EVENING UPDATE: MAY 7, 2008
Posted at 7:58 p.m. ET
ON SECOND THOUGHT...
While much of the elite media continued its fawning over Barack Obama today, the applause was not unanimous. Let the skepticism begin. Journalism professor Don Campbell, writing in USA Today, swings a particularly heavy hammer, but it lands, not entirely on Obama, but on the press that covered him:
Barring some really strange math or a lot of second thoughts, the Democrats seem poised to nominate for president a man with the fewest credentials and least familiarity to the American people of anyone in modern history. It's just one more way that Barack Obama is breaking the mold, and barring a major shift, he should give some of the credit to the news media.
The vetting of presidential and vice presidential candidates has long been a responsibility that journalists took seriously:
Two reporters won a Pulitzer Prize for disclosing that George McGovern's short-lived choice for running mate in 1972, Thomas Eagleton, had been treated for mental illness.
In 1984, news exposure of the financial dealings of Geraldine Ferraro's husband after she became Walter Mondale's running mate threw that campaign into a tizzy.
In 1988, reporters discovered that Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush's obscure running mate, had used family influence to land a cushy desk job in the Indiana National Guard and avoid service in Vietnam.
In this election, alas, most of the bloodhounds have lost their sense of smell.
Thus, the coverage of Obama's spiritual relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ is disturbing. True, Wright sounded so unhinged on his recent ego tour in Washington that it might generate sympathy for Obama. But the issue still hanging is how a man who played such an important role in Obama's life for more than two decades drew so little scrutiny from reporters covering the Obama campaign.
Speculation aside, Obama has been ill-served by a press corps that seemingly was mesmerized by the large, frenzied crowds who turn out to see the Democratic rock star. Crowds can be deceiving: McGovern, nobody's idea of a rock star, attracted huge and exuberant crowds throughout the fall of 1972 — on his way to losing 49 states to Richard Nixon.
Better that Obama forget the crowds and concern himself with the several million older, moderate Democrats and independents whom he'll need in a close general election. They won't just listen to what he says, they'll try to peer into his soul. That's why the Wright story is important in assessing his candidacy.
More than two years ago, at a Gridiron Club news media dinner in Washington, Obama poked fun at his meager accomplishments when he told his audience: "I want to thank you for all the generous advance coverage you've given me in anticipation of a successful career. When I actually do something, we'll let you know."
But the joke was on the journalists then, and now that Obama is about to actually do something, it still is.
Amen. But I'll be there aren't more than a handful of journalism professors who have the courage to complain about the profession that hires their graduates.
May 7, 2008. Permalink
Michael Goodwin, of The New York Daily News, one of the best, also has doubts - especially about Obama's electablity. He holds these truths to be self-evident:
Dem leaders clamoring for a quick end to the party bloodbath can't be satisfied. Obama's repeated failures to close the deal caused doubts about his strength as a general election candidate. Nothing about last night erased those doubts.
His coalition of upper-income white liberals and first-time voters and a near-lock on the black vote traditionally has been a loser in the general election. Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry all lost with a version of that coalition.
Yet that's all Obama has. He remains unable to attract working-class white voters, the swing voters in swing states. Exit polls show him getting only about one in three of their votes, and that's against Clinton, not exactly a lunchbucket type herself.
Indeed, a striking image in recent weeks has been Clinton's aggressive courting of lower-income and Catholic voters. Never mind that she and hubby made $110 million in the past seven years. Suddenly, she's Rosie the Riveter working the Rust Belt.
It was a stretch, and it fell far short.
As her quest gets close to the end, Obama's challenge grows. He must keep the enthusiasm high so his coalition will stay intact while also attracting the more conservative white voters who have been immune to his charms. And that will be impossible if Wright keeps popping up like a skunk at the garden party.
Already Obama is in the danger zone. Exit polls showed an astonishing half of Clinton backers yesterday saying they would not vote for him in the general election against John McCain. That leaves Obama no margin for error in a campaign that has a very long way to go.
But as we've said here before, Obama has the most powerful ally of all, an obedient press, as pointed out in the first story this evening. You get the feeling The New York Times is about to hire buses to drag people to the polls.
McCain will have to fight as hard as Hillary is fighting. I never thought I'd say that.
May 7, 2008. Permalink
ANOTHER EARLY AFTERNOON POST
Posted at 1:39 p.m. ET
Just out. For the Democratic nomination, Rasmussen has Obama up four over Clinton, but Gallup has him up only one. It is remarkable to see how close this polling data has been over time, given the demands that Senator Clinton fall off a cliff.
The Democratic Party rules have twisted this contest. Those rules will not be changed, however, because they favor the crowd that took over the party in the late sixties and seventies.
Gallup is now out with today's general-election tracker: Like Rasmussen, Gallup has Obama up one over McCain. Gallup has Clinton up one as well, whereas Ras has her up three.
These results could change in the next few days as a result of Obama's good night last night, but enthusiasm for Obama is clearly limited, and doesn't seem to grow.
May 7, 2008. Permalink
EARLY AFTERNOON POST
Posted at 12:37 p.m. ET
There is major hysteria out there today, as Democratic wise men - well, reasonably bright men - rush to microphones to urge Hillary Clinton to fall on her sword. But wait. New trackers are out, and maybe some of the great thinkers should take a look.
Rasmussen has Obama up one point over McCain in the general election. But he has Clinton three points ahead of McCain. She outperforms Obama, admittedly not by much, but she does. Maybe Cokie and Steve Roberts (see "More Grimness" below) are right.
We'll wait for other trackers, out later today. But it's probably too late for Clinton at this point. The 1972 express has left the station.
