Finally, a little political talk.
(The Obamas sully the presidency, and demonstrate their hatred for America, with their offensive fist-bump.)
I have to admit, as interested and involved as I’ve been in the contest this year, I largely tuned it out following the Indiana primary last month. I was frustrated with the tone the Democratic race was taking, and fearful it would continue to get nastier and nastier, potentially sapping the eventual nominee’s strength for the fall. Also, I did not want to come out of the process hating the Clintons. A good friend of mine, who is a Republican, teased me a few weeks back by saying, “See, this is what we’ve been saying about them for years!”
Fortunately things have calmed down and Barack can now focus his energies (and Steve Jobs-like Reality Distortion Field – he is a Mac user, you know) on John McCain for the fall.
One thing struck me as I was reading wrap-up pieces last week that attempted to put Obama’s presumptive nomination in perspective: major historic changes almost always have their roots in smaller events that would seem unrelated when they occurred. I believe that Hillary Clinton would have cruised to the nomination had she voted against sending troops to Iraq in 2003. A move most viewed as an effort to insulate herself against charges that she was soft on military/security matters, and thereby making her a stronger presidential candidate down the road, ended up being the opening an up-start like Obama needed to get into the race and gain traction. And while their respective charismas certainly played a role in the final result, their stances on Iraq were the area in which they had the most pronounced policy differences. It remains to be seen how much Iraq, which has kind of become a forgotten war, is an issue in the general election. But it certainly was a turning point in determining who the Democratic nominee is.
Let’s talk about history for a minute. Regardless of you views and who you support, I think it’s a pretty big deal that a black man is one of the two finalists to be president. And had he failed, a woman would have been in his place. We can talk about the progress we’ve made, what still needs to be done, etc. all day. And we can talk about symbolic progress versus real progress. But there is no doubting that we’re breaking through some of the biggest barriers we have left. Soon, no child, regardless of their background, will tell their teachers that they want to be president one day and be laughed at because they are female/black/etc. You may scoff at the real value of that, but I think that’s a huge step in the right direction. When you can inspire kids like that, they may not end up being president, but the limits they put on themselves are raised exponentially.
Along those lines, I loved Barack’s comments over the last month that praised Hillary for making the world a better place for his daughters and giving them the hope that they can do anything they want. I’ve been behind Barack since he entered the contest, but there’s no doubting that statement. It’s easy to buy into the polarized viewpoints of Hillary. But, she has changed the world for all women, whether they are liberals or conservatives or political agnostics. The heat she’s taken over the years will make it easier for the next legitimate female presidential nominee to break through and get people to believe that she can lead the nation. As a father to girls, I’m pleased the gender-based glass ceiling is being chipped away a little more each year.
One thing that gives me hope (if it’s not redundant to say that) about Obama for the fall is that he has grown as a candidate through this process. I think you can make the argument that for all the ill-will generated in the primaries, the process will make him a stronger candidate in the fall. For all the talk that X% of Hillary’s supporters will never support Barack in the fall, I think the overwhelming majority of them will come back to his camp between now and November. Sure, her Appalachian voters, who apparently are the least comfortable people in America with having a person of color represent them, will never come around. And there may be some super bitter folks who decide to stay home. But, again, Clinton and Obama were extremely close on most policy issues. I don’t think you’re going to see him losing large blocks of the Democratic base in the fall.
So obviously I’m very pleased with the result. I’ve said all year that John McCain has a Bob Dole 1996 tinge to him. He’s not a bad man, in fact by many measures he’s an extraordinary man. But I think he’s beyond the window in which he would have been a good president. Especially given his closeness to President Bush. Despite those flaws, and a wealth of factors that seem to point towards an excellent year for Democrats, I believe Barack still has a lot of hard work to do. McCain’s experience argument is compelling. I think it can be countered, but it must be done in an equally compelling and forceful manner. Plus, I believe in our current political environment, voters tend to give the more conservative candidate more leeway. Change is scary, even in an age when the current administration can do little right in the eyes of most Americans. It will take hard work to connect with those voters who may not believe now, and may not be disposed to believing based just on lofty talk and promise for a better future.
I think Barack is up to it, though. Certainly more up to it than John Kerry was. And more up to it than candidate Al Gore was (Of course, regular guy Al Gore would be one of the great presidents ever. Unfortunately, Al Gore is genetically incapable of not tightening up and sabotaging himself as a candidate).