Now if we drill down into the economics of the gas tax suspension, we’ll see that at the projected summer price of $4.00 per gallon, it will be a savings of 4.6 percent, and if a driver gulps 20 gallons per week, he or she will save $3.68 for each fill-up, which would add up to about $45 for the summer. That $45 will amount to a little more than half a tank of gas, which is what consumers would benefit from the McCain and Clinton plan.
But economists warn that even this small price reduction might increase demand for gas, making people think it’s more affordable, and if demand increases at a time when refineries are running at full capacity, which they always do in the summer, then the price per gallon may actually increase, eroding some of the savings. But even if people remain frugal, economists also say that suppliers might keep a part of the savings themselves to boost their profits a bit at a time when people have cut back on gas consumption. So either way we lose.
Then there’s the environmental concern. If the gas tax suspension does indeed increase gas consumption, even marginally, the result is an increase in pollution. And artificially lower prices might encourage car buyers to purchase larger and less fuel efficient cars.
Another consequence would be the loss of revenues to the highway trust fund, estimated at about $9 billion. Clinton has said she would make up the difference with a windfall profit tax on oil companies (which Senator Obama supports as well), but we’ve had oil shocks before and no such tax has passed. So what would be the impact on our nation’s infrastructure, which Senator Clinton says she wants to rebuild.
Earlier in the decade both Senators Clinton and McCain ridiculed George Bush’s tax cuts for showering a mere pittance on the middle-class while fattening the wallets of the wealthy. Now they’re ready to sprinkle that pittance on us without any sense of consequence or shame. If they were correct back then, the only thing that’s changed is not the economics of the tax cut but the politicians who once claimed to forswear pandering but now embrace it.
And by the way, to all those who want truth telling from our politicians … where are your voices now?
But here’s a counterintuitive argument: Wright is really giving Obama a gift by acting so weird, paranoid, and extreme for all to see.
In the first go-around with Reverend Wright, after his fiery speeches spread virally on YouTube and cable TV, Obama had no choice but to distance himself from Wright, but it wasn’t easy given their close personal ties and Obama’s loyalty to his church – and by extension all black churches.
But now the minister’s bold defiance and public extremism will allow Obama to finally cut the cord, to reject and denounce Wright and almost poignantly say that this is not the man he knew, that he’s become a sad, paranoid and bitter caricature of what he used to be, a former spiritual leader who became absorbed with his own moral vanity.
So Obama, in rejecting Wright, can now claim that his former minister is way outside the mainstream, that he doesn’t reflect the black community and the black church as Obama knows it. The fact that Wright has come off as so vain and self-important will reinforce Obama’s rejection of him, and it will make many blacks suspicious of Wright as they wonder why he seems so intent upon undermining Obama’s campaign. So Wright becomes even further marginalized in the black community. And the more he’s marginalized and rejected, the less he can be wrapped around Obama.
It also opens up another opportunity for Obama by giving him the opportunity to speak from his heart, to talk about his own life, his beliefs and his frustrations. This is a candidate who sometimes comes off as aloof, distant, and abstract at times. So Wright’s other gift may ironically allow Obama the chance to humanize himself, to talk from his gut and not just his mind.
Counterintuitive, yes. But anything seems possible in a political year in which Hillary Clinton has been reincarnated as a waitress mom and the once cynical press can’t stop gushing over John McCain, who’s perfected the art of flattering them. Or as Alice cried out in her Adventures in Wonderland, it’s all gotten “curiouser and curiouser.”
From the beginning of the primary season, I have felt that the greatest danger to Barack Obama's campaign was that of being branded the"black candidate." Not because of race, but because of all the baggage of grievance politics many people have come to associate with that label. Obama, the multiracial post-civil rights era cosmopolitan candidate with a skin tone that might be described as a nice tan, is an attractive figure.
The Clintons made some clumsy attempts to label him, but they had little impact. I never dreamed that the lasting mark would come from Obama's own camp. First his wife made a couple of talks that seemed to indicate she was in the old mold, but she was quickly pushed out of the limelight and has gotten little attention.
But Rev. Wright seems to be the gift (to the Clintons) that keeps on giving.
Is he a more accurate indication than Obama of just how divided we still are after 50 years that many of us think carried a lot of progress?
