Showing posts with label race relations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label race relations. Show all posts


McCain Pickup Option 1: Michigan

By now, everyone has heard reason after reason why the Democrats should win the White House and increase their majorities in Congress this year. Bush is unpopular. Iraq is unpopular. Gas prices are high. The economy is shaky. The natural political pendulum has swung right for the past 6 or 7 years and is now lurching back towards the left. Barack Obama is raising boatloads of money. John McCain is not a gifted political speaker. Most of the electorate thinks the nation is on the wrong track. And the Democrats are seeing their registration numbers climb while the Republicans' numbers are stagnant or falling.

However, John McCain can still win the White House. And a McCain victory seems to be the best shot Republicans have of avoiding a complete shutout in November. In terms of the electoral map, it is true that he will be on defense more than offense, contrary to Barack Obama. However, McCain's pickup opportunities are so significant that if he were to win just one of these states, it would probably drive a stake through the heart of Obama's presidential bid. Over the next few days, The 7-10 will examine a few of these key states. The first post in this series will deal with Michigan, which is worth 17 electoral votes.

Michigan is a light blue Democratic state that is home to a lot of blue collar voters, as well as a lot of gun owners and sportsmen. However, there is also a large labor population due to the automobile and steel industries located there. The largest city in the state, Detroit, is overwhelmingly Black and Democratic. Also, the Upper Midwest is generally less conservative than the South. This explains why Michigan has become something like the New Jersey of the Midwest in that polls suggest Republicans could make a good run at the state, but can never quite pull it out. So it would seem that this state would be a relatively safe bet for Democrats.

This year might be different, however. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry were all able to win Michigan. Barack Obama is certainly a stronger candidate than John Kerry, and the national electoral climate is more favorable for Democrats than it was in 2004, but he might have a more difficult time carrying the state this time. This year, a toxic combination of incumbency, race, and the ghost of the primary season is threatening to flip this state red.

The Republican brand may be tarnished nationally, but the Democratic brand is the one taking a hit in Michigan. Beleaguered by a struggling automobile industry, the state's economy is suffering. Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm's popularity has plummeted as plants close and factory workers get laid off. Democrats also occupy both Senate seats and control the state House of Representatives. So they cannot blame Republicans for the mess the state is in.

This is one reason why Mitt Romney is receiving so much buzz as McCain's running mate. In addition to his family's personal connection to the state, his economic competence will likely be well received. The economy is the main issue in Michigan right now, and voters there might have soured enough on Democratic governance of the state and Detroit to give a McCain-Romney ticket Republicans' best chance in 20 years to pluck it from the Democratic column.

The issue of race further complicates things. The largest city in Michigan is Detroit, governed by Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is hugely unpopular because of his embarrassing legal woes stemming from lying under oath about extra-marital affairs. The city has high crime and unemployment rates and has led many Whites to leave the city proper and relocate to the suburbs. Thus, there is a bit of racial polarization. Blacks will overwhelmingly vote for Barack Obama. But what about suburban Whites who may lean Democratic philosophically, but be more inclined to try something new? Obama's path to victory depends heavily on running up the score in Detroit and holding down his losses elsewhere. If White suburbanites in Wayne County are turned off from Obama because of Kilpatrick, he could be in serious trouble.

Aside from the tarnished Democratic brand and the possibly racialized electorate, the fact that Michigan is close to being a toss-up is also an unintended consequence of the wrangling between the state and national Democratic parties during the primary season. Everybody remembers that Michigan violated party rules by scheduling its primary before it was authorized to do so. As a result, Barack Obama removed his name from the ballot and did not campaign heavily there. John McCain, on the other hand, was locked in a close race against former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Thus, McCain spent a lot of time running ads and holding campaign events across the state. And this is all on top of the reservoir of goodwill he had developed from his 2000 campaign when he won the state's primary.

In light of all these bad breaks for Barack Obama, John McCain is right to concentrate so heavily on this state. Its 17 electoral votes are nothing to sneeze at because if Obama loses Michigan, he will have to offset it by winning Ohio or sweeping the Southwestern trio of Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. But Ohio is not guaranteed and the extent to which the Southwest is turning blue is not yet fully known.

Much has been said about Barack Obama's ability to play in Ohio, Indiana, Georgia Virginia, the Rockies, and the Southwest. But he would be wise to make holding Michigan his first priority because Obama's path to 270 would become a lot more dangerous if he had to cobble together victories in Montana, North Dakota, and the Southwest. His chances of winning Michigan are still at least 50-50, but he is running in a headwind created by the likes of the governor, the state legislature, Detroit's mayor, and the Michigan Democratic Party.

Of course, If Obama is able to hold it, John McCain will be forced to defend all the other Bush states if he wants to win the White House because his pickup opportunities are few and far between. But because New Mexico and Iowa are looking bluer by the day, McCain will be forced to find a pickup opportunity elsewhere. However, McCain's task of winning just one state may be easier than Obama's task of winning three. And for that reason, Michigan looks to be one of this year's hottest contests.

Next installment: Pennsylvania


The Obama Caricatures Revisited

The liberal magazine The New Yorker provided the latest bit of controversy with the cover of its latest issue. If you haven't seen this provocative cover by now, you can access it here.

The New Yorker essentially took every false impression of Obama and meshed them together into cover art that can accurately be described as brilliant, tasteless, courageous, and slanderous. While some may have found this cover tasteless or irresponsible, cries for censorship seem a bit overboard and will not gain much traction.

Voters who understand satire know what this cover is all about. Barack HUSSEIN Obama is dressed as a proud Arab Muslim while an angry-looking Michelle Obama is dressed as a radical Black militant with a machine gun and an afro. Both are doing a "terrorist fist jab," as opposed to a more benign fist bump. No flag lapel pin is to be found on Obama's shirt, but an American flag is burning in the fireplace under a portrait of Osama bin Laden, whom Obama reveres. After all, Obama is an unpatriotic terrorist sympathizer who has no allegiance to the United States and can't wait to destroy this nation from within.

The New Yorker's combination of satire and hyperbole should (emphasis on "should") lead voters to realize that these persistent rumors about Obama are completely unfounded and that this caricature of him is obviously both invalid and silly. However, voters who didn't buy into these Muslim rumors to begin with or who later arrived at the truth about Obama didn't need this magazine cover to prove these rumors false. Also, it is important to note once again that The New Yorker is a liberal magazine. Obama's liberal base would be more likely to read this magazine than other voters, but they were already comfortable with Obama and understand the satirical aspect of the cover. So that begs the question of exactly who The New Yorker's audience was. (Imagine the outrage if a conservative publication like the National Review had used this cover!)

Notice my use of the word "should" in the previous paragraph. Remember, this nation is not long removed from "freedom fries," accusing people who disagreed with President Bush's war policies of being "against America," and viewing flag pins as the only unequivocal way to express one's patriotism. But these voters don't read The New Yorker. Many of them have probably never even heard of it. And they probably weren't going to vote for Obama either. These voters will probably look at this provocative magazine cover and conclude that his lack of forcefully denouncing it means the caricature must be true. Obama can't win with these voters and shouldn't waste his time with them.

Yes, a significant part of the electorate is decidedly anti-Obama for reasons that are unrelated to his liberal ideology. Think about all the advantages a generic Democrat has over a generic Republican on issue after issue in most polls. There's an unpopular war, a shaky economy, an unpopular two-term Republican president, and greater dissatisfaction among voters with the Republican Party. But Barack Obama the candidate is only barely beating John McCain the candidate. So it would seem that Obama's underperformance in spite of so many favorable indicators to the contrary is at least partially due to an anti-Muslim, anti-Black vote. The anti-liberal vote doesn't care one iota about Obama or The New Yorker either, but at least their opposition is more benign.

The danger for Obama is that these kinds of stories only get people talking about the very stuff Obama is trying to avoid--not because he's a closet Muslim radical, but rather because it takes him off message. He would much rather talk about his plan for the economy and Afghanistan than how offended he was by some magazine cover. And because Obama is still new to the political scene, voters are still forming their impressions of him as a politician. Surely, he would rather define himself than have others define him the way Tony Rezko, Jeremiah Wright, Michael Pfleger, Wesley Clark, Jesse Jackson, and now The New Yorker have done with varying degrees of success.

As for political ramifications, this controversy is not good news for Hillary Clinton either. Some of her campaign volunteers were responsible for spreading some of these rumors before the Iowa caucuses last fall. And Clinton herself did not definitively swat down rumors about Obama's religion by claiming that he was not a Muslim "as far as she knew." In other words, her veepstakes odds may have become a little longer.

Of course, the fact that people are at least talking about this magazine cover is good for society because dialogue breeds understanding. Anytime the nation talks about ethics and race, progress is being made. Obama's candidacy is forcing everyone to reassess issues of race, religion, and gender.

Also, as an unintended advantage for Obama, voters who disagree with his politics may support him regardless because they view his election as a means by which they can repudiate the media, the punditry, and tabloid journalism in general. They might not like his politics, but they are fed up with the sideshows, phony outrage, misplaced priorities, insincere retractions, and forced expressions of contrition that have plagued this campaign season.

Having said all that, this controversy illustrates another problem with the nexus of politics, the media, and voters.

When voters complain about their politicians not offering enough specifics, media feeding frenzies like this magazine cover are often to blame. Until voters demand more from their politicians and audiences demand more from the media, it will only be a matter of days before the nation is distracted yet again by another surrogate- or media-induced controversy. Politics should be about governance, but it is treated as an extended soap opera in which people spend more time dissecting and anticipating missteps than actually analyzing their policies. Our short attention spans are exploited by the media whenever they seize on these distractions.

At what point will voters and the media stop focusing on these sideshows? Why should anybody care what Pundit X, Talking Head Y, and the staff at Media Organization Z think? This campaign should be about Barack Obama's and John McCain's plans for the nation. Our political discussion should be about the economy, taxes, immigration, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Supreme Court, domestic spending, and foreign policy. But this pragmatism is nowhere to be found, as the campaigns have come to be defined by flag pins, fist bumps, cooking recipes, genitalia, Vietnam, pastors, White entitlement, and now magazine covers. Again, while it is good that the nation is discussing issues of race, gender, and religion, even if awkwardly, it must be stated that the way in which our nation's political dialogue can so easily be derailed by peripheral matters is doing everyone a great disservice.


The Jesse Jackson Gaffe in Context

Jesse Jackson stepped in it again this week by criticizing Barack Obama during what he thought was a private conversation. He was a guest on a Fox News political program and was talking with another Black guest when he was off the air. However, his microphone was still on and the remarks were caught on tape. Jackson was complaining about Obama's support for faith-based initiatives and accused him of "talking down to Black people." In an unfortunate moment of bravado, he then told the other guest that he "wanted to cut Obama's nuts off." Jackson has since apologized for his "crude remarks," but the damage had already been done, and not to Barack Obama. This story proved to be a bit too sensitive for male journalists to cover, as this humorous compilation reveals. (Hat tip: TV Newser)

What is happening regarding Black leaders of yesteryear like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton is nothing new, but the media have been slow to catch on. I first mentioned how Barack Obama represented a changing of the guard more than a year ago in regards to Al Sharpton:

What does Sharpton do when his role within the Black political community and the Black community in general is diminished? What does Sharpton do when he does not have to be kowtowed to in order to deliver the crucial Black vote for Democratic candidates? What does Sharpton do when he has such a long history of civil rights activism and is treated like a gadfly only to watch a first term senator come out of nowhere and be so unbelievably well received?

What does any animal do when it feels threatened? It lashes out. And that's why Sharpton is worried.
Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the media-anointed spokesmen for the Black community. However, many Blacks don't believe Jackson and Sharpton speak for them. Blacks are not a monolithic voting bloc at all. They overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, but often have conservative values. These values include self-reliance and personal responsibility.

Jackson and Sharpton run contrary to this philosophy. While the history and effects of institutionalized racism and discrimination in America can never be forgotten, a growing number of Blacks are tired of simply blaming White injustices for the ills in their communities. Citing racism as the reason why you dropped out of school, discrimination as the reason why your child is a drug addict, and the lack of reparations as the reason why your neighborhood is riddled with gang violence doesn't hold water. Blacks want to improve their communities and realize that even though they don't have control over government policy (except at the ballot box), they do have control over themselves.

Many Blacks, including national figures such as Colin Powell and Bill Cosby, have spoken out about the need for Black men to be more involved in their children's lives and for Black children to stay in school. These people have been criticized by the Jackson wing of the Black community for "acting White" or having "a lack of pride in their Blackness," but this resistance is getting weaker and weaker. Even though it may be a tough message for some people to hear, it is a message of truth that cannot be disputed. Barack Obama is only the latest leader to remind Blacks that there comes a time when you simply have to stop blaming others for the mistakes you make.

The political consequences of Jackson's remarks are obvious. Obama benefits anytime he is criticized by people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Jackson and Sharpton are seen by many Whites and Republicans as radical Black leftists. Falling out of favor with them makes Obama look reasonable by comparison and works against the caricature of him as an angry race-baiting liberal closet Black Muslim. By extension, that helps put more distance between him and the likes of Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright, thus further increasing his appeal among Whites. It also makes Obama look more moderate because Jackson is seen as one of the figureheads of the liberal fringe. Jackson's complaints do not reveal any real danger on Obama's left flank because these Black voters are going to vote for him in November anyway.

