Homo homini rodentius est

Politics as (un)usual

Savior, or sacrificial lamb?

How wonderful it was to see a black man nominated to run for president as the standard bearer of a major American party. The Democratic convention was a clockwork of civility and unity, as well it had to be given the daunting challenge they face going into the fall. I felt while listening to Obama’s acceptance speech that it was robbed of the moment by the prosaic requirements placed upon it. Held down to earth by pedestrian needs to “introduce” the candidate to the national audience and “show strength” by attacking McCain, what might have been (should have been) a speech for the ages was played somewhat safe. Perhaps only those with nothing to lose (like Ted Kennedy in 1980) can afford to let their rhetoric fly. And Obama, the receptacle of liberal dreams of redemption, risks losing a lot.

I’ve been struck by the parallels between the Obama candidacy and that of Jimmy Carter in 1976. Then, as now, Democrats were poised to benefit by years of Republican corruption and public anger. They selected a little-known governor of a small state who seemed to embody moral redemption. But, unlike then, Obama is not showing the same kind of strength with the general electorate that Carter showed. His 8 point “bump” coming out of a successful convention is only half of what Carter [enjoyed] at the same point in his run and less than a third of the gain that Bill Clinton experienced in the year he ran against Bush Sr. Is it really plausible that after 20 months of campaigning the American people still do not, as the pundits claim, “know” Barack Obama? Of course not. So what explains his weakness relative to McCain in a year when Democrats should be sleepwalking into the White House? Three guesses — and the first two don’t count.

Looks like Sarah has landed her biggest catch, yet.

If Obama is presenting his candidacy as “Not Your Father’s Democrat”, John McCain seems to be positioning his as “Change Your Father Can Live With.” Hence, his surprising selection of obscure Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The CP [Clueless Punditocracy] are, once again, flummoxed by the choice — as they were by McCain’s rebound last year, Hillary’s collapse and Obama’s ascent — missing, as apparently McCain’s pollsters have not, that this election is more about change than experience. But Republicans are guessing that Americans, basically conservative, would prefer incremental change rather than a more radical leftward shift. They are also taking a page from history, betting that a less-than-perfect VP will not diminish the ticket (think Dan Quayle). Although she may well implode over the next few weeks, Palin could well read as a breath of bracing air out of the Wild West — a latter day Andrew Jackson in high heels — riding into Washington while flying the banner of traditional values, and [early indications] say that her choice has finally given the conservative base something to cheer about.

Despite the conventional wisdom that this election is the Democrats’ to lose, I still think they will do just that. Even leaving aside the issue of entrenched racism, Americans tend to like Republican presidents and Democratic congresses and it has occurred to me watching the tightening of the race that the electorate is simultaneously looking for reasons not to vote for Obama as they hunt for reasons not to reject McCain. Watch the polls in the two weeks after the Republican convention. If Obama’s lead again falls within a few percentage points of McCain’s — or falls below — it will be a good early indication of a Republican victory. But even an Obama loss might be seen as a victory for a country that only about 40 years ago was setting dogs on black protesters. Change comes slowly, but it comes eventually.

UPDATE 9/4: I thought it might take a couple of weeks, but according to a new [CBS News Poll] Obama’s modest bump from the Democratic Convention has already evaporated.

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