That Other Thing
I’m in the category of people who were mildly infatuated with Barack Obama a year ago but figured he’d run into the buzzsaw of the Clinton machine and get shredded like carnitas, which I suppose goes to show what I know about politics.
As you might expect, I’m happy with this presumptive nomination; for many and varied reasons, I think Obama is the best candidate out there. I also think he’s a generational candidate, like JFK or Reagan, and a historic candidate, for obvious reasons. But to be blunt about it, the latter two of these mean a whole lot less to me than the former. I have the luxury of being able to say that Obama’s ethnicity is the least interesting thing about him to me, and whether he’s a pivotal political figure in American politics is for history to argue about. Here and now, in 2008, I think the direction he wants to move the country in is a better one than the direction McCain does, and that is both necessary and sufficient for my vote. Obama as icon is all fine and good, but I’m more interested in him as president.
As for Hillary Clinton: As last night’s “I’m no conceding yet” speech shows, her original sins are hubris and entitlement. Clinton and her pals (and her husband) all assumed the nomination was hers to lose, and then went out of their way to do just that. If there’s a memory of the Clinton campaign that I will take with me from here on out, it is of her and her flunkies trying to explain how she was really ahead, as long as you looked at all sorts of various metrics that didn’t actually count. This is the thing that soured me on her as a candidate: So much time wasted on trying to convince people she was winning, rather than spent actually winning. We can argue whether Obama caught a break or two (or five), but at when the dust settled he did what mattered to secure the nomination in the real world: He got the delegates. He ran a reality-based campaign, which is why he’s the presumptive nominee.
The rumor is Clinton’s now bucking for VP (one does remember that point in the primary in which she offered the position to Obama, despite the fact he was ahead in the delegate count, which was an annoying example of her imaginary-world strategy) and while unlike many Obamamites I don’t think this is THE WORST IDEA EVAR, neither do I think there’s anything in it for Obama. There’s the idea that Clinton has so poisoned the well that there’s no way her people will pull the lever for Obama unless she’s VP, but you know, there’s a lot of time between today and November, and Clinton really needs to ask herself what she gets by throwing a spanner into the legitimate candidate’s machinery. It’s in vogue to suggest that the Clintons only think about themselves; I sort of doubt it, but now is a fine time to test that theory.
In any event, come November, I don’t think there will be much of an issue, at least, not among the Democratic voters who neither have a conscious nor unconscious inability to vote for a candidate who is black. Why yes, Appalachia, I am looking at you, although if we’re going down that racial road I suspect the number of black Americans who vote who won’t vote for Obama can probably be counted on a single pair of hands. Voting for or against a candidate based on skin color is not a strategy I endorse, but in this case I suspect those that do vote that way will cancel each other out — or, actually, will trend Obama’s way.
What I do think Obama has the potential for that McCain doesn’t is in motivating millions of new and/or formerly indifferent voters to head to the polls to vote for him. Obama will motivate black voters, but it’s clear he’s also motivating younger voters as well, and while one must always be careful in predicting the youth vote (which went for Nixon the first time 18-year-olds were Constitutionally assured the vote), hip, 40something multi-ethnic Obama’s aesthetic and platform has some natural advantages over that of cranky, 70something John McCain’s. And it doesn’t hurt Obama that McCain is following the least popular president in modern history, whose policies he’s generally supported.
It doesn’t mean Obama should simply walk right into the White House — the race is statistically tied now and I think it’s going to be reasonably close through most of the actual campaign. And we all know that the GOP doesn’t mind bringing out the knives. But if this long primary season has showed us anything, it’s that Obama keeps his eye on the prize, and is far harder to knock off target than many of us believed at the start of all of this. I suspect and hope he will be the next President of the United States because of it.