View Full Version : ‘Yes we can'? Make that: ‘Oops, we may not'

08-22-2008, 10:10 PM

August 22, 2008
‘Yes we can'? Make that: ‘Oops, we may not'
Barack Obama suddenly looks vulnerable. And the more the focus is on him, the less likely he is to become president

Gerard Baker

There's trouble in paradise. Cancel the coronation. Send back the commemorative medals. Put those “Yes We Can” T-shirts up on eBay. Keep the Change.

Barack Obama's historic procession to the American presidency has been rudely interrupted. The global healing he promised is in jeopardy. If you're prone to emotional breakdown, you might want to take a seat before I say this. He might not win.

How can it be, you ask? Didn't we see him just last month speaking to 200,000 adoring Germans in Berlin? Didn't he get the red carpet treatment in France - France of all places? Doesn't every British politician want to be seen clutching the hem of his garment?

All true. But as cruel geography and the selfish designs of the American Founding Fathers would have it, Europeans don't get to choose the US president. Somewhere along the way to the Obama presidency, somebody forgot to ask the American people.

And wouldn't you know it, they insist on looking this gift thoroughbred in the mouth. Who'd have thought it? You present them with the man who deigns to deliver them from their plight and they want to sit around and ask hard questions about who he is and what he believes and where he might actually take the country. The ingrates!

So we arrive this weekend at the true starting line of the US presidential race and the rituals that begin the real election campaign: the selection of the vice-presidential running-mates, and the back-to-back party nominating conventions. A year and a half after the warm-ups began, the two remaining candidates are more or less tied. Senator Obama's summer lead in the opinion polls has evaporated. John McCain, that grumpy, grisly, gnarled old Republican, that Gollum to Senator Obama's Bilbo Baggins, might, just might, actually win this thing.

What happened?

Of course, the conventional view is that it's all the work of that most terrifyingly effective piece of artillery since the invention of the howitzer, the Republican Attack Machine.

The credulous American voter, we're told, has been subjected in the last month to a televised blitzkrieg of right-wing lies about the hapless Democrat. He's not patriotic. He might be a Muslim. He might not even be American. He probably is a Muslim. There's no evidence he's ever said anything nice about Michael Phelps. He goes to the mosque on Fridays. If Obama's the leader of the free world, it won't be the Caucasian Georgia the Russians invade but the one sandwiched between Florida and South Carolina. Gullible Americans are going to fall for it, just as they fell for Stupid George W over Brilliant Al Gore and Brave John Kerry.

Forgive me for interrupting this reverie but in the real world something else is going on.

In the reality-based community the rest of us inhabit, the first thing to be said about the current state of the race is that the actual shift in the campaign's dynamics is not quite as dramatic as the pundit class would have you believe. A month ago, according to an average of polls for Real ClearPolitics.com, Senator Obama had about a four-point lead over Senator McCain. This week the tally suggests the lead is about one percentage point.

The bigger change has occurred in perceptions about the race. A month ago the prevailing view among the wise was that Senator Obama would steadily increase his lead and by the time his convention concluded next week, it would be insurmountable.

But instead, it looks as though, even if he has a really good convention in Denver next week, and Hillary and Bill Clinton play the unlikely role of loyal followers, the race will still be close when the Republicans start their gathering in a week's time. Whatever happens, in other words. it looks like yet another close election.

Why is this? Why has the Democrat failed to capitalise on the mood of deep discontent within the country?

First, it's true that the negative campaigning by John McCain has hurt him somewhat. But there's nothing wrong with that. The 2008 presidential election has so far been a referendum on Senator Obama. it's perfectly reasonable for the Republicans to make the case against him, and the attacks have been fair. My account of the McCain campaign above was a caricature, of course. There's been no mention of Senator Obama's race or the silly fiction that he might be a Muslim.

The fact is that the 47-year-old Democrat, less than four years in the Senate, is still largely a blank page for American voters: a great orator and an attractive figure, but unknown and untested. The Republicans have been filling in some of the gaps and pointing out how thin his real biography is.

The second problem is that Senator Obama is having difficulty - curiously enough - with Democratic voters. Polls indicate that while Senator McCain has just about locked up the votes of those who supported other Republicans in the primary election, Senator Obama is still regarded with mistrust and dislike by large numbers of Hillary Clinton's former supporters.

For many of these working-class types, he's just a bit too cerebral, a little vague. His campaign lacks both substance and passion. While unemployment is rising, incomes are slipping farther behind rising inflation and house prices are falling, Senator Obama keeps talking about hope and change, keeps promising a new type of politics. These benighted Democratic voters don't really want a new type of politics. They want to know what exactly he's going to do to raise their living standards.

The irony for Senator Obama is that he has built a campaign on a pledge to put an end to cynicism in the political system, but the more he offers only vague promises of hope, the greater the danger that he increases voter cynicism about politicians in general and him in particular.

The third problem is that events have not helped the Democrats. The war in Georgia has emphasised that the world is a dangerous place, and that simply being willing to talk to your enemies, as Senator Obama sometimes seems to suggest, isn't going to keep your people safe.

The key to understanding the presidential campaign as it enters its phase of maximum intensity is this. The more the campaign is about the concerns of the American voter, especially the state of the economy but also the general anxiety about the direction of the country, the more likely they are to throw the Republicans out.

But the uncomfortable truth for the many devoted fans of Senator Obama is that the more the race is about him, the less likely he is to win it.

08-22-2008, 10:25 PM
The British are always very skeptical of these "larger than life" figures.

08-23-2008, 04:09 AM
The British are always very skeptical of these "larger than life" figures.

They think in order to be famous you have to be full of shit. It's a really odd cultural thing that you see Thom Yorke and Noel Gallagher refer to a lot.

08-23-2008, 04:12 AM
They think in order to be famous you have to be full of shit.

Sad to see that you are not being recognised in that regard...after all, you are so full of it, the smell causes nausea in Greenland.

08-23-2008, 12:27 PM
Shut up little anglo-pilferer.

08-23-2008, 12:29 PM
Shut up little anglo-pilferer.

Want to tell us again just who the racists here are?

08-23-2008, 12:29 PM
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Let's look back a few years. Kerry's whole campaign was "I'm not Bush". Fail. Hillary's whole campaign was "I am Hillary". Fail. Barack's campaign has been equally devoid of any substance, only slogans and well delivered oratory. Unless the Dems manage to pull enough Americans into the insanity, the results will be the same. The only problem is too many voters are already nuts or borderline, and McCain doesn't isn't running the most substantive campaign either.

08-23-2008, 01:12 PM
Originally Posted by Eyelids
Shut up little anglo-pilferer.

Want to tell us again just who the racists here are?

Don't pick on the poster from Hooterville U.

“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American CU Poster who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,”

Hope you like Saint Obama's veep pick Pinkeye. :D