Jackson's stature within the Black community is diminished. He did nothing to help his cause with his macho talk during what he thought was a private moment. Blacks who have grown tired of the same old arguments are only going to be more drawn to Obama's message of taking responsibility rather than simply complaining about still not receiving their forty acres and a mule. Older Blacks may be more receptive to Jackson's message, but there is a growing generation gap that consists of younger Blacks whose lives were not shaped by the civil rights movement and desegregation and older Blacks who still remember what it was like to have to drink from "colored-only" water fountains and endure blatant racism as they walked down the street. Racism obviously still exists and is a serious problem, but this new generation of Blacks, starting with Obama's generation, is less inclined to buy into the traditional arguments about race relations that have been debated for decades without arriving at a meaningful consensus.

Obama's candidacy has advantaged this nation by forcing people of all races to reassess race. He is forcing people not just to merely consider the prevalence or perpetrators of racism in today's society, but also how we can discuss it intelligently and arrive at new solutions. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton don't offer any of this, and that is why their relevancy is restricted to journalists who are too lazy to search for new Black voices who offer new messages and new ideas.


The Obama Caricatures

Former Bush adviser Karl Rove launched the latest salvo against Barack Obama in an attempt to define him as unpalatable to the general electorate:

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."
These remarks may be nothing more than childish name-calling, but they do illustrate a larger problem confronting Republicans as they try to keep the polls close.

Rove is clearly trying to paint Obama as an aloof, wealthy, liberal. However, the problem with this line of attack is that it directly contradicts some of the other caricatures Republicans have been trying to make stick to the Democratic presidential nominee.

For example, earlier this year there was a whisper campaign accentuating Obama's middle name by referring to him as "Barack Hussein Obama." Some thought this was innocuous because they were simply referring to him by his full name, even though nobody refers to John McCain as "John Sidney McCain." Others thought this was identity politics at its worst by trying to subtly frame Obama as a Muslim and therefore potentially disloyal to the United States. Other than appealing to the darkest elements of human nature, there's one other problem with this caricature. How often do you find dark-skinned men named "Hussein" at a country club?

Another enduring caricature is the America-hating black militant Obama with his racist wife Michelle. This is the Obama that spent 20 years in Jeremiah Wright's church--the same church that was later visited by Michael Pflager who invoked White entitlement as he mocked Hillary Clinton. But how does one go from spending 20 years in a Black church preaching Black liberation theology to a country club that is presumably overwhelmingly populated by the very people his pastor was criticizing?

Then there's the young and inexperienced Obama. This is the Obama who has yet to complete his first term in the Senate and was still serving as a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois, at the start of President Bush's term. But if he's so young and inexperienced, how could he be an elitist at a country club? Young people and those who have not built up their network of connections through years of experience are going to have a hard time gaining access to such exclusive resorts. After all, not just anybody can join a private country club to begin with.

This brings up the caricature of Obama as an elitist. This is the Obama who went to Harvard Law and attended an elite academy in Hawaii. Republicans have tried to paint Obama as a "limousine liberal" who looks down on voters who "cling to guns and religion." But that goes back to the identity politics and class warfare question. Obama is less wealthy than the very strategists and party operatives who are accusing him of being a country club liberal. He recently finished paying off his student loans and had the smallest net worth of all of this year's major presidential candidates, including John McCain. And if surrogates want to bring Michelle Obama into this fight as an elitist, that would make Cindy McCain fair game. She's a former beauty queen and a multi-millionaire who inherited a brewery and owns a private jet. So who would be more elitist in that case?

We also have the liberal Obama caricature. This is the guy who makes Ted Kennedy look like a moderate. This is the guy who is the most liberal person in the Senate. But aren't country clubs more typically viewed as havens for the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party than liberals--especially biracial ones named Hussein?

The fact that Republicans have tried to redefine Obama in so many often contradictory ways suggests that 1) none of the previous labels have gained significant traction, 2) the party as a whole is largely bankrupt of new ideas, and 3) Obama has successfully innoculated himself from most of their prior charges. Of course, in addition to being petty, these kinds of attacks play right into Obama's message of "change" because he can point to this name-calling and show that the Republican Party is out of touch and that they care more about political posturing than solving real problems.

These kinds of attacks may gin up the base, but they will likely do little to bring independents and new voters into the fold.


The Plight of Black Republicans

Black Republicans are a rare breed. About 85% of the Black vote goes to Democrats, so they are perhaps the most reliable voting bloc in America. Blacks' loyalty to the Democratic Party stems from several factors:

1. Black voters tend to view the government as a protector, rather than an obstacle. This automatically places Blacks at odds with Republican conservatism, which advocates less government regulation and intervention. Protecting affirmative action, redress for civil rights violations, and government programs for the poor have wide support among Black voters. The government is not the enemy, as it gave them the right to vote. When they hear Republicans talk about entitlement reform and limiting government's influence, Blacks view these Republicans as a threat.

2. Blacks question Republicans' interest in their problems and their communities. Democratic politicians are far more likely to venture into their neighborhoods and listen to their concerns. Republicans are more likely to "hunt where the ducks are" and avoid campaigning for Black votes because they feel they could make better use of their time and money elsewhere. This may have worked with relative success thus far, but it betrays the notion of the Republicans' "big tent" and is not a viable long term strategy because of the nation's changing demographics. While winning a majority of Black votes is probably out of the question for Republicans, winning about 20% of the vote could make a huge difference in a competitive state like Missouri or Michigan.

3. Blacks sense a double standard when it comes to holding people accountable for racial insensitivities, racist behaviors, and the transgressions of members of their own race. When a prominent Black person says something ridiculous, Whites commonly call on Blacks to denounce the remarks. But when a White person says or does something equally stupid or offensive, the outrage among Whites is comparatively muted or the offensive remark or act is somehow explained away. And because there are so few people of color who are Republicans, the Republican Party has come to be synonymous with the "White party." So while many Blacks may actually agree with some parts of the Republican platform, they view the Republican Party as a hostile party.

Nevertheless, there is a small, but significant cadre of Black Republicans: Amy Holmes, J.C. Watts, Condoleeza Rice, Ken Hamblin, and Clarence Thomas are some of the most prominent Blacks who don't fall into the same crowd as Michael Dyson, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. These Republicans are pro-self-reliance, pro-life, and pro-entrepreneurial. And as the number of Blacks entering the middle class rises, the less appealing the same old arguments about "the government keeping people down" and "the government not giving people a fair shake" become, thus making conservatism get a second look.

Barack Obama's candidacy has presented a conundrum for these Blacks, however. Armstrong Williams and Colin Powell are two of the latest high profile Black Republicans to publicly state that they were at least considering voting for Obama. Even though they may not have much in common with the liberal senator from Illinois, they do think he may be able to help their communities in a way that the Republican Party has failed to do so thus far.

Obama's story is an example of the conservative story. He was not born into a wealthy family, and he did not have "friends" in high places to take care of him regarding getting a job or getting into school. And now he is the first person of color to have a real shot at winning the presidency. All Blacks, regardless of ideology, want to look at Obama and tell their children that anything is possible if they work hard for it. Seeing a dark-skinned man addressed as "Mr. President" will mean far more to a Black child or Black teenager than any rhetoric (even if from a Black person) about "personal responsibility" and "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps."

While these Republican voters are indeed conservative, they are also Black. And they do not want to see their communities fail. Republican outreach in Black communities has been abysmal. At least the Democrats show up, even if their ideas are not necessarily what's in their best interests. Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters want to teach the Democratic National Committee a lesson by voting for John McCain. Many Republicans want to teach John McCain a lesson by voting for the Libertarian or Constitution Party nominee. And because of the poor track record Republicans have with courting the Black vote (such as the "scheduling conflicts" that prevented so many Republican presidential candidates from participating in the debate on Black issues last fall), many Black Republicans are considering giving their votes to Obama. After all, Democrats are not the ones who are using his
middle name as an instrument of fear.

At this point, a lot of people would criticize these Black conservatives for "voting for Obama just because he's Black." But if John McCain is able to attract votes from White Democrats without anyone saying anything, why can't Barack Obama attract votes from Black Republicans? Whites have been voting for Whites for centuries without anybody calling them out on it, so why is it such a big deal with Obama?

If you are Black and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)

If you are White and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist.)

If you are White and you support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're a racist who's trying to prove that you aren't.)

If you are Black and you don't support Obama, it's because he's Black. (And you're trying to prove that race doesn't matter by voting against him.)

So it would seem that nobody can support or oppose Obama at all without their motives being questioned.

People seem to ignore the fact that people simply tend to vote for people who are like them. And for better or worse, race is just another dimension by which people can assess one's commitment to "people like them." Even though the differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were minimal, Obama got routed in Appalachia. And Clinton got routed in the South. Republicans routinely beat Democrats among Christians, males, wealthy voters, and Whites. Democrats usually outperform Republicans among women, young voters, poor voters, and people of color.

While Barack Obama might not have much in common with Black Republicans in terms of his policies on national defense, taxes, or immigration, they may conclude that he is very much like them in terms of his commitment to the Black community. Their ideologies might not overlap much, but their concerns for their children and their communities do. This is not to say that the Republican Party does not care about Blacks, but that perception will remain until the GOP acquits itself though actual deeds. And that may very well explain why Black Republicans are up for grabs this fall.


What We Learned This Primary Season

The primaries are over, the votes have been counted, and the nominees have all but officially been crowned. This year's general election will be between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Both are senators, but have vastly different personal histories. These histories and their unique personal dynamics will be scrutinized heavily from here on out. So before diving into assessing the general election campaign over the next few weeks, it is prudent to take stock of what has happened so far and what we have learned. Lessons from January may very well help better predict what happens in October.

1. This is a change election. Experience does not matter. In the Democratic primaries, the most experienced candidates were Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson. Biden and Dodd dropped out after being rewarded with fifth and seventh place in the Iowa caucuses. Bill Richardson tried to trumpet his experience in the four-person debate before the New Hampshire primary only to finish fourth and drop out shortly thereafter. John Edwards tried to position himself as an experienced statesman by criticizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their negative attacks. He was subsequently drubbed in Nevada and embarrassed in South Carolina. Inexplicably, Hillary Clinton decided to adopt the "experience" mantle and tried to frame Obama as "too risky" and "too inexperienced." And she lost too. Obama might be "inexperienced," but he won the nomination and raised the most money. The "experienced" candidates didn't. John McCain is the latest politician who is trying to take advantage of the "experience" argument against Barack Obama, but he should do so at his own peril. After all, voters may look at the current state of the nation's economy, Iraq, and gas prices and conclude that "experience" is overrated.

2. If you work the media hard enough, they will believe your spin. Hillary Clinton has made it a point to remind voters, pundits, and journalists that "she won more primary votes" than Barack Obama. Average voters don't really know much about primaries, caucuses, and delegates, so Clinton's statement somehow morphed to "she won the popular vote" and makes Obama look like George Bush in 2000 while Clinton is Al Gore. By the letter of the law, Clinton's "popular vote victory" is true. More people actually did vote for her than Obama. The spirit of the law, however, suggests otherwise. It is important to note that Clinton is able to claim this only by including her votes in Michigan, not giving Obama any votes in Michigan whatsoever, and not including votes in some caucus states that Obama actually won. If you say something enough times, people will eventually begin to think it's true. A second example of this concerns the whisper campaign about Obama's religion.

3. A candidate who is at least moderately acceptable on all levels has a better chance of political survival than a candidate who has several big strengths and at least one big weakness. For months, the Republican race was the more compelling one because there was no clear frontrunner:

Mitt Romney was the competent executive and looked presidential. But he was seen as an emotionless flip flopper and had to deal with unfair suspicions about his religion. He also had to deal with concerns about his true commitment to conservatism because of his moderate record.

Rudy Giuliani had the ability to appeal to moderates and had proven his leadership credentials in the minds of voters because of his performance on September 11. But the Republican base consists of conservatives, not moderates. And this base viewed him as out of touch on the social issues that were important to them.

Mike Huckabee seemed more authentic than the other candidates and was clearly the favorite of the Christian right. His populist message also connected with rural voters. However, his foreign policy and anti-terrorism credentials were weak and he had trouble appealing to voters outside of his base.

Fred Thompson had the name recognition, buzz, twang, and proven conservative record. But he was a terrible debater and did not seem to want to campaign.

John McCain was a credible conservative on spending, terrorism, and social issues. He was criticized for his impurity on some of these issues (e.g., the Bush tax cuts, immigration), but by and large, he was at least moderately acceptable to the most people. As a result, he won the nomination by staving off elimination the longest. McCain's victory showed that a candidate who rates as a 7, 7, and 7 on three issues is politically stronger than someone who rates as a 9, 9, and 3 on the same three issues.

4. All states matter. Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in February. She matched Obama step for step before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and from March and beyond. But from Super Tuesday to the end of the month, Obama racked up 11 consecutive victories and put Clinton in a hole that was too large for her dig herself out of. Not having a timely campaign apparatus set up in states like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Idaho cost her far more than her victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania could compensate for.

5. Due to campaign finance laws, breadth of support is more important than depth of support. Clinton was able to raise a lot of money out of the gates by racking up $2300 contributions from her most loyal supporters. Unfortunately for Clinton, once a supporter put up $2300, he was not allowed to contribute any further. So she had a lot of money, but from far fewer people. Obama, on the other hand, was pulling in $20, $50, and $100 donations from far more people. So he was able to overcome Clinton financially and eventually dwarf her because one $1000 donation from one person is worth far less than ten $100 donations from ten people. Appealing to regular people who think a thousand dollars is the same as a million dollars is how Obama was able to crush Clinton. Now he has an extensive donor base that he can take advantage of in the general election. John McCain would be wise to copy this approach to fundraising.