May 7, 2008. Permalink
WEDNESDAY: MAY 7, 2008
Posted at 6:23 a.m. ET
Hillary Clinton didn't do yesterday what she had to do. You all know that by now. The only question is what she'll do. She's cancelled all her morning talk-show appearances, creating the impression of a crisis atmosphere. (She actually might just want to avoid questions.) Given the combative tone of her speech last night, it's hard to believe she'll drop out. After all, she has Clinton-friendly West Virginia coming up on Tuesday, and equally friendly Kentucky the week after. And she is apparently prepared to play her ace - a demand that the Clinton-supporting states of Florida and Michigan be seated at the convention.
We'll just have to wait for her next move. I have no inside information.
May 7, 2008. Permalink
THE HORSE'S MOUTH
Clinton's own people, speaking anonymously of course, are not denying the grimness of her situation. They expected better things Tuesday:
After failing to win the decisive sweep in North Carolina and Indiana that could have reshaped the Democratic race, disappointed aides to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded it would be difficult for her to catch Sen. Barack Obama in either delegates or overall votes in the six remaining contests.
The outcome caused the candidate and her campaign to intensify their efforts to persuade party leaders to include the results of disqualified contests in Michigan and Florida, both of which she won. The Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws committee is scheduled to meet on May 31 to consider two challenges pending on whether, and how, to seat delegates from those states.
"Absent some sort of miracle on May 31st, it's going to be tough for us," said a senior Clinton official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be frank. "We lost this thing in February. We're doing everything we can now . . . but it's just an uphill battle."
There are two unspoken realities here: First, the Clintons are no longer popular in their own party. Aside from their own dogged pursuit of self-interest, they are to the right of an increasingly leftist organization. Second, the party's heart is with Obama. He is the sixties vision, the dream of the McGovernites, the symbol of an era they want back. Liberalism has become reactionary, a faith built around the movements of forty years ago. Its anthem isn't "The Star-Spangled Banner" or even "We Shall Overcome." It's "I Won't Grow Up." Obama offers the simplistic rhetoric, in the right cultural package, of a bygone time.
May 7, 2008. Permalink
THE STARK STATISTICS
But all is not well on the Obama side. The statistical breakdown of yesterday's primaries shows a racial and class divide that can leave a bitter residue, and make things rough for November's election. The Wall Street Journal reports:
But his victory in North Carolina depended heavily on his overwhelming (91%) share of the black vote, which made up about a third of the primary electorate. Mrs. Clinton won 61% of white Democrats in North Carolina, according to the exit polls, and 65% of white Democrats in Indiana. Mrs. Clinton also broke even among independents. Clearly Mr. Obama's early promise of a transracial, postpartisan coalition has dimmed as the campaign has progressed and voters have learned more about him.
The controversy over his 20-year association with his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, seems to have hurt in particular. About half of North Carolina Democrats said the Wright issue mattered to them, and they voted decisively for Senator Clinton. The former First Lady won easily among late deciders, which also suggests that Mr. Obama's rocky recent performance has cost him. And the Chicagoan continued his poor showing with rural voters, especially in white Democratic counties in Indiana. These are the voters John McCain will have a chance to get in November.
One habit of modern Democrats is that they tend to fall in love with candidates who are both unknown and untested. The superdelegates will now have to decide if Mr. Obama is more like the Jimmy Carter of 1976 – or Michael Dukakis.
Yeah, that's the problem. But it is a Democratic year, and maybe this time the Dems will get lucky. God, what a thought.
May 7, 2008. Permalink
Cokie and Steve Roberts, in an excellent column, critique the way in which Obama is obtaining the nomination, and the liabilities he brings. Many voters are unaware of how absurd the Democratic Party rules are:
Democrats seem intent on nominating Barack Obama, in the face of mounting evidence that Hillary Clinton would be the stronger candidate against John McCain in November. And they only have themselves to blame.
Yes, the Clinton camp made strategic blunders that allowed Obama to score heavily in Republican states where few Democrats vote. But the real culprit is the party's stupid, self-destructive nominating system, which has two major flaws.
First, it was designed to anoint a nominee by early February, far too early in the process. The result: Obama built up an insurmountable lead at a time when he was still largely unblemished, untested and unscrutinized. The past six weeks have brought tougher media coverage, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's tapes, the candidate's ill-considered comments about "bitter" voters and a wave of second thoughts among key groups like union members and white Catholics.
Second, the nominating system was completely incapable of reflecting these shifts. Not only were few states remaining on the calendar, the rules of proportional representation made it almost impossible for Clinton to catch up.
The Associated Press-Ipsos survey gives Clinton a 50 percent to 41 percent edge over McCain, while Obama ties his Republican rival. As GOP pollster Steve Lombardo told the AP: "This just reinforces the sentiment that a lot of Republican strategists are having right now — that Clinton might actually be the more formidable fall candidate for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that Obama can't seem to get his footing back."
So why don't Democratic leaders and superdelegates face these facts and shift to Clinton? One reason is race. It's true, as Obama says, that being black in America has hardly been a political asset, given the fact that he's the only African-American in the U.S. Senate.
But at this time, in this party, being black is an enormous asset. Given America's long, torturous path toward racial justice, many Democrats simply cannot imagine denying the nomination to the first serious African-American candidate for president.
From a moral perspective, that's a noble judgment. From a political perspective, it could cost Democrats the White House.
Well, it might. But the press is so in the tank for Obama that slanted journalism may soften any defects he might have. It's going to be a brutal fight this fall, with racial overtones.
More about all this later as the dust settles.
May 7, 2007. Permalink