Clinton now leads in the popular vote, if you include the Florida and Michigan results, by 121,943 votes. And even if you include the imputed totals for the Iowa, Nevada, Washington, and Maine caucuses, she's ahead by 11,721 votes. It seems to me that this provides the Clinton campaign with an important talking point, though one they're probably reluctant to use over the next two weeks. Reluctant, because the likely Obama victory in North Carolina could erase this popular-vote lead, and) an offsetting Clinton margin in Indiana seems unlikely (or at least risky to project from current polling). But looking ahead from May 6, Clinton is likely to regain that popular-vote lead (including Florida and Michigan) and quite possibly could gain a popular-vote lead counting just Florida and not the more problematic (because Obama was not on the ballot there) Michigan. She'll get big margins in West Virginia on May 13 and Kentucky on May 20, and it's not clear Obama will get a big margin in Oregon on May 20; Obama won the nonbinding February 19 primary in Washington only narrowly. If Clinton wins big in Puerto Rico on June 1, as the one poll I've seen there suggests, that will far outshadow in popular votes any Obama margins in South Dakota and Montana on June 3.
The Obama campaign has had much success selling the press and some superdelegates on the notion that the candidate who wins the most pledged delegates has some moral entitlement to superdelegates' votes. The idea is that the unelected superdelegates should not overturn the verdict of the elected pledged delegates. But I think there are serious arguments against as well as for this proposition. The superdelegates themselves were elected, and to positions that everyone knew carried an entitlement to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. A minority of them are elected public officials; most are state party chairmen and members of the Democratic National Committee. You can argue that the party officials were chosen by only a relatively few party insiders, but that's arguably true of pledged delegates selected in caucuses as well. In both cases, everyone knew or could have known the rules, and those who chose to participate had influence over the outcome, while those who didn't, didn't.
But I also want to make the point that the critics who say Clinton's ad is right out of the Republican playbook don't know what they are talking about.
The first negative ad that played on the public's fears was done--are you ready?--by the saintly Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats' favorite loser.
Playing on concerns about Ike's health, a 1956 Stevenson ad asked, "Nervous about Nixon? President Nixon?" Like Ike, Stevenson hated TV ads. In 1952 he refused to air them. But by 1956 he was convinced that he had to hold his nose and accede to the consultant's advice.
The next negative ad was LBJ's Daisy ad. (Three, two, one ... boom!)
Fellow Democrats: our skirts aren't clean. We shouldn't pretend that they are.
In Clinton's favor is the fact that the ad doesn't play on racist stereotypes as so many negative Republican ads have. (Willy Horton, for example.)
But it does play on fear.
Politicians always play on either fear or hope. Hope is better, of course. But isn't it a matter of degree? A campaign based wholly on hope, raising expectations unrealistically high, would be as abhorent as one based wholly on fear.
Balance is required. So the question is has Hillary with this ad wholly given herself over to fear or has she exercised restraint?
Honestly, I can't say. In a few months perhaps after the primary is over I'll be able to render a more impartial judgment which I am not capable of today.
Obama said in response that the issue is a distraction. Good! But he can't go further and say the truth even though he claims to speak the truth.
The truth is that voters who think it's important for him to wear a flag pin are nuts. I'd bet a barrel full of flag pins that Obama believes this. But he can't say what he really thinks. That's American politics. Pols can't be honest.
The conclusion I draw from this is that pols should stop pretending to be direct and honest if they can't be.
Indeed it’s been an article of faith in Democratic circles that Gore lost heartland votes because of his stand on guns and Kerry lost Ohio because of gays and God. Some Democrats then take this argument further, suggesting that Republicans exploit these emotional issues because they know that working class voters harbor little hope that government will address their economic concerns and instead gravitate toward social issues as the only way they feel empowered as citizens.
So now Barack Obama effectively offers this analysis, observing that voters angry at a government that has let them down turn to God, guns, and gays for their political solace and power.
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said. "And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 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."
Was his wording inelegant? Yes. The words “bitter” and “cling” can indeed sound harsh and demeaning. But was his point any different from what Democrats have been saying for decades now. No, not at all.
Those who accuse Obama of elitism ought to ask whether it’s better for Democrats to pander and come off as condescending and inauthentic – as John Kerry did in 2004 when he tried to close the gun gap by donning his hunting gear and setting out to kill some geese – or to tell the truth and hope that it might resonate with working class voters fed up with being seduced by the false empowerment of social issues.