6. Iowa and New Hampshire must loosen their stranglehold on the nomination process. Michigan and Florida were penalized for what the other 46 states were privately thinking but couldn't say publicly. I've criticized these states' "me first" mentality many times before. The primary season may be over, but these criticisms are not going away. A more equitable primary system needs to be developed sooner rather than later.

7. Republicans might wish to consider proportional delegate allocation. Mitt Romney and John McCain could have had an epic fight like Obama and Clinton had the "winner take all" system not existed. Romney won several "silver medals" in the early contests and was clearly McCain's strongest rival. Florida was essentially a tie between the two candidates, but it was absolutely devastating for Romney's campaign. Conservatives began rallying behind Romney in their attempt to stop McCain, but it was too late. A proportional allocation of delegates would have given him a fighting chance at a comeback.

8. Democrats might wish to consider eliminating caucuses. Even though they came across as whining and sour grapes, Clinton's criticisms of the caucus system have merit. In a caucus, voting is done publicly and candidates who don't meet the minimum threshold of support can negotiate with other candidates' supporters. Caucuses are held at set times and at set locations that may prevent certain types of voters from participating. For example, voters may have to work, find babysitters, or take care of their parents at the same time the caucus is being held. What kind of system is this?

9. Identity politics may make various demographics feel good, but they are ultimately problematic. Democrats were priding themselves on the prospect of "the first Black president" or "the first female president." And now the party is divided. Superdelegates who really want to support Clinton fear the reaction among Blacks if they take the nomination away from Obama. And now that Obama won, he has to win over the legions of female Clinton supporters who are threatening to support McCain out of protest. The problem with identity politics is that it narrows one's political identity. The more Obama is identified as "the first Black president," the more it trivializes his actual legislative record and political platform.

The Republican Party would presumably care less about identity politics, but until a credible woman or person of color rises high enough in the party and decides to run for president, it is unknown how much resistance such a candidate would face from other Republican voters.

Recommended reading

  • The Republican Rorschach Test
  • The McCain McCalculus
  • Rethinking 2012
  • The Problem with Identity Politics
  • The Problem with the Clinton Brand
  • A Warning to Republicans
  • About Barack Hussein Obama
  • Calling the Democrats' Bluff

  • 5/30/2008

    On Religion, Politics, and Denouncements

    It seems that Barack Obama appeals to two types of people. The first type is traditional liberals and run-of-the-mill Democrats. They like his views on immigration, international relations, tax policy, and social issues. They are pro-choice. They are economic populists. They are more receptive to government intervention and regulation. They voted for Kerry. They voted for Gore. And they voted for Clinton. They were all left-leaning Democratic politicians whose political views largely matched their own. They might not have liked these candidates when they were at the polls, but the "D" after their names was more important than the name itself.

    The second type is voters who view Obama as a means of expressing their anger at everything related to politics as we know it today. They hate big money. They hate the idea of corporate lobbyists feeding at the political trough. They hate the 24-hour political news cycle. They hate the media's tendency to focus on stupid stuff. They hate conventional wisdom. And they hate talking heads and incurious journalists who recycle the same old themes. To them, Obama's campaign is as much about them as it is about Obama. To them, an Obama victory in November would represent a triumph of people over the system and everything that makes it undesirable.

    This latter group of voters consists of what I will call "protest voters." Some of these people are independents who dislike partisan rhetoric. A significant number of them are Republicans that Obama affectionately calls "Obamicans." (Even former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan may vote for Obama.) And many more are regular voters who have nothing to do with politics at all but believe Obama connects with them in a way that other politicians who came before him haven't. That explains why his donor base is so large and why so many of his contributions are for less than $100.

    Hillary Clinton does not connect with voters the way Obama does because she has run a poor campaign and is blaming everyone for her bleak political situation except herself. It's sexism. It's the media. It's the national party disenfranchising (her) voters in Michigan and Florida. It's debate moderators. It's the right wing smear machine. It's the unfair system of caucuses instead of primaries. It's your mother-in-law and her hairdresser. And that turns voters off.

    John McCain does not connect with voters the way Obama does either because he has one foot in the pool of bipartisanship and independents and the other foot in the pool of the unpopular George Bush and his off-putting allies. Thus, McCain's credibility is under suspicion. He is neither completely trusted by the right nor fully embraced by the middle, so he's suffering from a bit of identity confusion.

    The reason why I referenced Obama's "protest voters" is because of the latest pulpit problem surrounding the Obama campaign. Catholic priest Michael Pfleger gave an incendiary sermon mocking Hillary Clinton and invoking the idea of White entitlement as it relates to the United States' racist past. This kind of rhetoric is common in liberal circles. The reason why this is such a big deal, however, is because Rev. Pfleger gave this sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ, also known as Obama's church--the same church where Rev. Jeremiah Wright gave his now infamous sermon about how September 11 should not have been a surprise to the United States.

    Needless to say, the media are all over this story. Pundits are talking about how this strikes at Obama's "judgment" again. And Hillary Clinton is calling on Obama to denounce Pfleger explicitly. Comparisons between Michael Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright are commonplace.

    This reaction was predictable, but regardless of how one feels about this pastor's remarks, one fact cannot be denied. This year's presidential campaign is setting a very dangerous precedent.

    To start, Obama was not at the church when Pfleger blasted Clinton and invoked White guilt. And how often does Obama go to his church now anyway? He is in the middle of an intense campaign for his party's nomination and likely doesn't have the time to make it back to Chicago every weekend to go to his church. Why should he be held accountable for what that church's pastor is saying? Pfleger wasn't his pastor; Wright was! Why should he have to dissociate himself from that church because of this new pastor? And how offensive are these calls for divorce to people actually agree with Pfleger's remarks?

    Having to disavow or dissociate yourself from an entire organization simply because someone in that organization, no matter how prominent, makes controversial remarks or has a potentially offensive policy is an unfortunate development because it prevents the electorate from focusing on issues that are far more important to their day to day lives. And it threatens to silence any politician whose views or personal history is deemed "too different" for others to accept.

    Until 2000, Bob Jones University, a Christian school, had a policy that banned interracial dating. Should all Bob Jones University graduates have repudiated or boycotted their own college simply because of the school's politically incorrect policy? After all, those alumni paid thousands of dollars to go to that school and went there voluntarily, just as Obama voluntarily joined and stayed at that church.

    There are several politicians who were affiliated with the Conservative Citizens Council, a White-supremacist organization. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, these affiliations lasted as recently as the 2004 election. Should all politicians who were once members or allies of this organization immediately denounce it and sever all ties with it? What about George Allen? What about Haley Barbour? They have won several elections despite these ties. Where were their calls for divorce? George Allen eventually lost his Senate re-election bid in 2006, but that was because he called a rival campaign worker a "macaca," not because of his relationship with the Conservative Citizens Council.

    Jerry Falwell blamed September 11 on gays. How many politicians were still trying to curry favor with his church and that political wing after that? Even as recently as this campaign cycle, politicians, including John McCain, were still trying to win Falwell's endorsement. Where were his calls for divorce? Were such calls as intense as they are for Obama now?

    Freedom of religion is protected under the Constitution. And separation of church and state has been advocated since our Founding Fathers' generation. But it seems that tabloid journalism is threatening this freedom because it is making politicians have to answer for people they have little or no control over. And what is the political statute of limitations for dealing with people who made offensive remarks in the past? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years? And why should we care?

    Imagine that there comes a point when Obama is forced to leave his church because of media and political criticism. How fair is that? How many politicians have been drummed out of their own church because other people who could care less about them don't like what the church preaches? If Obama left his church, where would he go? Would his critics accuse him of mixing political calculations with the covenant? Would the media and his critics go to great lengths to research the backgrounds of all the pastors at this new church? What about the other worshipers who simply want to pray and enjoy Sunday fellowship without having to worry that the punditry will badmouth their church?

    This gotcha game when it comes to religion has shifted from an unseemly though passably politically relevant exercise (e.g., Jeremiah Wright) to an outright offensive distraction. Not only is it offensive to the people who worship at the "offensive" church (nobody likes to have their church and their congregation branded as "wackos"), but it's also offensive to the millions of voters who don't care about this stuff at all and would much rather learn more about how our presidential candidates plan to handle Iraq, the struggling economy, fighting terrorism, and addressing gas prices.

    The United States has a serious complex when it comes to religion. People who don't go to church at all are branded as God-haters. Non-Christians who seek to have their faiths be afforded the same level of acceptance or prominence in society as the Christian faith are excoriated for "forcing their beliefs" on others. Now people who don't go to churches "we" approve of are demonized as insufficiently Christian. And worst of all, this manufactured controversy surrounding Obama is giving license to others to demand that their political enemies pay for the actions of those to whom they are only tangentially related.

    I sense that this latest controversy surrounding Obama will only make these "protest voters" even angrier or create a whole legion of new ones. And uncommitted voters and nonpartisan observers who are wondering how to make ends meet are probably looking at this supposed "pastor problem" and wishing people would just give this guy a break and let him run his campaign. People who were already against Obama don't need to be further swayed by yet another "offensive" sermon. But calling on him to sever ties with people for offenses they once ignored in the past reeks of political opportunism and is deeply offensive to people who don't believe anyone should have to worry about accounting for the shady characters that may or may not exist in their six degrees of separation.

    If our nation continues down this road, there may be no one left deemed "decent" enough to run--unless he never befriended anyone or joined any group or organization whatsoever.


    Democrats' Demographics: A Convention Preview

    Super Tuesday Part V takes place on May 20, when Kentucky and Oregon have their say at the polls. These two states are similar to North Carolina and Indiana in that Oregon is considered Obama territory while Kentucky is considered Clinton's turf. The most likely result will be a split decision in which Obama beats Clinton in Oregon by a fairly comfortable margin while Clinton beats Obama in Kentucky by a landslide.

    Given that the results of these primaries are essentially foregone conclusions, what's the news value of these contests? There are two major questions that political observers are waiting to be answered: 1) What is the impact of John Edwards' endorsement, and 2) Will Obama's support among Whites continue to send warning signs to superdelegates?

    John Edwards placed his credibility on the line by endorsing Barack Obama last week. As one of the remaining heavyweights who had yet to endorse, Edwards' endorsement was big political news. And this endorsement essentially stepped all over the news about Clinton's landslide victory in West Virginia. When considering Obama's veepstakes earlier, I noted that the delay in Edwards' endorsing Obama probably removed him from veep consideration. As it turned out, Obama didn't need Edwards' help in winning North Carolina. But it is quite possible that he could have helped in Indiana. Then again, endorsing Obama last week was probably more effective tactically because it got West Virginia out of the headlines. So perhaps Obama and Edwards timed this perfectly.

    But how much does this matter? Given how ineffective Edwards was in 2004 for John Kerry, it is difficult to see how 2008 would be any different--at least regarding North Carolina. However, Edwards might be able to help Obama make inroads among rural Whites in Midwestern states. After all, Edwards was able to win a surprisingly large percentage of the vote in the West Virginia primary despite having dropped out of the contest more than three months ago.

    Hillary Clinton will win Kentucky easily. However, if Edwards is able to help Obama keep Clinton's margin of victory down, he could make an argument that he is still relevant. But should Clinton rack up another 30-40 point victory, it would be obvious that Edwards has very little political clout left and he could no longer seriously be considered as a party heavyweight despite his geography, his drawl, and his good looks.

    As it stands right now, the nomination remains Obama's to lose. All of the metrics are working against Hillary Clinton. Obama has won more states, more pledged delegates, and more popular votes. He has also recently pulled ahead of Clinton in terms of superdelegates. It is possible that Clinton can seize the popular vote by running up the score in Kentucky and Puerto Rico while keeping things close in Oregon, but having to rely on a US territory in addition to the controversial results from Michigan and Florida to win the popular vote probably won't sit well with party officials.

    The only card Clinton has left to play is the demographic card. West Virginia did not net her enough delegates to make much of a dent in Obama's lead, but exit polls there confirmed what Ohio and Pennsylvania suggested: Barack Obama simply isn't doing well enough with downscale, culturally moderate to conservative, rural White voters. It could be because of racial discomfort. It could be because of a lack of cultural affinity. It could be because of political disconnect. Whatever it is, this is very important and Obama needs to find a way to remedy this problem.

    Obama's coalition consists of Blacks, liberals, independents, and highly educated voters. Clinton's coalition consists of Latinos, women, social moderates, rural voters, and Whites. The argument Clinton needs to make to superdelegates is that her coalition is larger than his coalition. Blacks, liberals, and people with doctorates are going to vote for a Democrat in November regardless of who it is. The same could not be said, however, for rural Whites, blue collar voters, and moderates. And independents could go either way. So could Clinton do a better job of keeping more raw votes in the Democratic column even though Obama appeals to a more diverse electorate? Despite all the talk of multiculturalism and breaking racial barriers, the United States remains about 70% White. And while many of these White voters are genuinely concerned only with the issues, many others would like to have a presidential candidate they can relate to as well, as argued by conservative columnist Kathleen Parker.

    A few months ago, the conundrum Democrats had was that they were torn between their head (Clinton) and their heart (Obama). Clinton was the safe choice while Obama was the inspirational one. Ironically, given the way they've presented themselves on the campaign trail over the past few weeks, Obama has turned out to be the more cerebral candidate while Clinton has become the candidate who connects with voters on a gut level. She might pander and she might be divisive, but she is definitely scrappy and has earned a lot of respect for fighting in the trenches and maintaining her never-say-die campaign. John Kerry, Al Gore, and Michael Dukakis were all cerebral candidates. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush connected at a gut level. The cerebral candidates all lost. Clinton's surrogates need to reinforce this distinction.

