Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Is Obama Electable?

By Joe Sims

Hillary Clinton is on the defensive again today after the report that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program some years ago: Clinton voted for the Senate resolution castigating the Iranian Guards as a terrorist organization. Now the New York presidential hopeful is trying to explain the vote away. In the eyes of other Democratic candidates and much of the voting public, Clinton’s stance is in all likelihood seen as just another misstep in a increasingly tightening race with her lead halved in New Hampshire, trailing Obama in Iowa, and about 13 points up in South Carolina. However in this critical southern state, Clinton is running neck and neck with Obama among African Americans and women. And while Clinton leads the polls nationwide, as a Newsweek article this week points out, the lead disappears when the candidates are paired with Republican opponents. Richard Wolffe (with Eleanor Clift and Holly Bailey) writes that,

Polls paint a confusing picture. Among Democrats nationwide, Clinton holds a big lead over Obama and is still perceived as the candidate most likely to win in November. But that advantage evaporates when the two are matched up against leading Republicans. In surveys of voters from both parties, Clinton has a narrow, four-point lead over Rudy Giuliani in a recent NEWSWEEK POLL; Obama has a three-point lead. But against other Republicans, Obama comes out ahead, leading Mitt Romney by 16 and Fred Thompson by 13, compared with four points for Clinton in both scenarios.

Interestingly the above quoted article entitled "Putting on Their Game Face," which discusses the candidates electability neither race nor gender is mentioned once. Which raises the issue, are they really an issue and if so in what way? Kind of hard to imagine that either has gone away.

I keep thinking about that third of vote that Obama has in Iowa. On the surface it’s not a bad statistic. However, in previous elections at least since the 1980s, in many races approximately one-third of Democratic white voters, reliably would vote for Black candidates: when combined with a hefty African American vote, this anti or non-racist third provided the margin for many a victory. Is this the same third?

I got to thinking about it when reading an article in the November 19th edition of Time. Writer Joe Klein quotes an Iowa Democrat describing the undecided vote and where it might go:

He pointed out that four years ago in November, Howard Dean was inevitable and John Kerry was over. “But 40 percent were undecided going into the last week of the caucus. It’ll be the same this time. Hillary is 20 percent smarter than the guys, but a woman has to be just to pull equal … They love Obama. He’s very inspiring. But in the end Iowans vote electability. I hate to say it, but my guess is they will vote for the white guy – Edwards – this time, just like they voted for the war hero last time.”

Will all the good feeling disappear when all is said and done? I’m not sure. 2004 is instructive, but it’s not now. That Clinton and Obama are the frontrunners itself is indicative of that. Hello!? Still, I ponder the “hardness” or commitment of Obama’s third and wonder to what degree it will expand to produce a winning electoral combination.

One thing is bound to impact the outcome: voters are looking for answers to important issues and are reacting strongly to 25 years of right-wing reign and want an end to it. Again, Clinton and Obama are riding the wave of this discontent. The candidate who sticks to the central issues, (as opposed to vacillating in the center), just might come out on top.


norman markowitz said...

Joe Makes some interesting points but the important point that, given the history of U.S. racism, a major presidential campaign by an African-American candidate with a serious chance to get the nomination is an major advance in itself, should be weighed against the very centrist campaign that Obama is running, somewhat but only somewhat more progressive than Hillary Clinton's center-right campaign, as against the significantly more progressive campaign issues that John Edwards(whether one trusts him or not) is advancing or Dennis Kucinich who is, who is by far the best candidate on the issues and the most trustworthy and for those reasons has virtually no chance for the nomination. Can either Clinton or Obama, given their establishment based campaigns, develop the kind of mass momentum among progressive constuencies to administer the crushing defeat which is really necessary, as Sam Webb wisely noted in a recent report, to end the 25 years of rightwing Republican hegemony and begin a new period of struggle
Norman Markowitz

Joel said...

I think Sam Webb's point is that the are a number of factors that will be involved in the defeat of the ultra right, the least of which may be the actual Democratic nominee elected on November 4, 2008.

1. the level of the landslide victory of the Republican

2. the make-up and balance of forces in Congress

3. the extent to which labor and democratic movements are involved in the electoral struggle

4. the success of the labor and democratic movements in pushing key issues to the foreground: universal health care, employee free choice, peace, etc.

I might suggest too that the president is going to have to be able to work with a politically complex Congress. She won't be able to merely rule by fiat or use Congress as a rubber-stamp.

Dennis Kucinich, as principled as he is, seems the least able among the candidates to do that. Indeed, compromise, the castor oil of US politics, seems alien (and I don't mean UFOs) to him.