Iraq Hearing follies. John McCain just can't keep the branches of Islam straight. He said to Gen. David Petraeus:
' SEN. MCCAIN: There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?
GEN. PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago.
SEN. MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shi'ites, all overall, or Sunnis or anybody else. '
What does that even mean? Do we really need another tongue-tied president who says incoherent things about the most important challenges facing the US? McCain keeps thinking that al-Qaeda is a Shiite, Iranian plot, when in fact its leadership is hyper-Sunni Egyptians and Saudis. As for al-Qaeda not being an obscure sect, well I'm not sure about the obscure part. But it is certainly a tiny fringe in the Muslim world, analogous to the far right gun nuts and white supremacists that formed the context for Timothy McVeigh. There is no prospect of the Qutbists or "al-Qaeda" as McCain is pleased to call them, taking over Iraq! They are not even popular in most Sunni Arab areas. As for the Shiites, they are a majority of Iraqis and they hate al-Qaeda (which has massacred Shiites), and they would just crush it if given the opportunity.
McCain keeps making this elementary error.
This post began life as I was composing a response to a comment by Nicholas Norden there: “It's discouraging that the Obama campaign has characterized the popular vote metric as legitimate.” But my reply got so long, I decided to put it here, instead.
The choice of metric depends on what one hopes to measure.
One purpose of the Electoral College was to choose a president by a weighted vote of the states as opposed to the general populace. By the time of Andrew Jackson's presidency, the ideal election was one in which the man with the majority--or at least plurality--of the popular vote as well as a majority of the electoral votes became president.
Concerning the nomination, the convention system, with its interlaced caucuses and conventions, emerged at the beginning of the Jacksonian era as the most democratic alternative available in a time of comparatively slow transportation and communication. It seemed and probably was the best method available to measure on a state-by-state basis the popular support for candidates within each party. It worked relatively effectively but was also prone to cronyism.
In the Progressive era, with its rapidly improving communications and a growing middle class distrust of party machinations, the primary began to emerge as a more democratic alternative for delegate selection. However it was not until the late 20th century that it had become the more legitimate approach for most people in most states. The remaining caucus systems retained a certain legitimacy, but I honestly believe that they have been viewed as"quaint" by people who do not participate in them.
At least until lately.
Of course, even primary systems differ. Does one wish for a winner-take-all system that echoes the less-than-democratic electoral system? Or should a primary apportion delegates according to the popular vote, an approach that is more democratic but tends to slow the selection process? Again, what is the primary supposed to measure? The most popular candidate? The one most likely to win in the most powerful states? Something else?
I think the American people are shifting more and more toward a national voter metric--the candidate with the most votes should win. Whether nomination or election. Period.
Is that wise? Or, at least in the election process, should we still give smaller states a"leg up" by weighting them more heavily. There are good arguments for that. In fact, I tend to agree with some of them, but the cost or a minority president can be high. In the case of the Bush Administration's first term, his minority of the vote, along with the Supreme Court's clumsy intervention, exacerbated an arrogance concerning executive power already in place. This was because Bush realized, correctly, that the one thing he could never, ever do was question his own legitimacy. The minute he did so, any hope of governing effectively as a conservative would have been damaged badly.
Right now, the tendency is to look upon the Bush administration as the acme of presidential horrors. But even a more competent president would have been faced with tough choices if the electorate, based on the popular vote, had chosen someone else.
So what do you want to measure in a primary and in an election?
Postscript (7 April, 9:20 am CT): My thanks to Sean Wilentz for providing, albeit accidentally, an argument on why the Democratic primary should be a state-by-state winner-take-all system in order to better pick a successful presidential candidate.
As usual with Wilentz, when he is functioning as a politician, one has to cut through the self-righteous polemics. But, however self-serving, the point he makes is worth considering. The proportional system may be a better measure of what Democrats want than a winner-take-all system is, but is it a poorer measure of which Democrat may win?
No. John Kerry. I was rereading Joe Klein's book, Politics Lost, which was written long before Obama decided to run for president, when I came across the above description of Kerry's campaign.
Kerry, of course, was a terrible candidate. A droner. Obama is one of the best candidates there ever was. And he is in a far better position to sell the same approach Kerry wanted to but couldn't.