    John McCain and Barack Obama are trading salvos on an almost daily basis. Even President Bush joined the fray by implicitly attacking Obama before the Knesset in Israel last week. In the event that Bush or McCain finds a major Obama weakness or forces him into a political briar patch, Clinton could position herself as the vetted alternative, thus reminding voters that her well spoken rival from Chicago is still too risky.

    In short, Clinton can still win, but she no longer controls her own destiny. In order to win, she needs help. And she has about three months for this help to come. Giving new life to stories about Obama's struggles with White voters by running up the score in Kentucky would be a good way to start.


    Race Relations: Questions for the Fall

    Now that it is more certain than ever that Obama will be the Democratic nominee, he has shifted to a general election strategy that focuses on John McCain while ignoring Hillary Clinton. The rigors of a general election campaign will force Obama to present his message to voters who are more hostile to his candidacy than voters in a primary election campaign. The 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns brought us frivolous issues like drunk driving arrests, post-Vietnam patriotism, fuzzy math, windsurfing, cursing at journalists, and earth tones. The impact of these issues on one's ability to govern was limited, but the media made a very big deal out of them anyway.

    However, one issue that is almost certain to provide a subtext of this fall's campaign is the issue of race. Barack Obama has done a reasonably good job of staying away from proactively making race relations the core of his candidacy. His contributions to the discussion have largely been in response to media-generated inquiries (e.g., "Is Obama Black enough?"), the rhetoric of his political opponents (e.g., comments about his middle name and Hillary Clinton's South Carolina campaign), and circumstances surrounding those he once associated with (e.g., Jeremiah Wright).

    Kevin Merida of the Washington Post penned an excellent column addressing racist incidents targeting Barack Obama campaign volunteers in Indiana and Pennsylvania. Some of the incidents mentioned in the article are quite discouraging, as they were directed against teenage supporters of the senator, both Black and White, in broad daylight.

    In addition to being a good read, this article is significant because it represents the easiest angle from which the media tend to address any discussion of race in America. The media are guilty of walking on the same trodden path, fighting the same old battles, and relying on the same tired talking heads for "insight." In the case of Obama, this means identifying him as "Black" even though he's biracial, and playing up the "White racism" directed at him and his supporters.

    We've talked about this story many times before, and it's not going away. How many more times do we have to explore whether Blacks overuse the "race card" or whether Whites are insensitive to the concerns of people of color? This is not to trivialize the issue of race by any means, but it does make many people hope that if we as a nation are going to try and address this issue, we will at least explore new ways to discuss it.

    I encourage you to read Merida's article and think about these questions. These would be good questions for the media to pursue, rather than the same old assignments of blame and obfuscations:

    Is it possible to be a racist and a Christian at the same time?

    Is it possible to love America and harbor blanket hatred towards an entire segment of the American population at the same time? Can one be both patriotic and racist?

    Is one group of people called upon to denounce the misguided members of their race more often then members of another group?

    To what extent are racism and economic conditions related?

    Has Obama truly exercised restraint in playing up these issues in the media? Have the media been helpful, harmful, opportunistic, or derelict in examining the racism swirling around his campaign thus far?

    Does the near monolithic support of one candidate among one demographic group overshadow the near monolithic support of another candidate among another demographic group in terms of scrutiny? If so, why is there such a disparity?

    Why are some people so reluctant to acknowledge that the issue of race is a bigger and more persistent problem than they may think? (It's amazing that people are still saying things like "Hang that darky from a tree!" in 2008.) And by the same token, why are some people so eager to tar others as racists at the slightest perceived injustice?

    Why are some people so ready to interpret any criticism of Obama as evidence of racist tendencies? And how can one distinguish between people who have legitimate criticisms of Obama and people who use these criticisms to mask their own racism?

    How will Republicans deal with voters who openly support them out of racism against Obama? How strongly will they denounce such voters? Will they denounce racist voters with the same fervor they had when they called on Obama to denounce Jeremiah Wright? Will voters demand that Republicans do so? How hard will Republicans work to overcome the perception that their party is a haven for bigots?

    Would some of the criticisms surrounding Obama (e.g., Pingate, Bittergate, Wrightgate, Muslimgate) have survived as long as they have in the media and among voters had he been White? Are similar warts among other candidates being ignored?

    How have rumors about Obama's religion persisted for so long? And who is perpetuating them? And how can elected officials who knowingly spread this misinformation be held accountable?

    How much responsibility should people of all races (including Whites) take in an attempt to achieve racial reconciliation or at least arrive at a bit of civility in our dialogue about the subject? And who constitutes the next generation of leaders who will push the discussion of race in a new direction? Why are people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton still the first "leaders" the media consult when seeking "insight" about race?

    For better or worse, race is not going away this fall, so pundits, politicians, and voters should get used to it. Regardless of how it plays out in the weeks and months ahead, Obama's candidacy presents the nation as a whole a unique opportunity to address this subject in a raw and substantive way that is more productive than the same tired discussions we as a nation are used to having. Some voters might not be comfortable being confronted with this issue yet again, but given Merida's article, perhaps the reason we even have to discuss it at all is not because of Obama himself...


    Wrong Approach, Wright Results

    The big political story today concerns Barack Obama's public and emphatic rejection of his longtime pastor and spiritual adviser Jeremiah Wright. This pastor has become a major political liability for Obama, so it is no surprise that he had to divorce him so publicly.

    I have avoided writing much about Wright because his unpredictability would make any analysis of his remarks have limited validity. But because today's developments appear to be the last major chapter in this complicated nexus of religion and politics, it is reasonably safe to tackle this issue now.

    Regarding my personal beliefs about the pastor, I believe Jeremiah Wright makes a few valid and powerful points, even if they are not what mainstream America is comfortable hearing at times. However, his delivery and confrontational style often overshadow the substance of the message he's trying to convey. Jeremiah Wright suffers from the same problem that prevents supposed Black spokesmen Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton from being taken seriously by the broader populace. All three of them put mainstream America on the defensive with their accusative rhetoric and their tendency to absolve themselves of any responsibility for improving the lives of their constituents, thus preventing the very people they want to reach from actually listening to what they have to say.

    Most pundits are saying that Wright and Obama are angry at each other. Wright feels disrespected by Obama and the media. Obama feels betrayed by Wright for sabotaging his campaign at the worst possible time. Others simply think Wright is absolutely crazy. However, unlike most pundits, I believe Jeremiah Wright knows exactly what he's doing, and Obama should be grateful for it. I don't think this is about increasing his profile so he can sell books or drive up his own church's membership. Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama have a relationship that goes back about 20 years. He introduced Obama to Jesus Christ and officiated his wedding ceremony. This is not a relationship that can be destroyed by a few high octane speeches and a spate of controversial interview remarks. Wright clearly supports Obama and reminded everyone of his loyalty to his campaign as recently as his speech at the NAACP dinner a few days ago.

    Wright knows that he, Obama, and Obama's electoral appeal are not compatible. The more the media and pundits focus on Wright's incendiary remarks and Obama's tepid and insufficient rejections of these remarks, the worse it is for Obama's campaign. Wright knows this. And because of his long friendship with Obama, he couldn't possibly want Obama's campaign to fail. It is quite possible that Wright is simply being selfish. However, I also believe his "going off the rails" and further muddying the waters with yet more controversial remarks served not to draw attention to himself as a way to drag Obama down or give himself a few extra minutes of fame, but rather to benefit Obama in the long run:

    1. Obama got to come down on the side of popular opinion by flatly rejecting him. Even his harshest critics who were unsatisfied with his previous lukewarm statements of disapproval should be placated by his firm rejection of Wright today. For some voters, it may very well be "too little, too late." However, for other voters, it will be "better late than never" or "it's about time." That's far better than "what's taking him so long?"

    2. Obama got to look strong in his rejection of Wright. Doubts about his strength and toughness have dogged him for months. So this helps improve his political image. After all, if he can't stand up to his own pastor, how can he stand up to our nation's enemies?

    3. Obama got to put this controversy behind him. Anyone who dredges this up again will do so at his own peril because Wright and Obama have essentially gotten divorced. Obama made sure to remind everyone that Wright's future remarks should no longer be attributed to Obama's own beliefs. And in the event that Wright self-destructs again, Obama has an easy way to deal with it: "I've already flatly rejected Wright and have said that he does not speak for me or my campaign. Let's move on."

    4. Obama got to look reasonable in comparison to "this loony pastor." And the crazier Wright's remarks became, the better they actually made Obama look. Nobody knows how much overlap there is between himself and Wright, but at least Obama is not going around accusing the federal government of introducing AIDS into Black communities. The reels of tape showcasing Obama's eloquence and appeals for unity make Wright look more like "the crazy uncle" Obama has referred to many times before. And as an added bonus, so to speak, Wright is looking more like a kook in the minds of the electorate than a racist. While neither label is good, I would venture that it's at least marginally better to be seen as a fool than a bigot.

    5. Obama can now say to nervous or uncommitted superdelegates that his "pastor problem" has been resolved, thus improving his electibility. The chances of rival Hillary Clinton winning the nomination took a big hit because the potency of one of her biggest weapons has just been reduced significantly.

    6. Republicans who continue to invoke Wright will likely be tarred with "fearmongering" or "race-baiting" from now on, which is usually not a winning proposition. That will provide a perfect foil for Obama's message of positive governance and unity. Moderates and independents will be less likely to respond to this Republican "red meat" because in their minds, Obama has done all he could reasonably be expected to do regarding resolving this problem.

    7. Obama can finally get back on message in time to deal Hillary Clinton her death blow in North Carolina and Indiana. Losing Indiana would probably keep Clinton in the game. And because Obama is not expected to win the upcoming contests in Kentucky and West Virginia, Clinton could seize a bit of momentum which would prompt more "is Obama fading?"-type stories. Getting past Wright gives him a fighting chance of preventing this from happening.

    Nobody really knows what's going on in Wright's mind or what his true intentions were, but I believe Wright is more intelligent than what he's given credit for. By essentially sacrificing his own brand image, he did Barack Obama a huge political favor.


    The Pennsylvania Aftermath

    Hillary Clinton won yesterday's Pennsylvania primary by 10 points. This margin of victory was healthy enough to allow Clinton to stave off calls for her to withdraw from the race and cede the nomination to rival Barack Obama. More importantly, surviving Pennsylvania allows her to compete in the upcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6.

    Last month I wrote about how Clinton could emerge from the wilderness and salvage her chances at winning the nomination. (Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of "Anatomy of a Clinton Comeback.") In short, here are the five tips I offered:

    1. Contain Bill Clinton.
    2. Don't drop out, regardless of what happens in Ohio and Texas.
    3. Stop complaining and fight.
    4. Wait for Obama to implode.
    5. Turn Iraq into an advantage.

    How did she do?

    Regarding Point 1, Bill Clinton has been considerably better behaved. He's made a few silly remarks, such as suggesting that Obama is the one who played the race card in South Carolina. But compared to how adversely he was impacting his wife's campaign before Super Tuesday, he has not been an obvious net negative. Check.

    As for Point 2, she won Ohio convincingly and won a media victory in Texas even though Obama won more delegates. Winning these states lent credence to her argument that she's been able to win the big states. It also gave rise to whispers about why Obama couldn't close the deal and wrap up the nomination. Check.

    Point 3 was a critical one. Since Junior Super Tuesday, she's been playing hardball by invoking Jeremiah Wright and echoing Harry Truman: "If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen." So she's been scrapping for rebounds and throwing a few elbows. Even better, Obama seems not to have taken this tip into consideration because he was the one who was whining after the last debate in Philadelphia and was diminished because of it. Check.

    Point 4 has been quite generous to Clinton. March and April have given us "bitter," "God Damn America," whining about debate questions, accusations of elitism, effeminate bowling, and a weak debate performance. What's the scorecard against Clinton? Sniper fire. I'm sure that's a tradeoff she'd be willing to take. Check.

    And as for Point 5, Iraq is not as big of an issue as it once was. Nobody was able to lay a glove on General David Petraeus at his recent Senate testimony and voters seem to realize that regardless of our feelings about our troop presence there, we will be in Iraq for a very, very long time. Being against the war from the very beginning doesn't seem as important anymore, especially now that we're five years into the conflict. Check.

    Looks like Clinton is well on her way. So what about Obama?

    The Pennsylvania primary is significant because in addition to being the first contest in about seven weeks, it is also the first contest that has taken place since several controversies and unforced errors sandbagged Obama. Here are some possible explanations for why he struggled in the Keystone State:

    1. Perhaps he peaked too soon. When Obama was running up the score in February, he put the pledged delegate race out of reach and had all the momentum and campaign cash he could have asked for. But because he never made it to 2025 delegates, he could never definitively put her away. After Super Tuesday, the caucuses and primaries slowed to a trickle, thus placing an even greater spotlight on the bigger states that had yet to vote. Nobody cares that Obama won Vermont or Wyoming. But everybody knows that Clinton won Ohio. Obama may have won a lot more states than Clinton, but his lead in the popular vote is small and he lacks a truly convincing victory in a major blue state outside of Illinois.

    Clinton has constantly reminded everyone that she has won New York, California, New Jersey, Ohio, and now Pennsylvania. In response, Obama correctly argues that John McCain is not going to win those states, but it does beg the question of why Obama is not doing so well among Democrats in Democratic states. Running up the score in places that no Democrat stands a chance of winning in November (places like Nebraska, Alabama, and North Dakota) doesn't mean anything. Being able to hold down New Jersey and Pennsylvania is a bit more meaningful.

