Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A time to celebrate (and look ahead)

The nomination of Barack Obama to be the Democratic candidate for president is a feel good moment for America. Or it should be. Regardless of what you think about his positions or whether you plan to vote for him in the fall.

Thabiti Anyabwile captures the moment.

My son Titus will not know a time when no African-American man had ever a chance to serve in the highest office of the land. I've spent all my life thinking it utterly impossible.

My daughters Afiya and Eden can say, "I remember when Barack Obama became the first African American candidate nominated by a major party. We were living in the Cayman Islands watching it on television with our parents... really proud of the U.S."

I heard David Gergen say, "I'm from North Carolina. Barack Obama won that state with large margins. Twenty-five years ago... even ten years ago... that was unthinkable." I'm from N.C., too. I thought it was unthinkable last year.

But to Stanley Crouch the glass is half empty. He writes:

What is perhaps most surprising is what can be seen in the rearview mirror. There, reduced to a speck, is the once-huge expectation that the next President would be a Democrat. The current President, after all, has started two wars and completed none, and presides over a palette of debacles that encompasses everything from a crashing economy to a housing catastrophe to an immense loss of American prestige around the world (with the possible exception of those aforementioned indigenous Brazilians). It includes, of course, a lack of trust in an administration that weaseled and fibbed and exaggerated and Cheneyed the American people - but has (and so the GOP will remind us all) kept the nation safe from another attack. No small matter, it will turn out.

So I see little that pleases my jaundiced eye. Yes, voter participation is way up and, in the end, the Democrats will choose a woman or an African-American and, to invoke that tiresome phrase, history will be made. But this messy nominating process has eroded the standing of both candidates. It has highlighted the reality that racism still runs deep and that misogyny, although more imagined than real, is not yet a wholly spent force. This is an ugly porridge that has been placed before us, turned rancid since the cold, pristine days of Iowa only five months ago. We were, with apologies to Bob Dylan, so much younger then.

And the always interesting and usually perceptive David Brooks is pleased to play the role of Dr. Doom to both camps.

Since effectively wrapping up the nomination, Barack Obama has lost 7 of the last 13 primaries. Obama’s confidants say that this doesn’t matter. In states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, primary election results are no predictor of general election results.

That’s dubious. Though voters now prefer Democratic policy positions on most major issues by between 11 and 25 points, Obama has only a 0.7 percent lead over McCain in the RealClearPolitics average of polls. His favorability ratings among independents has dropped from 63 percent to 49 percent since late February.


The Republican camp, meanwhile, is possessed of the belief that Obama is a charming lightweight. Republican senators have contempt for Obama’s post-partisan image, arguing that he and his staff refused to even participate in backroom bipartisan discussion groups.

But Obama is far from a lightweight, as Republicans will learn if he agrees to do joint town meetings with McCain. McCain’s jabs that Obama is naïve will backfire. In this climate, a candidate can’t define the other guy, only himself. When McCain attacks Obama for being naïve, all voters see is McCain being sour and negative.

More fundamentally, McCain’s problem is that his party is unfit to govern. As research from the Republican pollster David Winston has shown, any policy becomes less popular when people learn that Republicans are supporting it. If the G.O.P. sponsored the sunrise, voters would prefer gloom. Many Republicans are under the illusion that they are in trouble because they’ve betrayed their core principles. The sad truth is that if they’d been more conservative, they’d be even further behind.

Stay tuned!

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