But what will Obama do when HE gets swiftboated? If, Kerry-like, he ignores the catcalls his reputation will suffer as Kerry's did when he followed a high-moral-ground approach. If, in contrast, Obama goes after the attackers he'll risk sacrificing the moral high ground that is the basis for his candidacy. This will leave McCain free to ride the high moral ground. Because McCain is not likely to be swiftboated (Dems don't do switboating), he will have a natural advantage over Obama.
Those who think Obama has already faced an onslaught lack imagination. (Maureen Dowd, this means you!) What Obama has faced thus far is nothing to what he would face in a general election. So he hasn't yet had to shape a tactical response to a campaign of UNRELENTING attacks.
What might he do?
My guess is he would do what he has done in response to Clinton's attacks, which is to 1. publicly take the high ground while 2. surrogates suggest that racism is behind the attacks. The trouble with this approach is that it can't be sustained without race becoming the dominant issue of the campaign. This is problematic. Obama's chief appeal is that he is taking the country beyond race.
To many whites hearing the minister’s tirades for the first time, they seem positively outrageous and troubling. The government injected blacks with AIDS to commit genocide against people of color? Absurd and ridiculous. The government floods inner city neighborhoods with drugs to harm black people and keep them in jail? Paranoid and weird. The United States has a record of disregarding human rights and committing atrocities overseas? An extreme caricature detached from reality. America committed acts of terrorism abroad, and because terror begets terror, that’s how September 11 crashed into our lives? Wrong, unpatriotic, disgraceful.
But for Obama, sitting in his church probably wasn’t the first time he heard these charges and claims. Remember, he started out in Chicago as a community organizer, and he likely heard them out on the streets or in local gatherings or among neighbors and groups. Surveys suggest that a substantial number of blacks, though not quite a majority, subscribe to at least some of Wright’s charges, particularly on AIDs and drugs. Of course the fact that such sentiments are common doesn’t mean they’re rational, but if rationality were the yardstick, not much in public discourse would mean anything these days. But the fact that they may not be rational doesn’t mean they don’t derive from a deep-seated and wholly legitimate anger among blacks about the legacy of racism and its continuing impact on their lives, hopes, and aspirations. Thus Obama’s comment: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”
So put yourself in Obama’s pew that day. If he heard these thoughts before, which presumably he had, he probably said to himself, “That crazy stuff again?” It may have troubled him, particularly coming from his pastor’s mouth, but because he had heard them many times before, they likely had none of the immediate impact that many Americans felt who heard them for the very first time as soundbites taken completely out of context.
So this is really about context, about understanding, about knowing what goes on in a part of America where some of us rarely venture and too few of us truly know. And it’s as Obama said: the press can continue to dwell on the extreme or it can seek to understand why the extreme is happening. For pundits who truly seek light over heat, the choice should be an easy one.
He's opened Pandora's Box with the Pastor Wright controversy. Rather than transcending race, he's now embodying race, in all its complicated meanings in America.
This is too bad for him and for us.
It's too bad for him because I doubt very much that he can be elected in this country with what has happened in the last week. He's lost white males, who won't be able to convince themselves he's race neutral. He's been too closely associated now with a black radical. If the Republicans had run a campaign to turn Obama into a symbol of the old struggles between blacks and whites they couldn't have done a better job than Obama himself has done.
And it's too bad for us. Obama offered a chance for the country to move beyond the old arguments about race. But now he no longer can help us do so, I'm afraid.
His speech of course will go down in American history as one of the great statements on race. But no single speech, whatever its merits, can wipe away the wreckage of the Pastor Wright mess.
This turn of events is immensely sad. This controversy was entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, Obama mishandled it, showing terrible judgment. Knowing what he knew about Wright, he should have made efforts a year ago when he began his campaign to distance himself from Wright. Wright was "family"? So what? Politicians have to sometimes even distance themselves from family (as Jimmy Carter had to do with Billy Carter).
Politics ain't beanbag. Pols have to take hard decisions. Obama, inexperienced at the national level, didn't seem to realize that. He thought personality and an appealing message would be enough. They are never enough when running for president.
I have thought him naive. He has proven it. A wily politician would have told Wright quietly last year that the pastor's political positions are so far outside the mainstream of American politics that he would have no choice but to break with the church and stop attending.
