The giant sucking sound of Obama’s campaign imploding?

May 2, 2008

The Pioneer has published this on May 3rd as

They edited my copy slightly. Here’s my original:

The Obama Campaign Implodes?

By Rajeev Srinivasan

That giant sucking sound you heard, with apologies to Ross Perot, was probably the sound of Barack Obama’s campaign going down the toilet. In the quaint phrase used by the Indian media, he was “hoist by his own petard”. His relationship with a dubious ‘spiritual advisor’, one Jeremiah Wright, whose church he has attended for many years, has seriously hurt Obama’s credibility and electability.

The Democratic nomination for the US Presidential election is now wide open, even though Obama leads Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin in delegate count. But Clinton, wife of the famous ‘Comeback Kid’ Bill Clinton, may have demonstrated that Obama’s major claim to fame, his ‘inclusiveness’, is a myth. Not only that, he looked decidedly un-Presidential in his handling of the Wright episode, to the extent that his honeymoon with the media may just have ended.

Wright has been an extreme advocate of black power, harboring anti-Jewish and anti-white sentiment, as well as colorful conspiracy theories. He contends, for instance, that America brought 9/11 upon itself by practicing terrorism abroad; and that the US government had infected blacks intentionally with the AIDS virus. None of this goes down well with the average American voter, so Obama was forced to distance himself from Wright.

But this issue will not go away. Obama suffered a major defeat in Pennsylvania in April, where working-class white voters showed a clear preference for Clinton. If he had managed to beat Clinton, her back-to-the-wall campaign would have ended then and there. And he did pour his resources into the fight, spending twice as much as Clinton. The take-away is that he does not resonate with lower-income whites, a large constituency.

Obama did not help himself with his naive remarks suggesting that small-town working-class voters, affected by job losses, were gun-toting, bitter racists obsessed with religion. His exact words were, “… they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” Rather elitist for an ‘inclusive’ person, wouldn’t you say?

Given this string of negative news, the word that springs to mind is “greenhorn”. Obama is inexperienced, and it shows, and this puts a big question mark on his ability to be the Commander-in-Chief. The Wright episode is the biggest crisis in his short political life, and he has mishandled it rather badly.

The point is that Obama looks like a hypocrite. He has been associated with Wright’s church for twenty years, and for him to claim that he has never heard any of the incendiary, racist hate-speech that Wright has been infamous for, sounds disingenuous, a bit like Bill Clinton claiming he didn’t inhale marijuana. It appears as though Obama stuck with Wright’s church to be able to gain a political base among Chicago’s blacks.

Clearly, Obama had not found it opportune to distance himself from Wright in the past: The title of his second book and the theme of his entire campaign are taken from Wright. Wright baptized Obama’s children, helped kick off and participated in his campaign until aides warned Obama of the possible negative impact on white voters.

Thus Obama has begun to look like just another ordinary politician, one who lies and who has ‘marriages of convenience’. That should knock him off his pedestal, and dent the mythology of ‘change’. The whole ‘change’ chorus has been mostly make-believe, anyway, but lots of people had begun to believe in the rhetoric, and Obama has become a Messiah of sorts. Or, frighteningly, a Pied Piper.

What is the change he’s going to bring in? Is Obama going to immediately pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan? Is Obama going to bring in universal health care? Is Obama going to single-handedly rescue the recession-bound American economy? Is Obama going to change American foreign policy so that the US stops supporting dictators like Pakistan’s Musharraf? Is Obama going to immediately reverse the decline in American education and competitiveness?

Is Obama going to move away from depending on Saudi petro-dollars? Is Obama going to make the plight of oppressed racial minorities in America much better? How is Obama going to rein in rampaging China and resurgent Russia? Is Obama going to reduce global warming by America dramatically?

None of these are amenable to quick fixes. It is, therefore, not entirely clear exactly what Obama is going to change. Obama may be able to beat Clinton based on all this rhetoric, but McCain may not be quite so easy. Republicans are rather good at negative campaigning, remember Karl Rove?

All this means it is likely that Obama will not win against McCain. Recent polls show him losing to McCain (although Clinton wins against McCain). This is generally disastrous for the Democrats, who had the deck loaded in their favor to begin with: a deeply unpopular Republican President in a time of war, the economy in deep distress. Pundits had given the Republicans no chance whatsoever. But with the internecine battles between Clinton and Obama, and with Obama’s self-inflicted wounds, the prize may slip away. This will also affect many other Democratic candidates, as the Presidential coat-tails usually drag along candidates for local and national office.

It may well be “Bye-bye Obama, Hello McCain”, come November’s election. An Obama-Clinton or Clinton-Obama ticket is still a theoretical possibility. But it’s not that that any of this makes much of a difference to Indian interests. None of the candidates is going to do much for India, except that Democrats tend to be worse non-proliferation ayatollahs than Republicans. And both Democrats are protectionists, too.

There is another distant possibility, though: the Democratic Convention may draft Al Gore. This has happened before, when an undeclared but electable non-candidate was drafted by the party bosses: examples include Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. A Gore-Obama candidacy may work, as I doubt Gore-Clinton would excite Al very much. This may also stand a better chance against McCain.

But there’s no question that Obama’s chances have been hurt, perhaps fatally, by his ex-mentor.

1000 words, May 1, 2008


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