    So it would appear that even though the Obama train has left the station, it still has yet to reach its destination because it doesn't seem like the driver knows where to go or how to get there. The fact remains that Obama has not been able to deliver the knockout punch to Clinton. Ned Lamont made the same mistake after beating Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary race of 2006. Obama had the chance to turn out the lights on Clinton in New Hampshire, on Super Tuesday, in Ohio, and just now in Pennsylvania. Voters do seem to like Obama, but they don't quite like him enough to put him over the top yet. Could it be that voters are having second thoughts about him or that Obamamania has reached its peak and is fading?

    2. Burnout. It is worth keeping in mind that no politician can sustain the momentum and enthusiasm Barack Obama has generated. Obama has certainly been able to capitalize on his wide appeal through his fundraising prowess and the diversity that characterizes his supporters. However, this presidential campaign has been going on for over a year now. About 80% of the states had already voted before Pennsylvania, so everyone should know who Obama is and what he stands for by now. The fact that Pennsylvania Democrats rejected him by such a significant margin suggests that either his act has worn thin among voters or that there are a lot of voters who simply have yet to warm up to him. And if they're not aboard the Obama train by now, will they ever be?

    3. Jeremiah Wright is a very, very big deal. The Pennsylvania primary is the first electoral contest that has taken place since "God Damn America" entered our political dialogue. Obama gave a much anticipated speech on race in America last month which was supposed to bring this and other race-related controversies to a close. However, in my analysis of that speech, I argued:

    "The biggest problem with Obama's speech is that it was a bit too cerebral for the voters who most needed to hear it. This is not to say that downscale Whites, for example, are unintelligent or bigoted. However, to appreciate the full value of Obama's speech, one needs to invest the time in sitting down and reading the entire transcript of the speech or watching it on YouTube. However, most voters, regardless of ideology, simply don't do that. Either they don't have regular access to the internet or they simply don't have the time because of their other responsibilities. Or perhaps they do have the time, but aren't interested enough in doing this research on their own. For better or worse, we live in a soundbyte political culture which explains why simple slogans like "cut and run" and "he was before it before he was against it" trump nuance and complexity every time."

    "Of course, Obama was asking voters of all races to be honest with themselves about their own private apprehensions regarding their prejudices. That's fine. And voters who don't feel they need to have this discussion or engage in this introspection are essentially missing the point of the speech. However, politics is not about speeches, nor is it about how well people understand these speeches. It's about how they react to them. My sense is that blue-collar Whites probably did not (or will not) react favorably to this speech even though this is not necessarily their fault or Obama's fault. In these voters' minds, Obama may be well-spoken and inspirational. But when they listen to his pastor's words, they are offended and disturbed. And when they consider the fact that Obama has been closely associated with this pastor for 20 years, they will wonder exactly how much Obama and this pastor have in common."
    Obama may complain about how Hillary Clinton is using Wright as a wedge issue, but her attacks on him are nothing compared to what the GOP will do in a general election campaign. (The North Carolina Republican Party is already causing mischief.) Wright remains controversial and in the minds of many voters, Black and White alike, Obama has not sufficiently addressed their concerns about his relationship with him. And it is quite possible that these reservations were expressed at the ballot box.

    4. "Bitter" bit back. The whole "bitter" miniscandal provided yet another case study in how one can be totally right on the theoretical arguments and totally wrong on the gut-level politics. This is like Obama's self-induced controversy of not wearing a flag pin. It would have been tremendously easy for Obama to simply put on a flag pin even if he privately knew that wearing one was not required to truly be patriotic. However, he chose to argue against political common sense. Since then, he has been dogged by questions about his patriotism. This was an unforced error that has snowballed into something particularly debilitating for him, especially since it dovetails with accusations of snobbery to create an increasingly unattractive caricature of Obama as an unpatriotic Black liberal elitist.

    The same scenario holds true for "bitter." In those much publicized remarks, intentionally or unintentionally, Obama disparaged churchgoers, gun owners, and rural voters in general. Not coincidentally, CNN's exit polls show that Obama lost to Clinton among (wait for it) churchgoers, gun owners, and rural voters. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but it's hard to write these results off as anything but rural voters' punishing Obama for stomping on their culture of religion and guns while implying that they are bigots in the process. Whether this punishment will be restricted to Pennsylvania or if it will have longer lasting implications remains to be seen, however.

    5. Obama got off message and started whining. When I wrote about how Clinton could mount her comeback, I said that she should "stop complaining and fight." Clinton got angry at a debate last month in Ohio because she didn't like getting asked the first question all the time. She even criticized the moderators for not asking if "Obama wants another pillow." I thought this was a terrible move for Clinton at the time:
    "This was a stunningly stupid thing for her to say because it only reinforced her negatives, reminded voters that she was losing, sounded petty instead of presidential, and wasted time that could have been better spent articulating her views on something that actually mattered to voters."

    "When sharks smell blood, they attack. And that's what the media did after the debate. Her overall performance at the Cleveland debate was actually quite steady and commendable, but because of her whining, a lot of time was spent responding to that instead of lauding her grasp of policy."
    To be sure, ABC did a lousy job in terms of moderating the debate. Obama has a legitimate beef about not being asked any policy questions for the first 45 minutes of the debate. However, his biggest mistake was complaining about it after the fact. As a result, he lost several precious news cycles that he could have used to sharpen his message and present his case to the voters. A four-point loss would have created far less damaging headlines than those originating from the ten-point loss he endured last night. Obama would have been better served by letting others complain about the media while he simply dusted himself off and got back on the trail. Whining about the bad questions took him off message at the time he most needed his message to get out. Oh, and the media will only get tougher on you once you actually make it into the White House. Just ask the current president. So Obama had better get used to it.

    6. You can't win a battle if you don't fight. Obama is well known for his uplifting rhetoric and his political purity. The problem for Obama, however, as Pennsylvania showed, is that politics is not about honor and unity. It's about votes. And Hillary Clinton has been better at getting raw votes as of late. She may have high negatives, and she may be reinforcing these negatives by pursuing her "kitchen sink" strategy. But none of that matters because it's working. Obama may be the nice guy with the higher approval ratings, but that's not what it takes to win the nomination.

    According to the CNN exit polls 67% of voters thought Obama was "honest and trustworthy" compared to 58% who felt the same about Clinton. 67% of voters thought Clinton attacked Obama unfairly while only 50% felt the same about Obama attacking Clinton. News flash to Obama: Being seen as the more honorable candidate doesn't mean so much if you lose the election. A reputation is useless without the votes to back it up.

    Love her or hate her, Hillary Clinton can fight. And if she's willing to go to the mat for her own candidacy, it suggests to voters that she will be willing to go to the mat for America as President. Obama has done an awful job of defending and standing up for himself. He should be given credit for trying to take the high road and elevate our political dialogue, but nobody remembers who came in second. There are no consolation prizes when it comes to politics.

    If Obama truly cannot take a hit and fight back, it's better for Democrats to find this out now than to find out in September against John McCain. Obama's going to have to be a bit more aggressive and direct because trying to campaign from 30,000 feet and avoid getting a few grass stains on your clothes isn't working.

    7. The Democratic Party is truly divided into two camps and Clinton's camp is larger. Does Hillary Clinton represent the centrist wing of the party while Barack Obama represents the liberal wing? Remember, the Pennsylvania primary was closed to Republicans and independents. This could explain why the race has become so polarized, but this point alone deserves its own post.

    In the end, Barack Obama is still the odds on favorite to win the nomination, but Hillary Clinton has successfully reframed the race in a way that says pledged delegates no longer matter. Her audience now is no longer the voters. It's the superdelegates, and neither candidate can win the nomination without them. And as the doubts about Obama pile up, Clinton's stock value will continue to rise. It appears that May 6 (Super Tuesday III) will be Obama's last chance to put Clinton away. Losing both North Carolina and Indiana would be absolutely disastrous to his campaign. And given how Obama appears to be stalled right now, this is not outside the realm of possibility.


    Obama's Speech: The Political Impact

    The big political story this week concerns the much-anticipated speech on race that Barack Obama gave in Pennsylvania. This speech was mainly in response to the controversy surrounding the firestorm brought about by remarks from his pastor Jeremiah Wright, but one can't help but wonder if it was also in response to the lingering racial tone the presidential race has taken over the past few months starting with Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of his campaign and Bill Clinton's race-baiting in South Carolina.

    Many pundits have already written about this speech and came to various conclusions. Liberal Democrats who liked Obama generally liked his speech and felt energized by his uplifting rhetoric. Many claimed that it was the best speech since "I Have a Dream." Conservative Republicans who didn't like him much to begin with were generally unimpressed. Some of them said it was more political than courageous.

    But liberals and conservatives are not the people Obama needed to address. The audience Obama should have been the most concerned about is soft supporters, mild skeptics, independent Whites, moderate Whites, and blue-collar Whites. These are the voters that could vote for John McCain (and maybe even Hillary Clinton) just as easily as they could vote for Barack Obama.

    The biggest problem with Obama's speech is that it was a bit too cerebral for the voters who most needed to hear it. This is not to say that downscale Whites, for example, are unintelligent or bigoted. However, to appreciate the full value of Obama's speech, one needs to invest the time in sitting down and reading the entire transcript of the speech or watching it on YouTube. However, most voters, regardless of ideology, simply don't do that. Either they don't have regular access to the internet or they simply don't have the time because of their other responsibilities. Or perhaps they do have the time, but aren't interested enough in doing this research on their own. For better or worse, we live in a soundbyte political culture which explains why simple slogans like "cut and run" and "he was before it before he was against it" trump nuance and complexity every time.

    These voters who didn't hear the speech in its entirety will only see snippets of it on the 6:00 news or read a short article about it in their morning newspaper. More troublesome for Obama, the clips they show on television will usually be immediately followed up or preceded by Jeremiah Wright's incendiary remarks about the government deliberately starting AIDS in Black communities and the United States' bringing September 11 upon itself because of its foreign policy. Playing a 10-second soundbyte from Obama's speech is not going to offset the anger that Wright's comments created among these voters.

    Of course, Obama was asking voters of all races to be honest with themselves about their own private apprehensions regarding their prejudices. That's fine. And voters who don't feel they need to have this discussion or engage in this introspection are essentially missing the point of the speech. However, politics is not about speeches, nor is it about how well people understand these speeches. It's about how they react to them. My sense is that blue-collar Whites probably did not (or will not) react favorably to this speech even though this is not necessarily their fault or Obama's fault. In these voters' minds, Obama may be well-spoken and inspirational. But when they listen to his pastor's words, they are offended and disturbed. And when they consider the fact that Obama has been closely associated with this pastor for 20 years, they will wonder exactly how much Obama and this pastor have in common.

    These voters aren't necessarily racist. However, Obama's new problem is that the race issue is now turning into a patriotism issue. Just a few years ago, Americans were eating "freedom fries." Knowing that an aspirant for President of the United States spent 20 years of his life attending a church whose pastor says "Goddamn America" and makes the same unpopular arguments as Ron Paul regarding September 11 probably renders Obama unacceptable to the very voters he needs to wrest away from John McCain. Even worse, Wright's comments contradict Obama's message of unity, hope, civility, and reconciliation.

    Republicans are surely licking their jowls over this Wright development and Obama's subsequent speech. They had been hoping for a Hillary Clinton nomination because they thought she would be easier to beat than Obama. But now it's looking more and more like Obama is the paper tiger who won't be able to hold the Midwestern states that are chock full of Reagan Democrats who were more likely to be put off by Obama's speech. States like Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan suddenly look a bit more winnable for the GOP.

    And the more time the media spend dissecting Obama's speech and the fallout from it, the less they are comparing Obama with McCain or covering Obama's positions on Iraq, the economy, and healthcare. And because neither Obama nor Clinton can secure the nomination via pledged delegates alone, Hillary Clinton can make a compelling argument to superdelegates in these swing states that Obama is too risky.

    Obama is turning into the "Black candidate." This is not entirely his fault, but the longer everyone is talking about Black churches, Black pastors, and Black racism, the worse off Obama is. Obama should watch his polling numbers in the Midwestern states mentioned above carefully because once these Reagan Democrats and independent and moderate Whites are gone, it will be very difficult for him to get them back. Jeremiah Wright represents everything that makes many non-liberal Whites uncomfortable about Blacks, and in their mind, Obama's speech simply didn't go far enough in repudiating him. To these voters, Obama may talk a good game, but he is still "one of them."

    John Edwards is probably wishing he hadn't dropped out of the race so soon. And Democratic superdelegates who aren't particularly enamored with Hillary Clinton are probably lamenting the fact that there isn't a third option available.

    Again, Obama's speech was courageous, well written, well delivered, thoughtful, and powerful. Other politicians, pundits, and media figures cannot credibly criticize him for this speech because they likely could not give such a speech with even half as much class, eloquence, and balance. But eloquence and thoughtfulness don't win elections. Votes do. And Obama is probably going to hemorrhage them because in his critics' minds, his speech did not address the true source of their concerns.


    Obama, Clinton, Ferraro, and Race (again)

    Hillary Clinton supporter and 1984 vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro recently threw the latest stinkbomb into the Democratic presidential race:

    "If Obama was a White man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."
    Uh oh.

    When pressed for a reaction to Ferraro's comments, the Clinton campaign initially offered this muted response:
    "We disagree with her."
    Of course, the Obama campaign was livid about this, especially given how hard the Clinton campaign came down on Obama recently for one of his advisers' calling Hillary Clinton "a monster." That's when the chairs and fists started flying and the Democratic presidential race descended to a whole new level of ridiculousness. The fact that Ferraro did not apologize, but rather identified herself as a victim only made things worse.

