George W. Bush's legacy is clear. Come January, when the 44th president of the United States takes office, the nation will be racked by, among other things, a record half-trillion dollar budget deficit; an economy teetering on, if not in, recession; $4+/gallon gas prices; the lowest consumer confidence in 15 years; a failing, deadly war; and a resurgent terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan. Americans are broke, both in pocketbook and spirit. Over 85% of voters now think the country is headed in the wrong direction. No matter how you slice it, this should be a landslide year for Democrats. By any stretch, Sen. Barack Obama, the party's presumptive nominee, should be ahead by 15-20 points in the polls. Why then, in the latest USA Today tracking poll, is he trailing Sen. John McCain, the GOP's presumptive nominee, by four points among likely voters... a poll in which he led by five points last month? Is this a chilling foreshadowing of things to come in November?
Has the Obama campaign plateaued? Is it stuck in the mud? Out of steam? Despite the media frenzy and campaign euphoria over his much-heralded overseas trip to Europe and the Middle East last week, the polls show no bounce. In fact, as the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll above indicates, Obama's numbers are dropping. Even more troubling for the campaign are numbers released in last week's Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. On the questions of who has more knowledge and experience, who's better equipped to be commander-in-chief, and who's the riskier choice, McCain leads by a whopping 20%-30%. And in most polls, voters say McCain is the more truthful, trustworthy candidate. Last week's trip was designed to make Obama look presidential. But as the numbers above indicate, it's going to take a lot more than a brilliantly choreographed series of photo-ops with foreign heads-of-state to convince voters that he has the chops to actually be president.
The simple truth is, John McCain is very much in this race, and depending how you look at it, he can and very well might win despite every logical reason that should point to his defeat. So what's happened? Is it merely race? That Americans are just not yet ready for a black president? For a black first family? To be sure, Obama's skin-color has and will continue to pose a major problem for him come November. The harsh reality is, America is still very much a racist country. But the overwhelming support Obama receives from blacks and young people could very well offset losses from the nation's bigots.
But how much can we blame the candidate himself for? Has he truly run an effective campaign, one that has reached out to, and whose message has resonated with, constituencies beyond blacks, the youth, the affluent and educated "Starbucks" whites? Last January, Obama came roaring out of the gate like a Triple-Crowned thoroughbred, but as the primary season wore on it became clear that, once the novelty and mystique of his historic candidacy wore off, that he could not finish off his main rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, with whom he bitterly fought to the end. That he would not capture enough delegates to win the nomination without the last-minute help from the party's elite super-delegates. Along the way there were several critical controversies including Rev. Wright, Tony Rezco, Bill Ayers, "BitterGate" and several patriotism-related gaffes by him and his wife Michelle that all served as a major distraction from the campaign.
That Obama's campaign seems flat is of no surprise to many. Of concern is the belief that with Obama there's lots of style but little real substance. His recent spate of position-changes smacks more of political expediency than the genuine convictions of the "agent of change" to whom millions have heretofore passionately thrown their support. He's disappointed many, and while they'll still surely vote for him, some of that luster, and lust, has faded. The honeymoon is over. They realize their marriage to Obama might just be like every other political union, and that's depressing given all the hope surrounding his early campaign promises.
What's been most disappointing to his supporters is that, while he gives awesome speeches, he may be proving to be little if anything more than the typical double-talking, flip-flopping, opportunistic politician as everyone else. Unfortunately, the bar has been raised much higher for him, and by him in particular. His entire campaign has been built with him being the candidate who'll transcend typical dirty politics. That he's above the fray. Running a new kind of campaign, with a new kind of message of hope and change. And that's what millions were drawn to. They were not drawn to a typical triangulating panderer who now seems to do or say whatever it takes, to whomever, to get elected even if it means supporting centrist policies that are counter to those of his supporters.
His recent flip-flopping and/or support of several hot-button issues -- wiretapping/telecoms, Iraq, campaign finance, gun control, death penalty, religious-based incentives -- is quite disingnuous. That he has just three years national experience doesn't help either. Nor does his boneheaded relationships with Wright, Ayers, Rezko etc., all of which show really poor judgement, and serve to give his detractors and the Sean Hannity's of the world ginormous fodder from which to attack. You'd be kidding yourself if you believe that these missteps have not had a tremendous negative impact on the independents; those still on the fence. Those voters whom he so desperately needs.
I don't quote Hannity often, but I will today: "We just don't know who this guy really is." Correction, we do: he's a really junior Senator, with no major policy accomplishments, who wants to be America's first black president. In a year where the election should be a fucking landslide for a Democratic candidate, it's incredible, and beyond frustrating, just how close the race truly is at this point. More and more indicators point to the ugly truth that America's racist dumbasses might very well rather have a curmudgeonly-old-forgetful-highly-experienced-grandfatherly-war-hero-white-guy-they-can-identify-with than a young, inexperienced black man with a Muslim name who they hear hangs out with angry black preachers, radical 60's terrorists and real-estate crooks. While many Democrats, this writer included, would still take Obama in a nano-second over McCain for many reasons, don't kid yourself that the rest of the country's gonna follow suit.