Tuesday, January 22, 2008
How Obama Can Escape from the Ghetto: I thought Margaret Carlson was out on a very shaky limb a few years ago last Thursday when she wrote that Obama had
lost the essence of his candidacy as the first black man to run as himself. Once the race card is on the table, no matter who puts it there, it's impossible to put it back up anyone's sleeve. Obama may look back on the first two weeks of 2008 as the time when he lost the nomination to Clinton.
Now the idea that Obama has been "ghettoized" as the "black" candidate has become the accepted template for the campaign--even the point that a win in hotly contested South Carolina on Saturday is seen as actually hurting Obama because (in Dick Morris' analysis)
[w]atching blacks block vote for Obama will trigger a white backlash that will help Hillary win Florida and to prevail the week after.
Here we thought we were getting the Mondale/Hart campaign of 1984--without Mondale's pleasantness or Hart's weirdness--and instead we get the Dukakis campaign of 1988, in which a slightly tedious, marginally likeable elite liberal established his mainstream (white) bona fides by running around the country thumping Jesse Jackson.
Worse, it's hard to see an easy way out of it for Obama, at least before the wave of primaries and caucuses on Feb. 5. He could try to make Hillary the pet candidate of Latinos the way he's being cast as the pet candidate of blacks--but that would require a shift to the right on immigrant legalization that he doesn't seem willing to make. (I hope I'm wrong about that.**)
The more obvious move is to find a Sister Souljah--after Saturday--to stiff arm. The most promising candidate is not a person, but an idea: race-based affirmative action. Obama has already made noises about shifting to a class-based, race-blind system of preferences. What if he made that explicit? Wouldn't that shock hostile white voters into taking a second look at his candidacy? He'd renew his image as trans-race leader (and healer). The howls of criticism from the conventional civil-rights establishment--they'd flood the cable shows--would provide him with an army of Souljahs to hold off. If anyone noticed Hillary in the ensuing fuss, it would be to put her on the spot--she'd be the one defending mend-it-don't-end-it civil rights orthodoxy.
I can't think of a better plan. Can you?
P.S.: Abandoning race-based preferences would certainly solve Obama's Boldness Gap, as described by Dan Gerstein.