a headline-making household name in Chicago -- steps onto a national stage at a time an international press corps is making trips to Chicago to dig into Obama's life to learn more about the man who may be president.
As the song goes, everything old is new again. CNN just did an "investigative" piece on how Obama knocked former state Sen. Alice Palmer (D-Chicago) off the ballot so he could run for her seat in 1996 without opposition. That Pfleger welcomed Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to his St. Sabina Church on the South Side -- of interest to out-of-town reporters -- hardly caused a stir in the city because Farrakhan has long lived in Chicago and, well, he's part of the scene, having preached from his own mosque for decades.
With that context, consider the headache Pfleger created for Obama, whom Pfleger told me last April he has known since Obama came to Chicago as a community organizer.
• • Pfleger's divisive comments about Clinton come as Obama has been trying to reach out to working-class white voters who in the later primaries have trended toward Clinton. Pfleger's emergence as an issue comes as Obama's team is trying to close the gap.
• • Pfleger spoke from the Trinity pulpit, of all places, where the inflammatory Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached for decades. Pfleger creates an excuse to revisit the Wright controversy. A GOP strategist told me they will use Pfleger from now until November as an Obama "troubling connection."
• • The disrespectful treatment of Clinton by Pfleger comes as some Clinton backers are trying -- at least for now -- to drive a wedge between women and Obama. In Milwaukee, presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain said, "I think that kind of language and that kind of treatment, of Sen. Clinton, is unwarranted, uncalled for and disgraceful."
• • Chicago's Cardinal Francis George muzzled Pfleger at a time when the Obama campaign is also trying to win over Catholics.