Obama should have done this long ago as he prepared for a national career. Just as LBJ had to start voting differently in the fifties as he began to think of himself as a national figure, Obama needed to act differently once HE became a national figure. It was an act of stunning irresponsibility to himself and his followers that he didn't.
Would he have seemed hypocritical? Sure. Would that have undermined his message that he is different? Sure. But inconsistency in politics is unavoidable. He could have survived.
Obama has demonstrated incredible political skills in his run for the presidency. But his mistaken refusal to make the hard choice he needed to make in this case demonstrates a stunning lack of judgment.
The irony of course is that it has been his unwillingness to play politics the old way that has made him so appealing a candidate. Americans love a pol who doesn't act like a pol. But there's a reason pols act like pols. Often it's required.
Obama doesn't seem to have learned this lesson yet. He seems to think he can reinvent the rules of politics. This is a conceit that is almost unbearable. It suggests that he thinks other pols have acted like pols because they are morally defective. This betrays an unpleasant hubris.
I hope I am wrong about his chances should he become the party's nominee. I will fervently pray for his election in November in that case. The alternative, another four years under Republican rule, is too terrible to contemplate. (100 years of war? A Supreme Court stuffed with more conservatives? More tax cuts for the wealthy?)
But it didn't need to turn out this way. If he had just been a little patient he could have learned enough about American politics to know how to play the game.
Now what the Democrats have to count on--if Obama is the nominee--is that the economy is so terrible in the fall that voters will flee from the Republicans even if they have doubts about Obama. That's an unfortunate position to be in. And it didn't have to be this way.
Rick’s comment below shows something of the challenge this will be. For him, the impact of Obama’s eloquence is muted by two key facts. One is Obama’s having failed to distance himself from Wright before he became a serious candidate, the way Lyndon Johnson distanced himself from white supremacists. For Rick that raises at minimum a question of competence. Here, I think Rick has an important point. Obama had to have known his patriotism and his religious beliefs were going to be scrutinized: the former because of the nature of American politics these days and the latter because Obama himself made his faith part of his campaign. Did he really see no potential problems in Wright’s comments?
The second key fact is that some of the company that Wright has kept has made him suspicious of Obama’s values. In Rick’s case, it is seeing Wright “hang out” with anti-Semites.
Rick did temper the statement by noting that he might be overly sensitive on this point. Even so, being suspicious of politicians who “hang out with people who hang-out with anti-Semites” is going way too far. I doubt if anyone with an active political life has not hung out regularly with someone who has hung out with someone else who holds odious beliefs. This suspicion is, implicitly, a demand for an irrational level of purity.
Still, Rick’s concern underscores two points. 1) Wright’s statements have entangled Obama in America’s identity politics where many such sensitivities and suspicions lie in wait. 2) Obama has chosen to deal with this entanglement by grappling with and trying to change that politics.
It’s an amazing thing for a candidate to try. If he really pushes this; if he really makes this a part of his campaign in the manner that his speech suggests, then my admiration for him will be immense. But even if he does, will a dialogue emerge? If it does, will that dialogue really do any good, or will it simply prove a breeding ground for ugly sound bites?
The sad truth is, if it does not work very quickly, then even if Obama is doing all the right things, they may not bring him the nomination. Even if he gets it, these efforts may result in a victory for John McCain. For the Republicans would really have little choice but to counter his efforts and that, almost inevitably, means forcing the dialogue down into the gutter. That could work. And if it did, it would be interpreted as another victory of Rovian identity politics. At least in the short run, that would let loose a new round of hatred.
Obama has rolled the dice, for us all. I hope he gets a 7, for us all.
One wishes other candidates spoke like this. One remembers a time when presidents did.
Having said that, I remain unconvinced that Obama has either solved the political problem created in the last few days by the videos of his "former pastor," as he carefully put it, or persuaded those who are worried about the friends he keeps.
First: Angry white males, who deserted the Democratic Party 5 decades ago, will not now be inclined to come running back. Obama's aside to their concerns--his sympathy for the struggles workers and immigrants face--was too brief to assuage them.
Second: He did not convincingly explain (to me, at any rate) why he didn't leave the church and find another after he heard his pastor celebrating Farakhan and damning the United States. I remain troubled by this decision. It shows either a tin political ear (an astute pol with national ambitions would have distanced himself from Wright before running for president as LBJ distanced himself in the fifties from Southern racists) or a wily politician's assessment that he needed the church to bolster his black bona fides in the initial stages of his campaign when many blacks were questioning his blackness.