    (There are too many twists and turns in this story, but MSNBC's First Read offers a good timeline of this controversy.)

    Ferarro's remarks strike at the crux of an angry sentiment percolating just beneath the surface of voters of all ideologies and races everywhere regarding Obama and Clinton. Race, gender, and experience have congealed into a total mess that has forced Democrats and liberals to wrest with issues they normally criticize Republicans for being unable to adequately deal with on their own.

    Let's examine these issues one by one.

    One of the most enduring criticisms of Barack Obama is that he is too inexperienced to be President. And yet, he's the frontrunner. This dovetails with Ferraro's remarks by reminding (White) voters of how non-Whites may be at an advantage when it comes to hiring and university admissions courtesy of affirmative action even though they may be less qualified than their White counterparts.

    There may be some validity in this argument, and it shouldn't be dismissed as sour grapes or resentment among "racist Whites." However, voters need to realize that race is not what's responsible for the advances Obama has made in his political career. Simply put, Barack Obama could not have gotten where he is without millions and millions of voters of all races putting him over the top in election after election. Obama would not have even made it to the Senate if the voters of Illinois didn't show up at the polls. And it's not Obama's fault that his Republican opponent at the time was the inept Alan Keyes.

    Voters had the chance to reject Obama's inexperience in Iowa and New Hampshire, but that didn't happen. The three most experienced candidates (Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd) placed a dismal fourth, fifth, and seventh in Iowa. After Biden and Dodd dropped out, voters had another chance to vote for a similarly "inexperienced" White man, John Edwards, but he got routed in New Hampshire, was demolished in Nevada, and had nowhere to go after his weak finish in his backyard of South Carolina. A diversity-conscious political human resources office did not reject John Edwards' job application. The voters did.

    When people criticize Obama for his inexperience and attribute his success to his race like Ferraro did, they are essentially attacking the millions and millions of fellow citizens who have entrusted him with their votes and campaign donations, and this is quite insulting to them. There is no affirmative action when it comes to the privacy of the ballot box. There is no political overseer who is trying to fill a quota when it comes to providing election results. Obama simply received more votes than any of his opponents in most of his elections thus far, regardless of race. The failings of his White opponents cannot be attributed to their Whiteness. It's because they were poor candidates, did not connect with the voters, or were not offering what voters were looking for.

    Another point worth keeping in mind is that the very first contests of this presidential season took place in overwhelmingly White states. Obama's detractors cannot say he performed so well in those states just because of his race. The Black vote in Iowa is negligible! Black voters weren't even warming up to his candidacy until the Clintons began race-baiting in South Carolina. Republicans and rogue Clinton staffers were the ones peddling the Barack "Hussein" Obama meme. Bill Clinton was the one comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson. This race-baiting pushed Blacks firmly into Obama's corner, but there simply aren't enough of them in Utah, North Dakota, or Vermont to make a difference. Obama romped in all these states too, and it's because voters there were rejecting Hillary Clinton and the way she was conducting her campaign.

    These Obama detractors' anger is misplaced. However, this is not to say that Obama, his campaign, and his supporters are without fault. Hypersensitivity has led to absurd accusations of racism against anyone who dares criticize Obama. Of course, this hypersensitivity is what turns off a lot of White Democrats who would otherwise be supportive of Obama's campaign. It's gotten to the point where no one can talk about Obama without the injection of race at some point. But instead of Democrats battling Republicans on the issue, as was commonly the case even before Obama, it is now Democrats attacking Democrats.

    At least Republicans, for all their faults, seem to have figured identity politics out. Issues of race and gender don't really matter as much to them as they do to Democrats because Republicans value ideology more than demographics. And despite the Republican Party's current unpopularity, it has actually been quite progressive regarding those who have served at the highest echelons of power. Consider former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former National Security Adviser and current Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and current Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

    The Republican Party's problem with women and people of color is not so much its policies, but rather its marketing. As a result, perceptions of the GOP as being anti-woman, anti-Black, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant persist and make purple states and purple districts harder to win. As the nation becomes more diverse, the GOP risks being stranded in the political wilderness if it doesn't hone its message to non-WASP communities.

    But that's a longer term problem the GOP will have to face. For now, Republicans can find solace in the fact that they are looking far more attractive to independents, moderates, and nonpartisans than the Democrats who seem to be doing everything in their power to give voters a reason not to vote for them. It is doubtful that disaffected liberal Democrats will vote for conservative Republicans in November, but at the very least, they may decide to sit this election out.

    Again, Geraldine Ferraro made a valid point, but the substance of her argument got overshadowed by her antagonistic delivery and the media firestorm that followed. Reagan Democrats (blue-collar Whites who voted twice for Ronald Reagan and twice for Bill Clinton) probably agree most with Ferraro and are less likely to support Obama as a result. Now that she's out of the Clinton campaign, a lot of these voters may simply reduce the complexity of this story to "Ferraro spoke out, Ferraro got called a 'racist,' Ferraro got kicked out of the campaign." This condensed narrative may be factually true, but it ignores the complicated reality lying beneath the surface.

    These Reagan Democrats may be fed up with Republican leadership on the economy and the war, but they may be even more fed up with all this talk about race, and that's why John McCain may have a chance. Ferraro's comments could be seen as yet the latest race-baiting salvo to come from a Clinton surrogate in an attempt to marginalize Obama as "the Black candidate," but the more tainted Clinton becomes by this kind of campaigning, the more unelectable she renders herself to the Democratic electorate she needs to win over if she even wants to make it to the general election.

    Pundits shouldn't be too surprised to find John McCain getting a second look from voters because he appears to be the grownup in the room right now.


    About Barack Hussein Obama

    Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote a must read piece about Barack Obama and how his appeal among voters depends on their definition of "change." A lot of what Rothenberg wrote reinforces my argument that Obama's support is inflated because it seems that many of his supporters are more attracted to his presentation than his politics, even though these politics may be out of line with their own long held views. Of course, these supporters would likely retort that this is exactly why they like him so much. Obama is not about politics; he's about people and progress.

    I identified this inflated support as one particular potential weakness of Obama's candidacy. Assuming that Hillary Clinton does not become the nominee, it is a valid point that conservatives and Republicans should be able to take advantage of in a general election. Some of them are already trumpeting that he is "extremely liberal."

    The "L-word" is a tried and true way to gin up the base and fill Republican campaign coffers. It's as common as Democrats linking their Republican opponents to President Bush. Both lines of attack may seem petty, but at least they are not out-of-bounds. Unfortunately, however, it appears that many conservatives and Republicans are choosing to attack him for something that is even more childish and more contemptible.

    Now that it appears Obama is on the verge of securing the Democratic presidential nomination, John McCain's surrogates, Republican pundits, and conservative talk radio hosts have recently been making a conscious effort to remind voters about Barack HUSSEIN Obama. I already wrote about this contemptible political practice last fall, but it appears that a too-large segment of the electorate is either 1) willing to continue perpetuating this smear, or 2) too uninformed to assess the validity of these attacks on their own.

    Of course, John McCain is not going to be so politically stupid as to refer to Obama by using his middle name himself. However, his supporters and those campaigning for him will likely continue the despicable practice. The media will then get angry, the Obamas will probably draw more attention to these "fear bombs," McCain will repudiate the remarks, and another Republican will start the cycle all over again "without speaking for McCain himself."

    This approach allows McCain to benefit by getting the smear out there while maintaining plausible deniability. His supporters and partisan Republicans can "speak for themselves" while McCain can appear to take the high road. Meanwhile, the uninformed and easily spooked segment of the electorate will begin to have more doubts about "Obama the Muslim" and either defect to McCain's camp or simply not vote for Obama.

    Obviously, accusations of bigotry will continue to fly. Seeing that the GOP's image among minority groups is already in tatters, they don't have so much to lose by attacking "Barack Hussein Osama-I-Mean-Obama." However, aside from the contemptibility of this practice, it is a politically foolish approach that does not take the future of McCain's candidacy and even the Republican Party in general into account.

    To start, Obama's electoral base is much larger than McCain's base, as the enthusiasm gap exhibited by caucus and primary turnout so far suggests. John McCain should be more concerned with trying to broaden his appeal and snatch a few of Obama's supporters. However, McCain is not going to win over voters who are responding to Obama's message of hope by presenting them with the politics that preys on their fears.

    Secondly, Obama has been quite adept at batting down the persistent rumors about his patriotism and religion. Even though there are voters who might not know Obama is a Christian, Obama's impressive grassroots organization is effectively fanning out and correcting any misconceptions people may have about him via direct mail, e-mail, and phone calls. Given how effectively Obama has been able to parry these charges so far, it would suggest that Republicans are wasting their time by trying to revive the Hussein innuendo.

    Third, even though these innuendos are often coming from conservative-leaning talk radio hosts, columnists, and pundits, Republicans on the ballot may be the ones who are most affected by this behavior. There are many good Republicans who are embarrassed by the Limbaugh-Coulter-Hannity wing of the party and may simply decide to stay home in November. Fear was an effective message in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns, but voters clearly rejected it in 2006. Why would 2008 be any different? These plays on fear only make Obama's message look even more appealing, especially among the independent voters that McCain so desperately needs.

    In fairness, it must be said that the people bringing up the "Hussein" line of attack may not necessarily be doing McCain's explicit bidding. However, as long as these people continue to speak in McCain's defense and at his campaign events, McCain will be tarnished by association. "Hussein" might win political points among Republican partisans, but it likely won't win over any new Republican voters--many of whom have already turned a deaf ear on the Republican brand.


    Republicans and Race

    According to the Politico, Republicans have quietly been polling voters about their attitudes regarding attacking female and ethnic minority candidates. This research is being conducted in preparation for waging a general election campaign against an opponent who, for the first time, will not be a White male.

    Given today's era of hypersensitivity, identity politics, political correctness, and coded language, it would seem wise that politicians are wise to engage in this kind of research. And it would seem especially wise for the Republican Party to express an interest in this kind of research seeing that they are generally seen as less sensitive to the needs of women and people of color. However, the fact that such research is even necessary illustrates the problem both political parties have with race and gender.

    Why is the GOP is conducting this research? Fairly or unfairly, the Republican Party has produced lots of evidence to suggest that it is a party for White Christian males who are comparatively better off financially than other Americans. Consider the paucity of non-White Republican politicians and the isolated dark faces you see in a sea of lighter ones at Republican campaign events. Regarding the GOPs appeal among Blacks, George Bush received less than 15% of the Black vote in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, which mirrors Republicans' dismal performance among Blacks in general.

    Why the GOP is conducting this research is easy enough to understand. However, why the GOP feels it even needs to conduct this research is quite revealing. Do Republicans believe that criticizing Obama's environmental policies, for example, will lead to accusations of racism? Let's hope not. (If it does, then it's not Republicans who have the problem.) Criticizing Obama on something a bit more loaded, such as welfare reform, however, would likely cause them to act a bit more cautiously. However, if they are worried about accusations of racial insensitivity, perhaps they should have a little more faith in others. And if voters misconstrue something benign or innocuous as a racially insensitive remark, then those hypersensitive voters have some serious soul-searching to do. And in the event that this happens, Republicans could at least say they tried. Republicans in particular have a lot of work to do in regards to making inroads into various minority communities, but they can't give up if their overtures are rebuffed.

    Politicians should understand that it is perfectly okay to criticize or attack a political rival, so long as it is done on the merits. It doesn't matter if the rival is black, brown, purple, female, left-handed, vegetarian, or short. However, when you invoke race for the sake of invoking race or to appeal to the worst in voters, that's when you will run into trouble. It doesn't require thousands of dollars in commissioned studies and focus group testing to know this. Voters understand that race exists, but politicians should also understand that the lion's share of voters simply don't care about race and strongly object to having it thrown back in their faces.

    Hillary Clinton's South Carolina campaign is a textbook example of how not to use race. Ideally, race shouldn't be "used" for anything, but if it must be addressed, then it is far better to reference it to show empathy or cognizance of a group's needs than to employ it as a wedge issue. Should Clinton's presidential campaign end in failure, trying to link Barack Obama with Jesse Jackson and make hay out of his past drug use would be the moment that sent her presidential campaign from its zenith after its come-from-behind New Hampshire victory to a lonely trip back to the Senate. In addition, that race-baiting strategy also probably permanently tarnished the Clinton brand among Black and White Democrats alike.

    The Clintons' race-baiting in South Carolina is not the first time prominent Democrats have tried to use this as a wedge issue to drive voters into their corner, as anyone who has followed alleged Black spokesmen Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton knows. However, knowing that Democratic politicians have not exactly been innocent regarding race themselves, why do ethnic minorities continue to ignore Republicans at the ballot box? The image of the Republican Party being a White party is obviously an obstacle, but another problem that they might not be aware of is that people of color often don't think that Whites and Republicans come down hard enough on "their own" when they make remarks that disparage other groups.

    Put another way, whenever a Republican puts his foot in his mouth regarding issues of race or religion, it is usually Democrats who complain the loudest about it. While their outrage may be predictable and political, the fact remains that Republican outrage seems comparably muted to these voters, thus causing members of these "outgroups" to believe Republicans in general tacitly approve of the offensive or insensitive remarks by not condemning them strongly enough. Consider this piece I wrote last August regarding Tom Tancredo and his idea of bombing Mecca and Medina (the two holiest cities in Islam) to tell the terrorists that "America means business." Republicans tended to distance themselves from those remarks, but it was more because they viewed Tancredo as a fringe candidate instead of because of how offensive his remarks were.

