I am working on a column for next Sunday's Journal Sentinel on the relevance of the Rev. Wright and related phenomena to the Obama campaign. Today, the paper ran a piece on Obama's performance among blue collar workers in Wisconsin which was significantly better than it was elsewhere. The story skirts around what I believe to be the most plausible explanation. It comes closest at the end when it suggests that part of the reason may have been that Wisconsin voted before the Wright controversy (although, as author Craig Gilbert points out, Obama did poorly among blue collar voters in other states before the Wright controversy began as well).
Where I begin to differ is with Gilbert's summary of the Wright controversy as a matter of race. I don't doubt that it has racial aspects, although they are not so easily characterized. Part of the reaction to Wright might be a sort of racist revulsion at an overly assertive black preacher associated with Obama. Or it could be, as Linda Chavez points out in the recent issue of Commentary, a perception on the part of whites of a breach in the conditions for racial reconciliation. Her argument, as I understand it, is that whites who see Wright (and the reaction of his parishioners) are stunned by black hostility toward the white world and become wary about voting for a black candidate who has associated with that hostility. In fact, I suppose it is hard to know where the latter ends and the former begins. I imagine that some people would see no distinction between the two.
My own sense is that Obama has - and continues - to go through a process of definition. He has tried to run a post-ideological campaign. But he is, of course, anything but post-ideological. He is, in fact, probably one of the most ideological candidates to run for President and probably well to the left of any Democratic nominee since George McGovern.
He may also be one of the most arrogant.
You can see both characteristics in his gaseous victory speech last week in which he noted, with self described "humility," that perhaps his ascendancy is the moment that our 233 year old country- the most prosperous and free nation in human history - "began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal… This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation… ."
Dude, get over yourself.
As Mark Steyn puts it, Obama has to order the receding of the waters. He doesn't want to have to use a stepladder whenever he wants to walk on them.
But this may work this year. Bush has made too many mistakes. The stars are aligned with the Democrats. Although Obama, near as I can tell, wants to return to the policies that brought us the economic stagnation and global impotence of the 70s, our communal memory is short. They may be a mistake that we need to make again.
It also be that the desire to elect a black president as a statement of racial redemption - a desire that I regard as admirable - may prove decisive.