I didn't vote for Obama in the primaries. He wasn't even my second choice among the candidates. But I have to admit that I started getting a little choked up Tuesday night after he finally gained enough delegates to become the nominee of the Democratic Party.
It's been a strange campaign so far. On one hand, I've been appalled by the outright racism expressed by a number of Democratic voters. Watching news clips of scary-looking people saying they would never vote for a black man shouldn't have surprised me, I guess, but it did. And it saddened me deeply. This was supposed to be the party that cared about people of color. It didn't help that the Clinton campaign engaged in race-baiting once it became evident they had a battle on their hands, which certainly contributed to the openly racist remarks flowing so easily towards the end of the primaries in places like West Virginia and Kentucky (and in one frightening woman from New York City screeching nasty remarks about Obama at the DNC Committee vote on Florida and Michigan).
Then, suddenly, after a seemingly endless campaign, an African-American man was standing before me as the Democratic nominee for president. How extraordinary! It was one of those beautiful but rare moments when the America I believe in and long for was able to blossom forth.
His speech last Tuesday night was one of the best of the campaign. "America, this is our moment. This is our time." That was riveting. Here it is if you didn't see it earlier.
The General Election
Obama should be able to defeat McCain in November. But I'm concerned about the way he lost control of the media narrative in the last part of the primaries.
After running such an impressive and well-planned campaign through the end of February, Obama's team was out-campaigned by Hillary Clinton more often than not the rest of the way. The constant battering by the Clinton camp seemed to knock Obama out of his game plan. While his team certainly reacts more quickly to a single attack than Kerry did with the Swiftboaters in 2004, they seem to have trouble with a constant barrage of potentially damaging statements or issues and struggled to maintain momentum after Ohio and Texas.
On the other hand, left to himself, I don't think John McCain could campaign his way out of a paper bag, and his team doesn't seem half as talented or creative as the Clintons. One theory says that if Barack Obama can defeat the Clintons, who many people consider some of the most brilliant politicians of the last 40 years, then he can defeat McCain. I agree with that up to a point. But what if - and I'm thinking of the evidence we have from this campaign - the Clintons actually weren't as brilliant as we made them out to be for so long? Or that they were operating like a once-great heavyweight champion who's now just a flabby, arrogant prima donna long past his prime, and who says stupid things because he's been hit in the head too many times? Then, Obama struggling until the very last primary in June doesn't look so positive.
Luckily, it looks like McCain is going to approach Obama the same way Clinton did - with disdain and disbelief that this young kid thinks it's his turn to be president instead of me, me, me, me me. You'd think McCain and his advisers would've watched the Democratic primaries and realized the mistake in underestimating Barack Obama.
Mark Halperin, at The Page, lists the ways in which John McCain underestimates Obama:
1. The astonishing enthusiasm that Obama inspires in his supporters — and how much it contrasts with the respect, but not passion, McCain enjoys from his own backers. (And the size of Obama’s crowds…)(I would add another: 16. A winning smile like Obama's connects with voters more than McCain's snide, arrogant little laugh that sounds like Beavis from Beavis and Butthead.)
2. The “Major League vs Little League” difference between Obama’s infrastructure and his own.
3. The inherent difficulty/sensitivity of running against two figures at once. McCain will have to 1) explicitly criticize a sitting Republican president before Republican audiences and 2) prevent the historic event of electing the nation’s first African-American president that many in the country (and the media) desire.
4. The ever-present danger on the trail that he might evoke Bob Dole with a Bob Dole-like misstep (fall off a stage, sound like a Washington fossil, seem angry and out of touch).
5. How little most Americans care about foreign policy (beyond the Iraq War) when the economy is in the tank.
6. How many voters (even Republican stalwarts) dread the idea of a virtual third Bush term.
7. How many members of the media dread the idea of covering a virtual third Bush term (and how much they buy Obama’s argument that McCain is an extension of Bush-Cheney).
8. The extent to which McCain’s lack of an economic message could make Obama (who also is challenged in adequately addressing the economy) seem like Bob Rubin, Bill Clinton, and Lou Dobbs all rolled into one.
9. That many of his party’s wiseguys and wisegals see polling data suggesting his chances of winning are no more than 30% (and how much it infects their cable TV appearances).
10. That in modern America, perception is often reality and style often beats substance.
11. That age is only a number unless it’s a really high number — then it’s a liability.
12. How old he looks when he is acting “presidential” on the stump – and how incongruous it makes his message of change appear.
13. How powerful debates might be when the allegedly inexperienced Obama of allegedly questionable judgment goes toe-to-toe with McCain, even on national security, and is therefore deemed of sufficient strength and stature to be president by many.
14. How valuable Obama makes voters feel (”we are the change we have been waiting for”) – while McCain’s campaign instructs and lectures voters.
15. How forcefully Obama will now move to the center as a mainstream, optimistic candidate celebrating both change and America’s greatness.
Running mates will probably be important for both sides, as each candidate tries to bring together various elements of their respective parties and win some of the crucial swing states.
But I'll take a look at those in the future.