Maybe I have trouble with Obama because as a Jew I am sensitive to anti-Semitism and suspicious of people who hang out with people who hang-out with anti-Semites (Farakhan and Wright even travelled to Libya together on a peace trip in the 1980s). But if I remain troubled by Obama's choice of pastors, I'll bet others will as well.
If Obama can remain high in the polls despite this past week's events--and it will take a couple of weeks for the news to sink in before we can tell--he has a chance to get himself elected president. But it won't be easy, even given the favorable political signs. America may simply not be ready for a black president whose pastor denounced America and said we had it coming on 9-11.
It's only a guess, but I would bet she's an Obama supporter. She wants to believe the best about her candidate and wants to believe he's different.
But why would he be different? Doesn't he have to deal with the same system all other pols do? Doesn't he have to face the reality of voters who are often too ignorant or too distracted to pay attention to politics, which in turn leads them to play on myths?
Let's suppose he actually is different.
Wouldn't a different politician have ....
1. Told voters we can't get out of Iraq quick?
2. Told his pastor off and switched to a different church after the pastor began saying the harsh things he's said about America (we deserved to be hit on 9/11)?
[ ABC News] Sen. Barack Obama's pastor says blacks should not sing"God Bless America" but"God damn America." The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor for the last 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side, has a long history of what even Obama's campaign aides concede is"inflammatory rhetoric," including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own"terrorism."
3. Risked boring voters with details about his health care plans rather than continually employing high-flown rhetoric full of generalizations? (He might, for example, have taken the approach Ross Perot used in 1992 to educate voters about the national debt.)
4. Told voters they have a responsibility for the death and destruction in Iraq--after all they voted for Bush in 2004? Now THAT would be a fresh burst of candor!
Of course, he did none of these things. And he didn't for a very good reason. He's a politician. And while he may be a cut above the ordinary species--and I think he is--he's no saint. People who think he is are in for a big surprise should he make it to the White House.
Obama has taken to the Huffington Post to explain his relationship to Pastor Wright. Obama says:"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."
I don't find Obama's statement that he was unaware of Wright's crazy statements until recently credible. ABC News reports:
[Wright] told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism.
"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.
"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.
Is it possible that Obama didn't hear about this? Somebody should immediately check the Chicago press to find out if the pastor's comments were reported in the media.
Obama was on Keith Oberman's show tonight to explain his relationship with Pastor Wright. Once again Obama used the excuse that Wright was like an uncle who on occasion says foolish things. The analogy is misleading. An uncle is somebody one is stuck with. Obama was not stuck with Wright. At any point Obama could have broken with him.
Oberman might have asked Obama about this. He didn't. He went easy on Obama.
Questions about Obama's saintedness are in the end irrelevant to the main question before us as a country: whether he would make a good president. But Obama has left himself open to attack by the way he has presented himself. He almost begs people to take him down a notch by claiming to be superior to ordinary politicians. This is the downside to his candidacy. And it's repeatedly tripping him up. He and his supporters keep making claims that are patently designed to reinforce the Obama myth.
Take the issue of race that has cropped up in the last few days. Obama claims he's moved beyond race and wants to move the country beyond race. And he attacks Hillary Clinton for allegedly using race to undermine his candidacy. But race wasn't injected into the campaign by Hillary Clinton. Race was there from the start. Given our history race is always a part of American politics. In this particular election race is a factor for the very reason that Obama has succeeded in appealing to white voters. He's not THE black candidate for president as, say, Jesse Jackson was. But his blackness was never wholly irrelevant whatever claims were made for his candidacy allegedly transcending race. People responded to him enthusiastically in part because he is black. As I wrote a month ago, a white senator with Obama's limited resume never would have been taken seriously as a candidate. That is what Geraldine A. Ferraro was presumably alluding to in her clumsy newspaper interview.
I remain convinced that Obama is an extraordinary politician and might even make a great president. But by presenting himself the way he has--as a mythical figure--he has opened himself to constant questions and these from people who are disposed to like him, as I am.
But in politics, logic is not always enough.
