Monday, January 28, 2008

How did Obama do?

Did Obama help or hurt himself in his bid to avoid being labeled the African American candidate? I think he did fairly well. There was an enormous disparity in black and white voting patterns but his level of support among white voters did not fall as low as one poll predicted. It was low but I think he makes up for that a bit by the large margin of his victory.

Still, the Clintons don't seem to have abandoned the strategy of attempting to isolate Obama as a candidate with mostly black support as demonstrated by Bill's reference to Jesse Jackson's wins in South Carolina. On balance, I'd say that Saturday was a "B" day for Obama. He gets a big win and the publicity that goes with it, but the numbers still reflect a racial dynamic that, unless he breaks it, means that he can't win the nomination.

People assume that this racialization of the campaign will continue if Obama wins the nomination. Maybe not.

I still think that it is problematic for Obama that he remains undefined. Caroline Kennedy endorses him because .... why exactly? Because he's young and good looking like her father was when he was elected? Because he's cool? Went to Harvard ? (Believe me, its overrated)?

For almost 45 years, people have made JFK into whatever they want him to be except the one thing that he undeniably was - a fierce cold warrior. They have been able to do this because, tragically, he was killed before he became whatever he would be as President.

But Obama is going to have to be something. We know what people who chant "we want change" at a victory celebration during a primary campaign want. They tend to be partisans who want the other guys out.

But they aren't the people who will decide the election. For them, change must be defined in nonpartisan terms - at least symbolically if not substantively. Obama, so far, has doubled down on the symbolism without connecting it to anything substantive. One of the reason that has worked as well as it has is that Hillary is limited in her ability to redefine him. The thing about running against someone who agrees with you on almost everything (as Hillary does) is that she can't really challenge your theme by suggesting that it represents something undesireable. So the Clintons are reduced to haranguing about experience and, if not exactly race, the exent of Obama's racial appeal. It may work, but, right now, I'd say it's touch and go.

If Obama is nominated, that ends. He no longer gets to talk exclusively about hope and change and his personal story. He will remain the inexperienced one, but he will also become the one associated with policies that Americans have pretty uniformly rejected in presidential elections as long as I have been old enough to follow them. Maybe that changes in '08, but I don't think it'll be as easy as a lot of my Democratic friends think.


3rd Way said...

The more the Clinton's attack him, and the more he deflects the attacks the clearer he becomes defined as the candidate that can stay above the fray. It could be a winning strategy. With every attack he can just turn and say "I am different, I am what they are not".

I don't understand how anyone could take a hard look at the shenanigans the Clinton's have been up to in the past few weeks and say "Yes, that is my candidate, these are the kind of politics that are going to move my country forward".

Unknown said...


I am a fan of yours who would like to comment on this from you:

"For almost 45 years, people have made JFK into whatever they want him to be except the one thing that he undeniably was - a fierce cold warrior. They have been able to do this because, tragically, he was killed before he became whatever he would be as President."

As a lawyer, I hope you appreciate this observation: whether "tragically" or not (and I agree it was so), one is always killed or dies before they could become "whatever [they might] be as President" or housewife or husband or lawyer, etc.

The important thing to consider and accept, then, is the fact that in the case of JFK, he did not die before he had become what he was at the time of his death.

We are not here to "dream things that never were" in the life of a particular person, but to see things as they were and/or are.

Imagine, then, JFK claiming to be unashamedly Catholic (as he did) and also having his local priest publish a magazine that proclaimed Malcolm X and Adolph Hitler friends of Christians and Jews. And for JFK to also say that he gets all of his spiritual inspiration and wrote books whose titles came from that priests own lips and to bestow upon such men life achievement awards for "integrity" and blah, blah, blah...

Fine... pick whatever bedfellows you want in politics. Open your arms to people of other faiths, if you choose...

But to call yourself a Christian, to claim that Islam is equally "true" and to ignore the fact that it was Jesus Himself who said that "there is no way to the Father in heaven except through me" is to ignore AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: that Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive faiths and both cannot be "true" or the true way to the true God or the true heaven.

I am not looking to elect a pastor or pope or start any sort of theocracy!

But I also want as the leader of my nation a man whose thought processes and intellectual reasoning abilities and ability to speak the truth about his own views are absolutely solid.

Suffice it to say, I could imagine electing a Muslim who was in all other ways excellent and qualified. But if he were to then say that Islam and Christianity were both legitimate ways to God and heaven, I would know that he does not even believe or subscribe to the tenets of his own self-proclaimed faith as a Muslim!

Such a claim reveals that the speaker is either extremely confused, unstable, a liar or fraud!

Haven't we had enough of such things in our world, let alone in our "leaders"?