2007 will be the Year of Insufferable Media Coverage Of A No-Hope Candidate, for Obama is running for President. Websites like this one will be everywhere, and the Hawaiian tourism authority will soon consecrate his birthplace as a locus sanctus Democraticus where weary white yuppie pilgrims can come to pay homage to the genius of Obama and receive remission for their guilty feelings about being white and privileged, for Obama is running for President. Members of Oprah’s Book Club will receive complimentary photographs of Obama swimming at the beach, and hundreds of people with IQs over 120 will be poring over the saccharine, “let’s unite America” drivel of The Audacity of Hope in dire earnest as they attempt to scry Obama’s views on…well, on anything at all, for Obama is running for President. The way things are going there might even be, God help us, a line of action figures before the year is out.
I am here to tell you, friends, that this particular episode of national lunacy will be mercifully brief, though it has already gone on for far, far too long. By this time next year, Obama will have had to say something distinctive about substantive policy. He will have to cast votes on the war and numerous other issues that he will have to be able to defend, and this time he won’t have a cartoon opponent like Alan Keyes to overcome.
What he says is almost beside the point. Some people will agree, probably more will disagree, but at that point the dream of an Obama who will reconcile all oppositions within himself will be over. That is inevitable in political contestation, which is why the promise to “bring people together” is always such an illusory, deceitful one. Once he finally does say something, he will no longer be Barack, Font of National Good Feelings, but will become a rather conventional and boring pol who will either reveal himself to be a dreary technocrat spouting, Gore-like, minute details of legislation or the creamless cream puff I take him to be. Because of his inexperience and the superficial nature of his appeal to date, he will probably take the technocratic route to show that he “understands the issues” and he will overcompensate here. He will cease to charm, and he will try to persuade by rattling off facts and figures.
I do not say all this because I assume all of the superficial charm and media hype will not influence voters. They will influence many voters. But the influence will not last, the charm will get old and at some point the hype will die down. That is when the real Obama, the first-term U.S. Senator who hasn’t had real high-stakes electoral competition and hasn’t had to prove himself in a tough statewide contest, much less on the national stage, will emerge. He will try to split the difference as a progressive who doesn’t speak in prophetic utterances about our impending doom. In so doing, his fluffy style will attract all of the DLC types who will be revolted by his policy views, while he will be alienating the true lefty believers with his “we need to cooperate and bring America together” rhetoric. The black activist establishment in the Democratic Party doesn’t really trust him and doesn’t seem to like him very much. As they see it, he is reaping the rewards of their labour, which is true to the extent that they have helped inculcate profound feelings of guilt among middle-class white people who are fueling the Obama boom, which in turn benefits from the fact that Obama does not inspire these same feelings. By supporting him, they can expunge their guilt without the danger of acquiring more.
Any assumption that black votes in early Democratic primaries are locked up for him is a very foolish one. He cannot, or at least does not, lecture people about slavery and segregation, and he is not really a product of the culture that is preoccupied with these things. He now comes from the South Side, but he is not of the South Side. Of course, people here generally like him very much, but does he pass the “authenticity” test elsewhere around the country? One of the reasons why he apparently causes so many white people to gush and enthuse over his candidacy is that he is not personally tied into American black history. That is what makes him theoretically viable and electable on the national stage, and it is also what weakens him among black voters in the Democratic primaries.