Wow, this election is becoming crazy entertaining. I continue to think that while it’s damn important that we elect a Democrat this cycle (for foreign policy as well as domestic policy reasons), and am kind of bemused that both Democrats candidates are doing their best to make that less likely.
I won’t move to France if McCain is elected – he strikes me as a less smooth, more bellicose version of my Governator Arnold, who I like – but I do think the Democrats have put themselves into a bit of a box, and it makes me worry.
Here’s the deal. My initial enthusiasm for Obama has waned a bit – not nearly enough to make me change my mind, but enough to comment on. That enthusiasm was driven by my taking at face value his rhetoric about what kind of politics he thinks America needs – an inclusive one, rather than one that drives off and demonizes opponents, one that at least tries to break the mold of the traditional, ossified politics we see in Washington and get us past demosclerosis. I’m not at all bothered by his arrogance – you don’t get to run for President unless you’re insanely arrogant. I’m not notably bothered by the fact that he’s buddies with corrupt developers; the essence of modern government is that it sells it’s favors and politicians are the brokers through which that’s done. Someone has to be the buyer. I’m not even bothered by the fact that he has associations with ex-Weathermen, or that he used to go to a church run by a liberation theologist. Look into my past, and I’ve associated with all kinds of people who are happy to disagree with me today.
But…his flatfootedness in not seeing that those things would be issues to the vast majority of Americans, and his political ineptitude in handling these issues do bother me. Look, he didn’t wake up one day last year, roll over in bed, and say “Guess what, honey! I think I’ll run for President!” This is a guy who has been singing “Hail to the Chief” to himself at least since he was in law school. And you’d think he would be bright enough not to make Pauline Kael’s mistake (which is deep down what I think he did in all these things). The fact that he isn’t gives me the willies, and may well mean that he’s going to get beaten.The fact that he’s beatable is an immense problem. Because as well as Hillary has been doing – finding an almost-authentic sounding voice, and hitting him hard on his vulnerabilities. But she can’t be nominated. She can’t because to nominate her at this stage of the process would be perceived as an amazing insult to African-American voters – who vote 90% Democratic. Add the impact of them sitting on their hands in the general with the core group of rabidly anti-any-Clinton conservatives who would come out of the woodwork, and she is a lockin to lose even if she were nominated.
So we have a beatable and a beaten candidate on the Democratic side. How do we get on the other side of that?
Well, one positive is that the liberal intelligentsia behind the curtains of the party are saying things that – with all due respect – I’ve been saying (along with a bunch of other smarter people like Joel Kotkin) online since 2002 and in person for longer. That the party needs to engage with and engage with respect the large chunk of people who are not urban loft-dwellers, not public employees, not people who directly rely on government programs for their well-being (unlike, say defense workers, who tend to vote Republican).
When people like John Judis, who co-who wrote the piece that suggested that a combination of urban BoBo and minority voters meant that the demographics guaranteed a Democratic plurality are saying things like this:
My colleague Noam Scheiber attributes Clinton’s success among these suburbanites to the influence of Governor Ed Rendell, who campaigned with Clinton, but I wonder whether Obama’s gaffes and his suspect associations–whether with Wright or former Weatherman Bill Ayers or real estate developer Tony Rezko–began to tarnish his image among these voters. If so, the electoral premise of Obama’s campaign–that he can attract middle class Republicans and Independents–is being undermined.
Indeed, if you look at Obama’s vote in Pennsylvania, you begin to see the outlines of the old George McGovern coalition that haunted the Democrats during the ’70s and ’80s, led by college students and minorities. In Pennsylvania, Obama did best in college towns (60 to 40 percent in Penn State’s Centre County) and in heavily black areas like Philadelphia.
Now, I’ve argued for a while that for all his rhetorical flourish, Obama is coming up short. What he needs to do is come up with a grounded, nondismissive explanation for the fact that every marker in his early political life places him well to the left of Cynthia McKinney, while he talks like Dwight Eisenhower. Both of those can’t be true, and people tend to, when challenged, believe the evidence in front of their eyes.
So acknowledge that it’s true – that when young you were, like lots of us – a would-be radical, and explain that today the most radical thing you can imagine isn’t blowing up the Federal Reserve Bank, but sitting all Americans down around a table and acknowledging that all of us are the heirs of a great project that we are in debt to – the American project – and that we need to start talking about the ways the each of us can start paying off that debt, rather than pointing at ‘that man under the tree” and expecting him to do it. Yeah, metrico, I’m just shilling – kind of like Judis does here:
But if Obama doesn’t find a way now to speak to these voters, he is going to have trouble winning that large swath of states from Pennsylvania through Missouri in which a Democrat must do well to gain the presidency. That remains Obama challenge in the month to come.
Losers try. Winners get to move to the White House and try and shape history. Keep that in mind when you jump up and down and insist on kicking millions of Americans to the political curb, OK?