February 2008 Archives

So Barack, Which Is It, Boxers or Briefs?

In last week’s installment, I demonstrated my amazing mastery of the blatantly obvious by suggesting that Barack Obama was bound to stub his toe sometimes between now and the last primary in June. Well, sure enough, this week he was caught cribbing some real zinger lines from his best bud,’ Massachusetts governor Duval Patrick, and his wife, Michelle, exhibited symptoms of Ferragamo-in-mouth disease when she declared that her hubby’s success made her proud of her country for the first time in her “adult life.” (African American ambivalence on this point is understandable, but in the broad public view, I suspect, Princeton and Harvard Law degrees hardly suggest strong grounds for smoldering resentment.) So what happens as a result of these potentially injurious gaffes? Oby goes out and lays a 17-point whipping on Billary in Wisconsin, where she held what seemed to be comfortable lead in the polls as recently as three weeks ago. Exit polls showed he even bested Clinton among voters who placed a premium on health care, an area where her expertise was presumed to count the most.
Basically, it seems that Senator C’s constituency shrinkage has become so severe that she and I now share the same demographic: white women over 60. (My estimates are based solely on the people most likely to laugh at my jokes when I’m out on the rubber-chicken circuit.) In reality, all of this suggests to me that many people are drawn to Obama not by where he stands on any particular issue but because he presents an attractive leader-model in whom they choose to believe with astonishing ferocity. Ironically, in this regard, he seems very much like the charismatic, inspirational (though also a bit short on specifics) Ronald Reagan, whose gravesite a desperately hopeful GOP checks for signs of exit every Easter.
Whether this determination to believe in Oby can sustain itself all the way through the primaries, the convention and the general election remains to be seen, of course. John McCain is understandably intent on making an issue of it if Obama welches on his earlier promise to use only federal funding for his campaign, but thus far the O-man seems all but untouchable, his loins girded with the same Teflon tighty-whiteys that served the ol’ Gipper so well and are clearly far superior to Mitt Romney’s magic Mormon underdrawers. Never one to give up on a good metaphor—or a bad one either, for that matter—let me observe that since effectively clinching his party’s nomination, Sen. McCain has acted as though his skivvies may be riding up on him a little. To my mind, at least, Johnny Mac was far more appealing when he was out there swing for the fences, saying what he really thought in defiance of the party poobahs who had long since written him off. Now that he’s the presumptive nominee, instead of inspiring, he seems brittle, tight, and well--old. If Obama survives the final desperate, last-ditch, shoot-the-wounded-and scald-the-kittycats Billary counter-blitz that is certain to come, and McCain doesn’t get his groove back, it could be a long fall for the Republicans.
It’ll definitely be a long fall for those of us who have to survive media coverage of the campaign. The obnoxious Chris Matthews, who never allows anyone to finish a sentence, was strutting around on MSNBC this morning after beating down a lowly Texas state senator who supports Obama by insisting that the man give him just one example of an Obama legislative accomplishment. Naturally, the poor guy couldn’t do it. My complaint is not that Matthews didn’t make a valid point, but that he chose to make it with some obscure little dude who was thrust on national TV for the first time, rather than with one of the dozens of nationally prominent Obama supporters he has interviewed on MSNBC over the last few months. What’s the matter Chris? Does the size of the old kahones vary inversely with the stature of the interviewee?
One last morsel for premature thought. Thinking back to Ms. Obama’s comments, if Mr. O is actually elected president, what kind of political fallout will there be for African American leaders who continue to premise their policy initiatives on the historic disadvantages facing people of their race? It’s not too hard for me to imagine a conservative line to the effect that the election of a black president should effectively bring down the curtain on the supposed era of atonement.

