5.03.2008

Barack Obama & the Democratic Endgame

by Rick Rockwell

If Barack Obama can work a miracle, he might be able to change some minds and convert some voters, this one in particular.

Here’s the rhetorical flourish that seems to hypnotize many others, but doesn’t seem to make logical sense: Sen. Obama (D-IL) promises he will remake Washington, D.C. into some sort of bipartisan wonderland where political gridlock is a bad memory and the city marches forward in unison to set asunder past prejudices on the way to foreign and domestic policy triumphs. As former President Bill Clinton might say: “some fairy tale.”

If the good Senator from Illinois cannot heal the wounds in his own party, how is he to convince us he can do the bigger job of bringing together the red and blue states? Sure, he has that great line from his convention speech in 2004 about states not being red or blue but united in this country. But that’s no plan. That’s no proof. Great line though.

If the polls are to be believed, (and they haven’t been believable for most of this primary election cycle, so no one really knows) Obama’s hypnotic spell that his campaign cast so successfully on a good deal of the country seems to be wearing off.

As the Democrats enter the stretch run in the primary race this month, these next few days will prove to be Obama’s biggest test yet. This weekend, the island of Guam, a U.S. territory, holds caucuses on Saturday, May 3, and then Indiana and North Carolina loom with primaries on Tuesday, May 6. All in all, 227 delegates will be in play in these races. Under the Democratic rules, in a tight race, Obama will split most of those with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and the race will stagger onward still almost a dead heat, with Obama barely ahead.

And the tension is increasing. Former Governor Howard Dean, head of the Democratic National Committee has noted he wants a firm nominee sometime next month. That likely means some pre-convention gathering of superdelegates or some date when Dean will ask most of them to decide, after the last primary in Puerto Rico. No good solution to the Democrats’ unresolved nomination appears to be in sight. None of the superdelegates seems to back a plan where a real savior like former Vice President Al Gore could step into the mix and provide an alternative compromise candidate. The logic there is that voters will be upset that one of the two weak candidates vying for the top of the ticket now won’t be the nominee; the historic election that many in the party seem to want would have to be postponed. Even Gore is sanguine about this, seeming to signal that he would be willing to broker some session between Obama and Hillary Clinton to find a resolution.

So now is the time for Obama to unveil his plan for that resolution. Not only does he have to figure out how to bring Clinton’s supporters back into the Democratic tent — just as they seem to be edging toward a bailout for the Republicans — but he also must convince about five percent of the party who like neither Democrat still in the race. And in a tight general election, those of us in that disaffected five percent will likely decide it all.

If the Democrats are to find a way out of this protracted primary season and if they want to avoid the looming deadlocked convention, the endgame is in Obama’s court. He must start the volley. What political salve and savvy does he really have to create a solution to this mess?

When Obama publicly presents that workable solution, all the pettiness about his former pastor, his Weather Underground pals, and whether he is an elitist will drop away. One part of leadership is getting people to listen, and Obama has that down cold. But another crucial part is creating plans and making compromises to progress forward. So far, all we have is rhetoric. It’s about time for the proof. For some voters, it’s going to take more than just asking us to have faith.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic from StrangePolitics, a website that offers copyright-free political material.)












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