Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Grand Old White Party Confronts Obama

Frank Rich with some great points, concluding with this prescient line: "A national rout in 2008 just may be that Republican Party’s last stand."  I agree.  Approximately a year ago, I wrote that while Obama may be a long shot, he was the only candidate in either party who could win in a landslide and enter office with a mandate.  I now think this outcome is likely, so I'll go out on a limb and predict that Obama will not only win the nomination, but also crush McCain by greater than a 10% margin in the popular vote.

Mr. Obama’s ascension hardly means that racism is kaput in America, or that the country is “postracial” or “transcending race.” But it’s impossible to deny that another barrier has been surmounted. Bill Clinton’s attempt to minimize Mr. Obama as a niche candidate in South Carolina by comparing him to Jesse Jackson looks more ludicrous by the day. Even when winning five Southern states (Virginia included) on Super Tuesday in 1988, Mr. Jackson received only 7 to 10 percent of white votes, depending on the exit poll.

Whatever the potency of his political skills and message, Mr. Obama is also riding a demographic wave. The authors of the new book “Millennial Makeover,” Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, point out that the so-called millennial generation (dating from 1982) is the largest in American history, boomers included, and that roughly 40 percent of it is African-American, Latino, Asian or racially mixed. One in five millennials has an immigrant parent. It’s this generation that is fueling the excitement and some of the record turnout of the Democratic primary campaign, and not just for Mr. Obama.

Even by the low standards of his party, Mr. McCain has underperformed at reaching millennials in the thriving culture where they live. His campaign’s effort to create a MySpace-like Web site flopped. His most-viewed appearances on YouTube are not viral videos extolling him or replaying his best speeches but are instead sendups of his most reckless foreign-policy improvisations — his threat to stay in Iraq for 100 years and his jokey warning (sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ version of “Barbara Ann”) that he will bomb Iran. In the vast arena of the Internet he has been shrunk to Grumpy Old White Guy, the G.O.P. brand incarnate.

The theory of the McCain candidacy is that his “maverick” image will bring independents (approaching a third of all voters) to the rescue. But a New York Times-CBS News poll last month found that independents have even a lower opinion of Mr. Bush, the war, the surge and the economy than the total electorate and skew slightly younger. Though the independents in this survey went 44 percent to 32 percent for Mr. Bush over John Kerry in 2004, they now prefer a Democratic presidential candidate over a Republican by 44 percent to 27 percent.

Mr. McCain could get lucky, especially if Mrs. Clinton gets the Democratic nomination and unites the G.O.P., and definitely if she tosses her party into civil war by grabbing ghost delegates from Michigan and Florida. But those odds are dwindling. More likely, the Republican Party will face Mr. Obama with a candidate who reeks even more of the past and less of change than Mrs. Clinton does. I was startled to hear last week from a friend in California, a staunch anti-Clinton Republican businessman, that he was wavering. Though he regards Mr. McCain as a hero, he wrote me: “I am tired of fighting the Vietnam war. I have drifted toward Obama.”  

February 17, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

The Grand Old White Party Confronts Obama

THE curse continues. Regardless of party, it’s hara-kiri for a politician to step into the shadow of even a mediocre speech by Barack Obama.

Senator Obama’s televised victory oration celebrating his Chesapeake primary trifecta on Tuesday night was a mechanical rehash. No matter. When the networks cut from the 17,000-plus Obama fans cheering at a Wisconsin arena to John McCain’s victory tableau before a few hundred spectators in the Old Town district of Alexandria, Va., it was a rerun of what happened to Hillary Clinton the night she lost Iowa. Senator McCain, backed by a collection of sallow-faced old Beltway pols, played the past to Mr. Obama’s here and now. Mr. McCain looked like a loser even though he, unlike Senator Clinton, had actually won.stand.


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