May 4, 2008
Obama's TrapBy Todd Feinburg
Barack Obama set the trap. Then he stepped in it. Or, as Reverend Wright might put it, Barack's chickens are coming home to roost.
Thus is the effect of the Great Race Speech.
Six weeks ago, Obama's status as the Messiah was dramatically enhanced for having turned the negative of Reverend Wright into a "much needed" exploration of race in America. So eager was the liberal establishment for confirmation that race is the biggest problem in this country (and that Barack is the solution) that they didn't see the obvious; they were being deceived by a cynical sleight of hand.
As virtually every intelligent (and honest) pundit noted, along with millions of average Americans, the Wright controversy wasn't about race. It was about patriotism. Any person seeing those clips said to themselves, "I would never have been part of this man's church. I'd have gotten up and left."
It is BarackObama's comfort in remaining in an environment that regular folk would have abandoned in an instant that leads to the most intriguing part of the Wright debacle. That choice is the most powerful insight we've been given into what kind of man Barack is, and what sort of decision-maker he would be if we decide to give him his first management position.
Underpinning the key character question of "why did he stay" is a more ominous problem for Democrats - the question of what liberals believe.
The truth is, liberals don't find Reverend Wright shocking. Liberals find themselves nodding in silent agreement with much of what he preaches. Furthermore, they aren't offended by the notion of rewarding a domestic terrorist from the 1960's with professorship at a major state university. Even more damaging is the notion that they really don't practice zero tolerance on racism and bigotry -- they're happy to ignore it if it's being practiced by part of their base.
The political figures liberals support don't generally talk like Pastor Wright. But the activist liberals who reflect the conscience of the movement speak and act in ways that most Americans do find shocking -- from Jimmy Carter to Sean Penn, from Cindy Sheehan to Michael Moore -- we find their beliefs, their opinions, and their behavior to be outrageous. Somehow, the connection hasn't been made between the radical ideologues and the officials they help elect who make their extreme beliefs the law of the land.
The linkage between the activists and the liberal establishment is more apparent now in the era of MoveOn.org and the Daily Kos. These are fringe organizations that ooze radicalism and disdain for America's prowess, and they have moved that radicalism from the closet into the mainstream of Democratic politics today. Candidates must satisfy this liberal underbelly without offending the sensibilities of traditional blue collar democratic voters. Now there's a death defying trick that just may kill the magician.
Thusfar, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have divided the base into two groups -- the radicals go to Barack (college students and other young people and the affluent suburbs join his natural black constituency), while traditional Democrats go to Hillary. How does the party convert those two poles into a single magnetic force with enough pull to win a general election? Certainly not by nominating the lefty who is struggling to find a way to appear palatable to his party's core voting blocks and who happens to have built his political machine with Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers as limited partners.
The post-war era has been filled with Democrats whose intellectualism and left-leaning aura have made them unelectable -- from Adlai Stevenson to Walter Mondale, from Al Gore to John Kerry. But this problem has been more cultural than ideological -- these candidates simply didn't resonate, failing to match our basic expectations of masculinity. Democrats were wimpy, and America doesn't want wimps in charge.
Bill Clinton offered an alternative as a "New Democrat," a brand built around the concept that winning should come first and ideology second. He snickered at the party's history of electoral failure and went on to prove that you can win if you're not a wimp, Despite having been a draft dodging, Vietnam protesting pot smoking child of the sixties, Bill was perceived as being more interested in women and Big Macs than liberal ideology, making him the first viable thing Democrats had offered up in a long time.
While the party liked having the White House, it didn't like the compromise that Clinton represented. So the excitement was not palpable over entering this election cycle with Hillary Clinton as the de facto nominee. The thought of going another round with the Clintons was sort of creepy -- many leading Democrats had embarrassed themselves with pretzel logic defending Bill during Monica -- the party would have preferred another shot with Al Gore over Clinton redux.
So when Barack Obama caught fire, it appeared that the answer to the dilemma had been sent in the form of an angel. Young, handsome, compelling and only slightly black, Barack Obama was the child of the elite who didn't wear the smell of elitism at first. He was raised in a white suburban family, went to prep school, then Columbia and Harvard, but also went to church and could talk about growing up black. While his adult life had lacked focus before he entered politics 11 years ago, with his mixed race heritage and youth he seemed able to pick the party, and the country, up by the bootstraps and move it into a new era.
This is the source of the Democrats' irrational exuberance. He is their dream candidate -- a Trojan horse who could secretly smuggle the liberal elite into the White House -- with Americans unable to pick up their scent until after his inauguration.
But now there is a picture window hung dead center in the horse's belly. We can look inside and see the baggage of traditional liberalism that Barack carries. No one else would have invited Reverend Wright on the ride, so why did Barack? No one else would have accepted the career assistance that unrepentant terrorist William Ayers provided, so why did Barack? No one else would have done the shady land deal with Tony Rezko, so why did Barack?
The answer is because he's a liberal. The real thing. The watered down, modern man that liberalism has envisioned -- one who can weave a beautiful yarn but has had all remnants of instinct and good sense squeezed out of him by the PC era.
As his outer layer is peeled away, what is revealed is just another intellectual, just another liberal - John Kerry in racial drag.
Now that America can see what's behind the curtain, the illusion has been ruined: Barack Obama cannot be elected President of the United States. His chances of holding onto the nomination that, on paper, he has virtually locked up, are diminishing rapidly.
Will the Democrats revert to Hillary? Her argument to super delegates that Barack will guarantee a loss in the Fall will be confirmed if she can combine a solid win in Indiana with a comeback squeaker in North Carolina. But the betrayal of Barack's supporters by the party is rightfully viewed as dangerous -- perhaps too damaging a price to pay to save just one election.
Which leaves the nuclear option -- a white knight, such as Al Gore, riding in to save the day. That way, both sides in the Barack/Hillary fight are given the consolation prize of knowing that the other side didn't win, and both live to run another day, allowing all Democrats to coalesce around an Academy Award winner.
Liberals are happiest around Hollywood types, anyway.