Now that he has clinched the Democratic nomination, pundits will mostly gauge Barack Obama’s prospects in the general election by looking at states he can win or constituencies he can carry. But there is another dimension to his candidacy: He represents a social group that was once on the margins of American politics, but now aspires to put one of its own in the highest office. This has happened once before in U.S. politics: when American Catholics saw one of their own nominated to be president.
The issue of race is the longest-lasting cleavage in American politics. It is also perhaps the least understood. The open exploitation of racist sentiment by vote-hungry politicians was for centuries a durable American tradition.
I am not going to get into the game of saying whom Barack Obama should choose to be his vice-presidential nominee. I am chastened from having argued for John Kerry to pick John Edwards in 2004. And I am not going to say whom he shouldn't choose either. But I want to suggest that there are pitfalls to his endorsing the "dream ticket" of himself and Hillary Clinton, which prominent Clinton supporters like Diane Feinstein are promoting. There are two arguments for Obama choosing Clinton: one is plausible; the other is bogus.
Tuesday's results replicated much of the Democratic race during the last two months. Hillary Clinton once more showed her strength and Barack Obama's weakness among white working class voters in Midwestern swing states, while Obama proved his hold on young and college-educated voters in states where a new post-industrial economy has developed, and where college-educated voters make up about half of the Democratic electorate. For Obama, the question will be how to capture enough of these white working class voters in November to defeat Republican John McCain.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that last summer, Illinois Senator Barack Obama told officials in the Teamsters union that he favored ending the Independent Review Board (IRB) that was created in 1989 by the federal government to rid the union of organized crime.
In my cover story this week, "The Big Race," I mention that white women voters who have been backing Democrats should prove sympathetic to Barack Obama’s candidacy. I had a specific study of women voters in mind, but I didn’t want to exhaust readers’ patience with the description of another psychological experiment. I will describe the study here, because I think it has important implications for the 2008 election.
The Democratic primary is over. Hillary Clinton might still run in West Virginia and Kentucky, which she’ll win handily, but by failing to win Indiana decisively and by losing North Carolina decisively, she lost the argument for her own candidacy. She can’t surpass Barack Obama’s delegate or popular vote count. The question is no longer who will be the Democratic nominee, but whether Obama can defeat Republican John McCain in November. And the answer to that is still unclear. During the last two months, Obama has faltered as a candidate.
Hillary Clinton won a decisive ten-round decision over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary, but she didn’t score a knockout. The struggle continues. Clinton still has virtually no chance of overtaking Obama’s delegate lead or his edge in the popular vote. And the superdelegates will be loath to ignore this advantage. Meanwhile, Obama’s weaknesses as a general election candidate grow more apparent with each successive primary.
Some liberal commentators have downplayed the effect of Barack Obama’s fundraising speech at a San Francisco fundraiser last week. But that’s wishful thinking. Along with the revelations about Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright, his remarks in San Francisco will haunt him not only in the upcoming primaries in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia, but also in the general election against John McCain, assuming he gets the Democratic nomination.
In the weeks leading up to the March 4 primary in Ohio, a new insult entered the increasingly caustic vocabularies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: hypocrite. Hoping to curry favor in a state that has shed thousands of manufacturing jobs in recent years, each attacked the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the treaty that lowered barriers to commerce between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.