On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, it appeared that we were at a moment of transformation — a change in our country and in our politics that would have been almost without precedent.
Instead, we woke up Wednesday morning to see that the wave of the future had broken on the rock of the past. They’re baaaaack — the Clintons in all their crassly manipulative glory. Hillary shed a tear and Bill derisively dismissed the Obama phenomenon as a “fairy tale.”
It worked, at least among Democratic primary voters, who preferred Clinton, giving her a three-point margin, 39-36. But independent voters who crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary were a different story, strongly preferring Obama.
It’s a little puzzling. Just think, with the Republican Party weakened both by the missteps of the Bush administration, and by the apparent irrelevance of its core agenda, the Dems have Obama.
Here’s a powerfully intelligent man, a soaring orator who bridges gaps of race, ethnicity and age, a man whose writing skills dwarf those of the journalists who cover him, whose personal history compares with that of JFK, or Lincoln or FDR. You’d think that the Donksters would be dancing in the streets, waiting for him to lead us all to the promised land.
Well, maybe that’s a little over the top — let’s settle for rebuilding that “Bridge to the Future,” which turned out to be so fragile that it collapsed when a fat girl snapped her thong.
But instead, Democratic primary voters appear to be lining up behind Hillary, whose stratospheric negatives among Republicans and independents don’t bode well for her come November. The polls seem to show that Obama is by far the strongest Democratic candidate, handily beating every potential Republican opponent.
That doesn’t matter, one prominent Democratic activist told me this week.
“Remember Amendment 2 (Colorado’s notorious ‘anti-gay’ constitutional amendment, which the Supreme Court eventually struck down)? All the polls said it was going down, and then it passed. People won’t admit it, but there’s still racism in this country. I like Obama, but I want to win. I’m sticking with Edwards.”
I’ve heard that line of reasoning from other Dems — but, strangely enough, not from Republicans. To a man — or a woman — they think that Obama can, and probably will, win. They don’t think that race is much of a factor in American politics, especially in national races.
“Look,” said one seasoned political operative, “conservatives don’t have any problems with African-American candidates — why should liberals? Ed Jones won three races here, Leon Young won, Darryl Glenn won, and this town isn’t exactly a hotbed of liberalism.”
Good point. More than a decade ago, Republican kingmaker Steve Schuck buttonholed me and told me to support Ed Jones in his race for the El Paso County Board of Commissioners.
“Think of it,” Steve said. “Here’s the son of sharecropper, who’s going to be elected to office right here. That’s an inspirational story, one that’s good for everybody in the city.”
It was clear that Steve wasn’t just politicking — he was delighted to see the American dream fulfilled.
But my liberal friends didn’t see it that way. They saw Ed as a feel-good figurehead, a mere cat’s-paw for the scheming GOPsters.
Is it possible, I wonder, that some Democrats are so invested in their own narratives of racism that they can’t see that the country has changed radically during the last few decades?
African-Americans constitute one of the largest and most reliable voting blocs within the Democratic Party. And many prominent African-American Democrats, such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, have built their lives and careers fighting racism, whether real or imagined.
Fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party have made common cause with social conservatives and even embraced their beliefs about abortion, gays and guns. Similarly, white Democratic activists have absorbed, as if by osmosis, the Sharpton/Jackson beliefs about the prevalence of racism.
Suppose that this isn’t a racist country, after all? Suppose that the lefty narrative of a country of embedded, endemic racism is simply wrong?
If Obama is elected to the highest office in the land, it’ll be difficult for anyone to play the race card. It will signal that hard work, intelligence, preparation and luck govern success in politics — not race. It will send Sharpton and his ilk to the political graveyard. And it might foreshadow other, less obvious changes, in our daily lives.
If we, as a nation, elect Obama, do we really need diversity training? Goodbye (and good riddance) to all those tedious seminars that corporations often mandate for their benighted employees.
And what about affirmative action? Won’t we refocus it to make sure that the truly disadvantaged are identified, not just those with the right ethnic credentials?
And best of all, won’t we finally be free of the professional scolds (see Gloria Steinem’s recent column) who love to berate us for our many inadequacies?
Yet, if Obama is nominated, and then defeated by his Republican opponent, it’ll have the opposite effect. The Sharptons and Steinems of the world will claim that this vindicates their worldview, that Obama’s candidacy failed because of his race — not because of his lack of experience, or missteps on the campaign trail or his opponent’s skill and ability.
But they’ll be wrong.
More than any other country in the world, ours is a multiracial, multi-ethnic, bewilderingly diverse and marvelously civil land — one where anyone has a shot at fame, fortune and elected office. If Obama doesn’t prevail this year, he might four years hence — or he might be supplanted by someone younger, more charismatic and more articulate (difficult as that may be to imagine).
Meanwhile, the campaigns go on, with no clear frontrunners as yet in either party. We can expect the candidates to become increasingly desperate and sharp-edged. After all, if it worked for the Clintons, why shouldn’t it work for everyone else? In the end, we’ll have a couple of nominees to choose from — men and/or women so battered and delegitimized by the nominating process that we’ll be ready to vote for the obvious alternative.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.