    Compounding this is the lack of attention Republicans pay to reaching out to ethnic minority groups. Republicans may say they don't like pandering to various interest groups, but the way the Republican presidential candidates were essentially tripping over each other to appear more Christian, more conservative, more of an illegal immigration hardliner, more of a tax cutter, and more hawkish on defense than their rivals suggests otherwise. This hypocrisy suggests that Republicans are fine with pandering, so long as it doesn't involve people of color. That may not be true, but that's certainly how it comes across.

    Perhaps the most egregious snub of ethnic minority groups concerned the absence of the then leading Republican candidates (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson) to participate in the Republican forum on Black issues hosted by Tavis Smiley at Morgan State University last September. Four empty podiums were set up on stage to signify their absence. It is simply not enough to say that you are committed to at least listening to the concerns of certain groups of people and then blow them off because of "scheduling conflicts" when you have the perfect opportunity to speak to them directly. There's no other way to spin that. Simply put, these Republicans need to show a bit more courage and not just "hunt where the ducks are."

    A cursory examination of voting patterns among people of color would suggest that Republicans are wise not to waste their time in infertile political environments. But this is foolish. Republicans write off the Black and Latino vote because they think they'll never be able to win a majority of their support. However, they don't need to win a majority of their support in order to put together a nearly unbeatable electoral base of support. Consider purple states like Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. If Republicans could bump up their percentage of Black support from 10% to 15%, for example, that would be enough to give Democrats heartburn and swing these politically competitive states and their congressional districts in their favor. But blowing them off as they did at Morgan State suggests they simply don't care.

    Given the Democratic Party's reliance on lower income voters and their perpetuation of class and racial differences, an argument can be made that they really don't deserve the support of people of color, many of whom are more likely than Whites to be poor. However, the Republican Party should be ashamed of its lack of outreach regarding these politically ripe constituencies. Rather than spending its money researching how to best attack a minority candidate, as the Politico addresses, they should invest more in voter outreach and explaining why they may be better able to address the needs of people of color than the Democrats who may take their support for granted.

    Here are some other entries from The 7-10 on this subject that may be of interest:

  • The Essence of Obama: Changing of the Guard
  • The Republicans' Small Tent
  • Not Sharp, Sharpton
  • Identity Politics: Risk vs. Reward
  • T.E.R.R.O.R.
  • Republicans and the Black Vote: Part 2
  • Oprah, Obama, and Race! Oh my!
  • Clinton vs. Obama: The Problem with Identity Politics
  • Barack Obama: A Second Look at Race

  • 2/21/2008

    Don't Expect an Obama-Clinton Ticket

    Barack Obama's lopsided victories in the Hawaii and Wisconsin primaries have made him the almost certain Democratic presidential nominee. Most of the states have voted, and most of the states that haven't yet done so are small states. The last plausible chance Hillary Clinton will have to catch Obama (or at least slow him down) is on March 4, when Texas and Ohio have their primaries. Once those contests are finished, the last major states will be Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana. North Carolina is essentially off the table, given Obama's strength in the South Carolina and Virginia contests. And Indiana's demographics are quite similar to Wisconsin's, so that might be tough sledding for Clinton too. Pennsylvania seems a bit more doable, but if Obama takes Ohio first, Pennsylvania will be off the table as well. In short, barring some unforeseen event, it's looking increasingly obvious that the general election will come down to Obama vs. McCain.

    Because of how long and divisive this primary has been, no matter who emerges as the Democratic presidential nominee, that person will be charged with healing a severely fractured party. The Obama and Clinton camps simply don't like each other, and it seems that Democratic voters are pretty much set in terms of who they support. In other words, don't expect many Obama and Clinton voters to defect from one campaign to another at thie stage. If you're not a Clintonista by now, you never will be. And if you aren't an Obamamaniac yet, no one will hold their breath.

    In light of all this, there has been increased speculation that the best way for Obama and Clinton to bridge the gap and unite the party is to choose their rival as their running mate. Some people have refered to Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton as the Democratic dream team.

    Before I go any further, it would be prudent for me to offer these three words: Not gonna happen.

    Proponents of the "dream team" say that any combination of Obama and Clinton on the same ticket would unify the base and be a fundraising juggernaut. You could have the star power of the Clintons augmented by the star power of Obama, which would translate into incredible fundraising. And these same proponents say an Obama-Clinton ticket could lock up the women vote, the Black vote, and the Latino vote all at once. Seeing that those are three solidly Democratic constituencies, this presidential ticket would theoretically enter the general election with a high floor of support. This would allow them to make a play for swing voters, particularly independent or moderate suburbanites who might be more ideologically receptive to Clinton and/or Obama.

    That is the conventional wisdom. However, the reality of the Clinton-Obama dynamic would suggest that pairing them up on the same ticket is a really dumb idea.

    To start, Clinton needs Obama far more than Obama needs Clinton. After the scorched earth South Carolina campaign in which the Clintons offended a large chunk of Democrats, including most Blacks who subsequently left her campaign in droves, Clinton has been branded as an overly politicized, race-baiting opportunitist. Black voters in particular were quite offended by Clinton's South Carolina campaign and will have long memories regarding it. Sure, some of them will "come home" should the race come down to Clinton and a Republican. However, more of them will also be likely to simply sit this election out because they aren't enthused by her candidacy. So she will need to fortify her street cred among Black voters. Obama could help her do this, obviously, but even if he were to campaign for her, a lot of Blacks may mutter to themselves that Obama would have been the nominee had it not been for Clinton's dirty campaign tactics.

    While Clinton may need Obama to help ameliorate relationships among different Democratic constituencies, she offers comparatively little to Obama. Clinton is a walking contradiction of the crux of Obama's message: change. How can he claim to be the candidate of the future if he is teaming up with someone he has referred to as the candidate of the past? Why would he risk neutralizing the potency of his Iraq message by having his vice president exhibit "the mentality that got us into war in the first place?" Why would he put himself in a position to have to abandon his message of the triumph of hope over cynicism? Clinton is too antithetical to Obama's platform for her to be worthy of serious consideration as a vice president.

    Simple political geography also enters the equation here. Seeing that Clinton and Obama both hail from solidly blue states, neither candidate really expands the electoral map. Obama certainly has more appeal overall, but he does not put any new states in play by virtue of being "from there." With Obama at the helm, a Tim Kaine vice presidential nod, for example, would turn Virginia into a competitive state that Republicans could no longer take for granted. Evan Bayh could potentially do the same with Indiana and Clinton. Pairing Obama and Clinton up would only serve to make already blue states even bluer. Winning 75% of the vote in New York or Illinois might be good for running up the score in terms of the popular vote, but it won't count one iota in terms of the Electoral College.

    Obviously, both candidates have tremendous egos and are loathe to risk being overshadowed by their vice presidential nominee. Obama and Clinton are both political superstars. And throwing Bill Clinton into the mix only further complicates things. Bill and Hillary Clinton may serve as too much of a distraction for Barack Obama, just like Obama could take the limelight away from Clinton. Too much dischord and no center of gravity are a volatile mix that both candidates should be aware of.

    Should Obama become the nominee, he may come under increased pressure to select a woman as his vice presidential running mate. And Clinton may come under pressure to select a "Black" running mate (note my use of quotation marks). However, this would reek of identity politics and further buttress my argument that Republicans and conservatives may be better on issues of race and gender than so-called "open-minded" Democrats and liberals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Obama choosing a woman as his vice presidential pick, but if he is doing it only to placate women, rather than add heft to his ticket, then Republicans would be able to argue that Obama is merely pandering. Potential politically attractive female picks include Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathryn Sebelius of Kansas, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, all of whom are less polarizing than Hillary Clinton with the added bonus of hailing from red states. The only bonus Clinton adds to Obama is galvanizing Republicans and allowing them to run against their favorite nemesis even though Obama is at the top of the ticket. Obama would be wise to take a pass on that.

    People who consider an Obama-Clinton pairing as a "dream ticket" are definitely dreaming. However, the clock struck midnight on this idea a long time ago. Given the reality of the overall political situation involving both candidates, these proponents should not be taken seriously. As initially attractive as they may appear, they would only serve to drag their ticket down and make it harder for them to appeal to a wider swath of the electorate. And should that happen, this dream ticket will quickly become a one-way ticket to four more years of being locked out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


    Barack Obama: A Second Look at Race

    When Barack Obama declared his presidential candidacy, the media and chattering classes could not stop talking about how he was the first viable presidential candidate of color, how he was the child of an interracial and intercontinental marriage, and how his ability to appeal to both Blacks and Whites could make him the nation's healer.

    By now, most people know Obama was born in Hawaii to a White woman from Kansas and an African man from Kenya, raised in Indonesia, sidetracked by drug abuse, and admitted to Harvard Law School where he became president of the Harvard Law Review. America has never had a presidential candidate with such a biography before, so it's easy to see how Obama is a dream candidate for the media to cover. The possible angles through which one could assess his candidacy are as varied as Obama's background itself.

    Unfortunately, the media have chosen to fight the same old battles and conduct the same old discussions, and a lot of average people are also either buying into these same tired discussions or behaving just like the media are in regards to not thinking outside the box. Obama's candidacy has been highly educational, but not in the way it seems most people think.

    To start, why do people, including Whites, consider Obama "the first Black candidate" with a real shot at winning the presidency? Conventional thinking would immediately recall previous failed (and perhaps quixotic) presidential bids by candidates such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun, and Shirley Chisolm. Yes, Obama has far greater crossover appeal than any of these candidates, but that is missing the point.

    Rather than "Black," Obama is really biracial. To call him "Black" is to essentially marginalize half of his identity or family history. Why are biracial, or mulatto, children called Black? Why is it more common for mulatto children to be identified as "biracial" or "Black," but less common to call them "White?" The point of this is to provoke thought, not guilt. What do Whites think when they see a mixed child? If they think of mixed children as Black, then why? Is the element of racial purity required to be White, but not necessary to be considered part of another race? And what about being proud of both sides of such a person's heritage?

    And why does any of this even matter? It shouldn't, but to many people it does.

    Republicans and Democrats essentially traded places in the 60s and 70s. Since then, fairly or unfairly, Republicans and conservatives have often been branded as racists. Any people of color who were Republicans were derided as tokens, Uncle Toms, oreos, bananas, or apples. (An oreo is someone who is black on the outside and white on the inside. Bananas [Asians] are yellow on the outside and white on the inside, while apples [Native Americans and Latinos] are red on the outside and white on the inside.)

    Anyway, racial minority groups viewed the Democratic Party as being more hospitable to their concerns, and the fact that there were more Democratic politicians who looked like them (often because of gerrymandered congressional districts) allowed Democrats to win overwhelming majorities of support from non-White voters. The Republican Party was seen as the party of well-off, heterosexual, White Christian males. While a cursory examination of voting patterns would support this notion, it is unfair to conclude that Republicans as a whole are more racist or less racially sensitive than Democrats are, and Obama's candidacy is proving this point.

    One of the dominant storylines of Obama's candidacy last year was the "is Obama Black enough?" motif. This was an incredibly insulting question to ask, but the media (and even a lot of Blacks) could not stop talking about it. The political challenge for Obama was to show that he could deliver for Black Democrats without appearing "too Black" for his White Democratic audiences. And of course, when Oprah Winfrey endorsed Obama, that ripped the scab off of this stupid discussion so we could fight about racial loyalty and racially appropriate behavior yet again.

    Republicans generally eschew identity politics and seem more inclined to support a candidate based on his ideas rather than his skin color. However, because there are so few Republicans of color, they are unfairly branded as racially hostile. This may or may not be a valid assessment, but Republicans certainly weren't the ones asking if Obama was Black enough. So it appears that the racially neutral Republicans came across as more racially progressive than the racially obsessed Democrats in this regard.

    Obama's cross-racial appeal cannot be denied, as he is commonly winning the majority of the White male vote and about 85% of the Black vote in the primaries and caucuses this year. The media and pundits have labeled Obama as the candidate that Whites could feel proud voting for and even going so far as to cast this in the light of them atoning for any past prejudices they may have had.

    This is certainly an encouraging narrative, but unfortunately it has given rise to accusations of racism anytime a White criticizes Obama. It's as if Obama is not fair game, lest one be branded as racially insensitive. However, Whites do not have a duty to support Obama, just like females don't have a duty to support Hillary Clinton and Christians don't have a duty to support Mike Huckabee. It's incumbent on voters, journalists, and pundits of all types to ask the tough questions before committing to any single candidate.

    John McCain is being raked over the coals for not being conservative enough. Hillary Clinton is being pilloried for her ties to lobbyists and the Democratic establishment. Mitt Romney is no longer in the race, but he was ridiculed for flip-flopping. Mike Huckabee was criticized for using Christianity as a political weapon against Romney. And John Edwards was lampooned for his expensive haircuts and his North Carolina estate.

    When these candidates were attacked, they and their supporters fought back, usually by attacking the merits of their opponents' arguments. But it seems that skepticism about Obama is often met with cries of bigotry. If Obama is supposed to be the post-racial unity candidate, why are so many of his supporters so quick to accuse his opponents of racism? Could it be that these supposedly open-minded voters are rather closed-minded when it comes to handling philosophical disagreements with others?

