BARACK OBAMA: HOSTAGE TO HISTORY
When John Kerry dedicated the 2004 Democratic National Convention to a celebration of his role in fighting the war in Vietnam, he became a hostage to the historical reminiscences of every soldier who served with him in the war. Their collective doubts about the efficacy of his performance, the verisimilitude of his medals, and his length of service combined to undermine his credibility and, eventually, take down his candidacy.
Is Barack Obama about to suffer a similar fate courtesy of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright? When Obama said, in Tuesday’s press conference that the Reverend Wright he saw over the weekend at the National Press Club “was not the same man I met twenty years ago,” he begs the question of what happened in the interim. Did he not go to church? Did he sleep through the sermons, like many a good Christian, or was Wright on his best behavior when the Senator was present? The media will doubtless be crawling over the church, interviewing every attendee who will stand still long enough about his recollections of when Obama was there and what Wright said that Sunday. Doubtless, there will be many eyewitnesses who will remember – accurately or not – that Obama was in the next pew when Wright spoke of 9-11 as the day America’s “chickens came home to roost” or when he blamed the American government for creating the HIV virus or when he announced that our government gives our children drugs to get them hooked.
In the immediate future, Obama’s comments were good ones and his moves important steps in the right (as opposed to Wright) direction. Just as he began his candidacy for president by implicitly contrasting his agenda with those of his predecessors as black candidates, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he now defines himself as the opposite of the views expressed by Rev. Wright. Since Wright has now become the poster child for everything whites fear in radical blacks, Obama can position himself as the reasonable alternative and profit by the comparison.
But it’s a long way until election day and Obama’s denunciation of Wright now makes his credibility, and therefore his candidacy, hostage to the question of what did he know and when did he know it about Rev Wright’s political views.
It is clear as we get to know the Reverend that politics, race, and religion are bound tightly together in his mind. There appears to be no easy way to parse one away from the others. His theology is based on his view of God, man, and government and his notion of sin rests squarely on public, as well as private, misconduct. It is impossible to imagine such a man preaching 52 sermons a year without frequently letting his spiritual views bleed over into the political and it is equally hard to understand why Obama is so shocked – SHOCKED – to see Wright’s views fully elaborated.
Politicians must always fear getting “stuck” in a rut, hewing inflexibly to a given position, unable to maneuver or dodge incoming bullets. Johnson got stuck in Vietnam. Nixon got stuck in Watergate. Carter got stuck in the hostage crisis. Reagan got stuck in Iran-Contra. Bush sr. got stuck in the recession. Clinton was deprived of the ability to maneuver by the Monica scandal and Bush jr. is now stuck in Iraq. Is Obama now stuck in the controversy about Wright? Will his implicit claim not to have realized how much of a “caricature” (Obama’s word) Wright has become stand the test of scrutiny and time?
An issue like this acquires a life of its own. Granted we mostly now believe that Obama’s views are not akin to those of Rev Wright. But this controversy has gone beyond issues and ideology. It now relates to credibility and integrity. Is Obama telling us the truth when he says that he did not realize how extreme Wright had become until he heard him before the National Press Club? Or is he trying to fool us and to feign innocence?
And the controversy also goes to strength and leadership. Did Obama fail to separate himself from Wright because he was too weak and indecisive to do so? Is he too much the Hamlet to be capable of decisive action? Did he stay with Wright too long, both before and during his presidential candidacy? Did he show himself to be a strong leader or a weakling in the way he handled the controversy.
These questions, more than Wright’s ideology, are likely to determine the future of the Obama candidacy.
OBAMA’S NOMINATION IS NOT IN DANGER…BUT HIS ELECTION IS
Hillary Clinton cannot win the Democratic nomination even with the latest eruptions from Mt. Wright. He is like the ball team that wins a bunch of games after its rival has already mathematically clinched the pennant.
With 450 or so delegates yet to be selected (130 North Carolina, 70 Indiana, 50 each in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon, 65 in Puerto Rico, and 20 in North Dakota and Montana combined), she has no chance of closing Obama’s 150 vote lead among elected delegates. In all likelihood, Obama will regain the ten votes he lost to Hillary in Pennsylvania next week when North Carolina and Indiana vote. Even if Hillary wins Indiana, Obama will probably win North Carolina by a sufficient margin to offset both Indiana and Pennsylvania.
With Obama well ahead among elected delegates, the superdelegates are not going to overturn the will of the voters.
The end game is pretty clear. Speaker Pelosi (who has great influence over the 230 superdelegates who are Democratic Congressmen), Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Party Chairman Howard Dean will ask the superdelegates to make up their minds shortly after the final votes are counted on June 3rd. They will insist that the superdelegates make their preference known in the first few weeks of June.
Then a mob psychology will take over. Obama will leave the primaries with about 1,925 delegates of the 2025 he needs to win the nomination. Super delegates will clamor to be counted in his column before he wins the nomination. Nobody will want to be the 2026th delegate to commit to Obama. There is no patronage or favor in being in such an unenviable position. With Obama so close to victory, the superdelegates will fear that they will be left off the bandwagon and they will line up to be counted for Obama.
Hillary will then face 2025 commitments for Obama and will have to withdraw. If she persists despite Obama’s statistical majority, Democrats will accuse her of sabotaging McCain, perhaps because she wants to get the nomination in 2012 and cannot if Obama is president. Hillary will not be able to stand up to the pressure and will pull out and the race for the nomination will be over before the end of June.
AND CAN MCCAIN BENEFIT FROM THE WRIGHT CONTROVERSY?
Let’s always remember that this is a Democratic year. The recession and the war guarantee an electorate heavily predisposed to vote for the Democrat. Bush will enter election day with an approval rating below 30%. Translated, this means that a successful Republican will draw almost half his votes from people who don’t like bush and disapprove of his performance.
A Republican can still win but his success hinges on two factors:
a) His ability to distance himself from Bush; and
b) The decision America eventually comes to about Barack Obama.
McCain’s job is not to consolidate his base. Obama will do that for him very nicely. Breaths there a Republican with a soul so dead that he is not terrified by Obama? Obama is the best thing that could have happened to the Republican Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaign.
His job is to persuade Democrats and Independents that he is sort of like them. He has to narrow the synapse over which they must jump in order to vote for McCain. If they feel that McCain is a right winger in the tradition of Bush, they won’t vote for him even if their fear of Obama is palpable. They may have held their noses and voted for Hillary in the primaries, but to vote for a Bush acolyte would be carrying things too far. But if McCain takes positions on important issues that are acceptable to Democrats and Independents, he can harvest a bushel of votes driven his way by worry about Obama.
McCain needs to run as a populist and be the same kind of candidate he has been a Senator. In the US Senate, it was McCain who, virtually alone among Republicans, battled against tobacco, supported tough reforms of corporate governance that went way beyond what ultimately passed, fought for energy independence, and battled global warming. It was McCain who opposed the use of torture in interrogation of terrorists. This record might have limited appeal for Republicans, but it is the ideal record for a candidate who is in search of Democratic votes.
(Indeed, the reason McCain won the nomination in the first place is that the Republican electorate showed itself to have moved to the left along with the rest of America. It is fortunate for the GOP that they chose a candidate ideally positioned to beat Obama).
But the election will hinge on how we perceive Obama and that will be intimately tied to how he comes out of the Rev. Wright issue. Obama could win 40 states or lose 40 states, all depending on how he handles this mortal threat to his candidacy.
***COPYRIGHT EILEEN MCGANN AND DICK MORRIS 2008. REPRINTS WITH PERMISSION ONLY***