Hillary Gets Skunked, McCain Gets Pastor-Punk'd

It’s been a big week for the Barackster, capped off with some really kick-ass wins in the Potomac primaries. He’s now the acknowledged leader in delegates and the Democrats’ proportional primary system makes it hard to gain ground unless you can just annihilate your opponent in several big primaries. While the Billarys stand to do well in Ohio and Texas, they don’t stand to do that well. The folks at RealClearPolitics.com show Oby with 1260 delegates at this point to Ms. C’s 1221. This means that, barring the release of photos of their opponent molesting a non-consenting farm animal, neither of them stands to collect the roughly three-fourths of the 1021 remaining pledged delegates needed to reach 2025 and win the nomination in the primaries. However, in order to overtake Obama and go into the convention as the leader the Billarys would have to capture more than 54 percent of the delegates from here on out. Obviously, every time Oby, who clearly has the “Big Mo” on his side, wins more of a state’s delegates than they do, the Billarys’ challenge gets stiffer. I have opined earlier that the Billarys would pick Oby clean in the backroom dealings with the unpledged Superdelegates, but it’s starting to look as though some of those folks might have their fingers to the wind—many of them are elected officials themselves and don’t want to be explaining why they didn’t go with the people’s choice—and may well resist the first Bubba’s entreaties and offers to share his little black book in exchange for their support of the Missus. It’s a fair bet that the recent departure of the Clinton camp’s top two people isn’t a sign that things are going swimmingly for them, and it does seem sometimes that the Clintonistas simply never anticipated that they would still be campaigning with anything really on the line at this point. It’s foolish to think that Oby won’t at least stump his toe sometime between here and June, but if he maintains his lead and enters the convention with the most delegates only to see Hillary leave the convention as the nominee, the Dems are almost certain to fall into what could well be debilitating disarray.
This is not to say that all is exactly sweetness and light over on the other side, of course. Living on Ramen noodles and Tic-Tacs and sleeping in his car, Pastor Mike is having a helluva good time exposing Johnny Mac’s serious problems with the snake-handling flat-worlders of the religious right. If the Huckster is angling to be the VP nominee or a cabinet member, he is definitely amassing leverage, but he is also seriously pissing off a man not particularly known for being even-tempered.* It’s hard to know how ol’ Huck would play as a VP candidate. He is certainly a better speaker and general all-around charmer than McCain, but he isn’t any more appealing to that pussel-gutted windbag Rush Limbaugh and his crowd than the presumptive nominee, and Huckabee’s “God-is-the pilot-I’m-just-along-for-the-ride” brand of theo-politics might not play so well with some of the Independents whose votes McCain needs to be elected. Say what you will about this campaign, there’s been no shortage of opportunities for second-guessing and micro-analysis. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it has damn sure been interesting.

*(Did you catch fellow Republican Senator Thad Cochran’s observation about his “friend” John McCain? Said Cochran: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me." Cochran has endorsed Sen. Hothead, but I’m guessing he’ll be getting most of his campaign airplay this fall courtesy of the Dems.)

So Much For Polls and Prophesies

Last week about this time I was prophesying that by about this time this week the Billarys might have opened up some significant breathing room between them and the upstart Barackster. So much for the polls, which in this volatile campaign are about as useful as yesterday’s racing form. Nor, so it appears, did I account sufficiently for the Democrats’ screwy system of proportional delegate allocation. Billary held on in most of the big ‘uns, thanks in no small measure to heavy early, pre-Obama surge voting in California. If the polls are a joke in this wholly unstable political climate, one can only speculate about how many early voters would now like to have their ballots back. Commentators continue to point to Obama’s strength among blacks, of course, and they were so pre-programmed on the idea that southern whites wouldn’t vote for him that they were at a loss for words when exit polls showed him getting 43 percent of the white vote in Georgia. One wonders whether this is a register of changing attitudes toward blacks or persisting hatred of Hillary. The answer is doubtless some of both, although, hardened cynic that I am, I have been struck by decreasing resonance of race among young folk in the South and elsewhere. White women are the very core of Hillary’s constituency, a fact that her campaign is trying to conceal by trumpeting her appeal to Hispanics. The Hispanic vote is big in California and significant in several other states, but turnout and cohesion are concerns in places where they aren’t part of unionized workforces. The attention given the Caroline Kennedy/Maria Shriver endorsement of Obama reflects the importance to his campaign of wooing away some of Hillary’s female following. There is an interesting dynamic operating, I think, among liberal women who are torn between the prospect of cracking the glass ceiling in a big way and a sense that they should be more intent on helping Obama break through another ceiling that has been much lower and oppressive. At this point, with 2025 delegates required to sew up the nomination, my buds at RealClear politics.com show Billary with 897 to Oby’s 822. These figures include those among the 796 unpledged “superdelegates” whose affinities for each candidate are known. Many of these folks, who are generally elected officials or party bigwigs of some stripe, have reportedly gone underground to escape heavy lobbying from both camps. It’s possible that unless the remaining primaries break sharply in one direction or the other, the superdelegates will be more interested in national polls addressing a candidate’s electability in November. If the nomination is ultimately decided by convention-floor hustling of these Super-Duper party insiders, and the nod goes to the Billarys, then the Obama-ites are going to be really pissed. Ditto this if Hillary manages somehow to claim the vaporized delegates from Michigan and Florida. If Obama’s poll numbers continue to rise and he shows up much more impressively than the Billarys in the head-to-head with McCain, most of the superdelegates are probably too desperate to get one of their own back in the White House to take a header with Hillary. However, if the contest for their affections comes down to lobbying, lying, backstabbing or bribing, bet on the Billarys making their acceptance speech while Barack tries to figure out who stole his jockstrap.

Over on the Republican side, things are going a lot more smoothly for John McCain. Pastor Mike has just about shot his Bible-belt wad and appears to be running for VP. ( Why not? It’s not as though he has lots of options, unless somebody has an opening for a religious zealot in residence.) Romney did somewhat better than expected yesterday, embodying, one suspects, the last expulsion of hate-filled, fire-rimmed flatulence generated by the Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter “McCain is the Anti-Christ” crowd. On Super Tuesday, I asked my class of three hundred how many had voted or planned to. I counted at most six hands. I thought that this pretty well contradicted all the reports of youthful enthusiasm for this campaign. Then I realized that these stories had been largely focused on the Obama phenomenon, and concluded that six Democrats out of three hundred would be about right for Georgia.

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