    One of the most interesting observations I made on Super Tuesday earlier this month concerned the results of the Connecticut and Massachussetts primaries. Both states are in the same part of the country with similar demographics and similarly strong Democratic leans. However, Obama beat Clinton in Connecticut 51-47% while Clinton trounced Obama in Massachussetts 56-41%. People may cite Clinton's establishment base in Massachussetts (which also came out for her in New Hampshire) as her key to victory, but I think there's another reason.

    In 2006, Massachusetts elected Deval Patrick as the nation's second Black governor. (Virginia's Douglas Wilder was the first.) However, Patrick's race is not as important as the platform he ran on. Like Obama, Patrick was a compelling and talented public speaker who was running on a message of optimism and change. (Patrick endorsed Obama, by the way.) Massachusetts voters were proud to send a Black to the governor's mansion and had high hopes for his leadership. However, shortly after his inauguration, he became embroiled in embarrassing scandals and made some silly mistakes. His approval ratings dropped, but it wasn't because of latent racism. It was because he wasn't doing a good job as governor. So when Barack Obama came to Massachussetts this year, it is quite possible that a lot of voters there remembered Deval Patrick's shortcomings and were a bit more skeptical of the "change" Obama was selling.

    John McCain will try to attack Obama for being long on talk and short on specifics. Will he and his supporters be branded as racists? And if McCain were to win the general election, would Obama's supporters attribute this victory to prejudices percolating beneath the surface among Republicans? Do Whites feel afraid not to support Obama because they don't want to be seen as "racially progressive?" Do Blacks feel afraid not to support Obama because "he's one of their own?" Again, these are Democrats who are using race as a wedge issue. Which party is it that can't move beyond race again?

    At what point does politics matter more than identity? It seems like even though Obama is supposed to be the candidate who can help improve our race relations, the media and his supporters are doing more to further poison them. Obviously, Obama will have to explain his policies in greater detail in the future. Momentum, hype, and inspiration have carried him this far, but the serious questions about his candidacy must be confronted eventually.

    Ironically, Obama's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Millions of voters absolutely love Obama and are genuinely inspired by him. But it will be impossible for Obama to sustain this level of enthusiasm among his supporters. What will happen when the initial excitement wears off, the tougher questions begin, and voters don't like what they hear? Will they be seen as racists? Will they be seen as discerning? And how would an Obama defeat be viewed by the nation?

    It goes without saying that there are many openly racist people in America who would never vote for Barack Obama, and there are many more voters who purportedly support Obama only to "change their minds" in the voting booth. However, there are far more voters out there who harbor no ill will towards Obama, but simply can't support him because of his lack of experience, his liberal platform, or his lack of specifics. Should Obama lose and his loss be attributed to racism on behalf of these pragmatic voters who simply disagree with him on the issues, that would be a much sorrier commentary on our state of racial progress than if he were to lose to flaming racists. Given the absurdity of our current dialogue as is evidenced by the media, pundits, and regular people, it would seem that this fear may very well become a reality.


    On Electoral Behavior and the Credibility of Polling

    The polling industry was rocked when Hillary Clinton won a come from behind victory in the New Hampshire primary despite the fact that the question raised by almost every poll taken immediately beforehand was not whether she would lose, but rather by how much. Pundits commonly talked about the Bradley effect, in which voters lie to pollsters about their willingness to support a candidate of color only to abandon this candidate in the privacy of the voting booth because of their own unspoken prejudices. Other pundits looked for other possible causes for Clinton's "silent surge." These reasons ranged from being emotionally-based (e.g., Clinton's crying) to institutionally-based (e.g., Clinton did better among Democratic establishment-types) to psychosocially-based (e.g., the male candidates were slighting Clinton much like the way many women feel the men in their professional and personal lives slight them). All of these explanations had some legitimacy.

    The sheer margin of Barack Obama's surprisingly strong finish has emerged as the dominant storyline coming out of the South Carolina primary. However, there's another storyline that warrants further examination--the fact that the polls got it wrong again. According to Real Clear Politics, most major polls taken before the primary had Obama winning by anywhere from 7 to 15 points. (Obama ended up winning by 28.) And the Rolling Stone was warning that the high percentage of undecideds could spell potential disaster for Obama.

    So what happened this time, especially since the polling for Clinton and Edwards turned out to be far more accurate?

    Explanation 1: There is something of a "reverse Bradley effect" in which voters who really do support Obama tell pollsters they don't simply because they don't want to contribute to the popular media/political storyline about how diverse Obama's supporters are or how much Obama is relying on the Black vote. As I wrote about here, there was a very real possibility that pundits, the media, and (almost certainly) the Clinton campaign would try to spin Obama's victory as the inevitable result of an electorate that was simply too difficult (e.g., too Black) for any other candidate to overcome. If this is indeed what's going on, then that would make it even more difficult to accurately poll Obama in the future. Who are the nonsupporters saying "yes" to Obama out of political correctness, and who are the true supporters saying "no" to Obama out of political strategizing?

    Explanation 2: Voters concluded at the last minute that the Clinton campaign did not deserve their vote. Exit polls showed that more voters, including more White voters, thought that Hillary Clinton had run an unfair campaign. Had the election taken place a few days later, perhaps this disdain could have been reflected in the polls. So if this scenario explains what happened in South Carolina, then the polls were right all along and simply suffered from the fact that this disdain on behalf of the voters was a lagging indicator.

    Explanation 3: John Edwards is being used as a repository for hidden votes. The South Carolina press was particularly bullish on Edwards and speculated that he could make a real run for second place. Could this perceived surge in Edwards' support really have been a reflection of this hidden Obama vote? Edwards performed miserably among Black voters despite aggressively courting them in his campaign ads. Were Black voters feigning support for Edwards because they didn't want to inflate Clinton's numbers? Obviously, if Clinton's polling displayed an upward trajectory, she would spin that as having "cross-racial" appeal or simply being a stronger candidate overall than Obama. This, in turn, would fuel "is Obama in trouble?"-types of stories. Similarly, one of Clinton's perceived advantages was how she could lock up the women's vote. However, she lost women to Obama by 24 points and tied Edwards among men. Were men feigning support for Edwards even though they were really for Obama? Were these phony Edwards supporters also gaming the system?

    Explanation 4: Voters are sick of polling and campaign advertisements and are simply telling the pollsters and campaign workers what they want to hear in order to get them off the phone as quickly as possible. In the days leading up to the primary, I would commonly receive about 10-15 calls a day from campaign workers asking me who I was voting for or reminding me to vote. I also received countless other recorded messages from the candidates themselves or other celebrities telling me why I should support candidate X. It irritated me to no end, as these calls commonly interrupted my dinner, study time, conversations with my wife, or other phone calls. And they clogged up my answering machine and mailbox as well. So whenever someone from the Smedley campaign, for example, called me about voting, I would commonly tell them I was already planning to vote for Smedley and didn't need to be convinced to vote for him or reminded to vote in general. That would usually cut the conversation short and allow me to get back to whatever I was doing before I was interrupted for the umpteenth time. I can only wonder how many thousands of other voters felt the same way. If this frustration is as real as I suspect it is, then polling would obviously be skewed.

    A good task for further study would be to develop a means by which these kinds of voting behaviors can be credibly assessed. Come Super Tuesday, the consequences for getting these polls wrong could be a lost election, millions of dollars wasted, and hundreds of man-hours lost pursuing ineffective campaign and advertising strategies and tactics. Each of the four most probable nominees (McCain, Romney, Obama, and Clinton) has a unique demographic characteristic that could potentially benefit or hamper their electibility (age, religion, race, and gender, respectively). And each of the four has an ideological or political vulnerability that they must compensate with (mistrust among conservatives, flip-flopping on several key conservative issues, a thin political resume, and a polarizing approach to politics, respectively). And of course, they all have unique strengths as well (appeal among independents, an aura of competence, the ability to inspire new voters, and nostalgia of a relatively popular presidency, respectively).

    For the sake of the polling industry and a better understanding of modern electoral behavior, how these variables interact with modern campaigning and political warfare begs further scrutiny. The challenge, however, lies in going beyond superficial thinking (e.g., "Obama should win the Black vote. McCain should do well with independents.") and figuring out how all these variables interact with each other on a more complex level.


    Dissecting South Carolina (D)

    The results are still coming in, but it looks like Barack Obama will win the South Carolina Democratic primary with more than half of the vote and with more votes than Hillary Clinton and John Edwards combined. Given the margin of his victory and his sufficiently strong performance among White voters (exit poll results here), it appears that the emerging storyline will be that the voters rejected the Clintonian brand of race-baiting politics and really want to move on. The other likely storyline will concern where John Edwards goes from here. Here are some of my thoughts, listed in no particular order:

    1. The only way John Edwards can win the nomination now is if Clinton or Obama self-destructs somewhere down the road and he becomes the alternative candidate. But barring a total meltdown or fatal gaffe on behalf of his rivals, the only path for John Edwards now leads to amassing delegates, not winning the nomination. He was already in trouble for not winning his must-win state of Iowa and registering an embarrassing 4% in Nevada. But finishing third in his home state of South Carolina, a state he won in 2004, is a particularly strong rejection of his candidacy and is not something he can easily spin. Having been born here and representing next-door North Carolina, South Carolinians should reasonably be expected to know Edwards better than voters elsewhere. That's what makes this showing by Edwards so disappointing for his campaign. There is one silver lining for Edwards, however. Given the unexpectedly large margin of Obama's victory, most of the media's focus will be on him, rather than Edwards and his weak performance.

    2. Appeals for civility and maturity may for make for good soundbytes in debates, but people don't vote for mediators. They vote for leaders. Joe Biden tried to take the high road and was rewarded with fifth place in Iowa. Chris Dodd did the same and finished seventh. Bill Richardson thought that might win him plaudits in the debate before the New Hampshire primary, but the only thing he won was an all-expense paid trip out of the race. And in the case of John Edwards, his rhetoric about civility was well-received. However, voters rewarded Obama for running the more positive campaign instead.

    3. Black and White voters rejected Black and White politics. This anger was directed both at the Clintons as well as the media. Blacks were quite angry about having the issue of race be reduced to a political wedge issue. And Whites were angry about the the notion that the Clintons thought they could be scared into voting for them by playing on old fears. This is something Blacks and Whites alike would expect from a Republican, not a Democrat. And that's why both Blacks and Whites were so shocked by the tone and the rhetoric of the Clinton campaign. The Clinton campaign's race-baiting may have succeeded in that it drove Obama's Black support up and his White support down, which would likely benefit Clinton on Super Tuesday. However, these offended and angry Black voters are at a greater risk of staying home on Election Day in November because they have long memories when it comes to this kind of rhetoric. (Don Imus is still a sore spot, for example.) Democrats need that 85-90% of the Black vote in November. If they don't get it, competitive blue states with large Black populations (especially Michigan and Pennsylvania) may turn red. And given the weakness of Clinton regarding her electibility in the general election, she can ill afford to hemorrhage any part of her base whatsoever.

    4. The generation gap between Clinton, Obama, and their supporters is very, very real. Per the exit poll results, Obama beat Clinton among voters of all ages except those over 65. And he often beat Clinton among younger voters by better than 2 to 1. The prospect of seeing a woman president may matter more to these voters because they grew up at a time when women faced far more barriers in their professional lives. Older voters may be more reliable voters, but relying on seniors for electoral success is a dicey proposition. And younger voters, many of whom have been apathetic about politics before, look at Obama as someone who channels their dreams, their vision of what America should be, and their frustration with our current state of our political discourse. To younger voters, it's as if Obama is a movement, rather than just a candidate.

    The next state up is Florida, but it's more of a beauty contest than anything else because it will not award any delegates. It appears that Clinton will campaign there regardless, however, presumably to change the story from South Carolina to the springboard to Super Tuesday. The Clinton campaign will eagerly write off South Carolina because they know that the state will never go Democratic in a general election. But this state and their approach to it may have caused irreparable damage to their campaign because it reminded voters more of what they hated about the 1990s than what they missed. Notice that I am referring to the Clintons in the plural form because it is obvious that Obama is running against both the New York senator and the former president.

    This reality opens up a new avenue of attack for Obama because he could reasonably question who the real president would be in a Hillary Clinton White House. And citing the Clintons' rhetoric over the past two weeks would probably lead most voters to conclude that the real risk is not in electing an "unproven" Obama with a thin resume, but rather in reelecting the Clintons and allowing their brand of politics to make America lose faith in what she is.

    Black voters in the Super Tuesday states will probably break for Obama the same way they did for him in South Carolina. Those voters will likely never go back to Clinton unless she's the nominee. And White voters who were leaning towards Clinton probably were put off by her campaign and may be more inclined to vote for Obama as well. John Edwards' supporters are going to have to be honest with themselves about their available choices. Being another "change" candidate, I would expect his supporters to flock to Obama in greater numbers. But if they remain loyal to Edwards, the question will then be a matter of who his presence is hurting more. But in general, it's really hard to see how the Clintons can build up their support faster than they appear to be losing it.

    For now, Obama has seized the momentum and is now even money against Clinton on Super Tuesday. But will voters in the Super Tuesday states punish her as well? Or will they have short memories?

    The race goes on.

    South Carolina Primary Coverage: Brave New Films Simulcast

    Brave New Films is hosting primary night coverage of the South Carolina Democratic primary results tonight. This event is also being sponsored by the Young Turks and is hosted by Robert Greenwald and Cenk Uygur. I will be participating in the discussion via call-in starting at 7:20. Other guests will include prominent bloggers from Firedoglake, Alternet, the Huffington Post, Crooks and Liars, and other major sites. You can watch the simulcast in the window below, but if it doesn't work, you can also watch it here. A live blog is also available for anyone to participate in.

    Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.