Since the 1960s, primaries have been the selection process and conventions the coronation process. While I am personally not uncomfortable with the convention choosing a candidate, in part for the reasons mentioned in this article, it appears that many people active in politics, on both sides, truly see this as a cheat. In short the political culture has changed. The majority now rejects conventions as a selection vehicle except perhaps in true emergencies.
One can see a somewhat similar change emerging in the election of 1824. As is well known, that election had four major candidates. One, William Crawford was stricken with illness. The supporters of the other three, JQ Adams, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson campaigned hard. Jackson received a clear plurality of the popular vote but not an electoral majority. (A summary of the number is here.)
In the negotiations in the House of Representatives, Clay and Adams struck a logical bargain in the tradition of the caucus politics of the time. They were in general agreement on policy. Adams had received far more votes than Clay, and the popular votes of the two combined slightly surpassed the votes received by Jackson. As a result of their agreement, Adams became president, and Clay received the second most important executive post, Secretary of State.
But the political culture had changed quite abruptly since 1820. Jackson’s supporters were outraged, and they apparently were joined by at least some of Clay and Adam’s supporters, as well as by many new voters. In 1828, Jackson won easily, and the radically higher vote totals for both candidates in 1828 speaks to the greater sense of popular interest that the anger over the Corrupt Bargain both signified and encouraged.
I don’t want to press this comparison too far, A nomination is not an election, and the change in political culture signified by the current situation has been evolving for a generation. Still, I think that those historians and other interested parties who see conventions as a legitimate and perhaps even superior selection process should take heed. A convention is not superior if people don’t accept its legitimacy.
But not in our system.
As Tom Daschle, an Obama supporter, told the NYT, he advised Obama in 2007 to run for president now rather than later because he did not have the weight of a long record hanging around his neck."For somebody to come in with none of that history is a real advantage,” Daschle said. “I told him that he has a window to do this. He should never count on that window staying open.”
I do not want to belabor the obvious, but there's something wrong with a system which rewards being green.
It may be that Daschle was speaking specifically about US senators. Few senators have ever been elected president; in the last century there have been just two who were elected straight from the Senate: Harding and JFK. In part this is because long records in the Senate do indeed work against candidates for the presidency. The longer a senator has served, the more enemies he is likely to have made.
But we should all wonder about a system that encourages an individual with little experience to run for president.
A month back I suggested that a Hillary/Obama ticket might be inevitable. Crazy, sure? The first woman AND the first black on a national ticket by a major party? But crazier would be alienating Obama's supporters.
Now Hillary is suggesting she would be open to such a ticket (with her at the top, of course).
Could they win?
For the moment, let's frame a winning campaign based on their appeal. Obama would bring in blacks and young voters and -- surprise -- white males. White males because Obama lets them off the hook, as Shelby Steele explains in The Bound Man. Although Steele argues that Obama ultimately would drive whites away once they understand that beneath the candidate's outward calm there lies an angry black man, his main argument, with which I find myself in agreement, is that Obama appeals to whites because he strikes a bargain with them that they find irresistible. In exchange for their support he gives them absolution for the sins of slavery and racism.
If Steele is correct about this part of his analysis, this is a critical development. Democrats have been stigmatizing white men as racists for decades, one of the reasons the Dems have been on a losing streak for 40 years. As David Kuhn shows in The Neglected Voter, Dems haven't won a majority of the white male voter but once since 1944 (that was in 1964 when a turtle would have won against Goldwater). They would undoubtedly find the Democratic Party a lot more welcoming if they felt that they weren't being given the Archie Bunker treatment.
And Hillary? Who does she help bring to the party? Women, of course. And, curiously, white men (again! hurray!). This is counterintuitive. How can the first woman candidate draw in white male support? She can do it simply by using her candidacy as a celebration of white male broadmindedness. Rather than use her candidacy as a rebuke to men, it could be used as a celebration of men as well as women. She hasn't yet succeeded in selling this idea but it undoubtedly would be part of a fall campaign.
If I am right about the possibility of Obama and Hillary's appeal to white men we could have a landslide and one that changes the dynamic of American politics for a generation (I love that cliche!).
Might things go awry? Sure. But the chance that both could appeal to white men on liberal Democratic terms (that is, without pandering on issues like gun rights and all the rest), is one we should pursue.
Rather than the current rivalry between Obama and Hillary being viewed as a recipe for failure in November, it could result in a splendid success.
A person can dream, right?