Steve draws our attention to an article in Slate by Jacob Weisberg, “If Obama Loses: Racism Is the Only Reason McCain Might Beat Him.” Consider yourself warned: if America rejects Sen. Obama in November, Weisberg will be gravely disappointed, deeply ashamed and very, very angry. You can either read Weisberg’s essay for yourself, or watch here as he reads it to you.
Here’s the money graf: “Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world’s judgment will be severe and inescapable: The United States had its day but, in the end, couldn’t put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.”
You don’t have to wrap your white sheets around anything but your mattress, however, to suspect that the situation might be a little more complicated. A “veteran Democratic operative” told New York’s John Heilemann this week, “There are two fundamental issues [Obama] faces: black and green. Is he too black? And is he too green?”
Weisberg doesn’t even allow the second question into the arena, but we should. Four years ago, Barack Obama was completing his eighth year in the Illinois state senate. No one has argued convincingly that the people of Illinois are discernibly better off – or, for that matter, worse off – because of Obama’s efforts there. The same, of course, could be said about the vast majority of the other 7,300 state legislators currently holding office, few of whom are thought, even by their mothers, to be a mere four years away from ably discharging the duties of the presidency. State legislatures are to the Oval Office what the high school junior varsity is to the Super Bowl.
Barack Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004 after: a) the wealthy Republican incumbent, Peter Fitzgerald, decided not to seek re-election rather than face Blair Hull, the presumptive Democratic challenger who was vastly wealthier than Fitzgerald; b) Hull’s campaign disintegrated a few weeks before the Democratic primary after a lurid story about the collapse of his marriage became public, allowing Obama to win a plurality in a crowded field; c) Obama’s Republican opponent, Jack Ryan, dropped out of the race three months after the primary after a lurid story about the collapse of his marriage become public; and d) the Illinois Republican party recruited Alan Keyes to replace Ryan on the ballot, despite the fact that Keyes had never lived in Illinois and is . . . odd. Obama won 70% of the vote that November.
25 months after being sworn in as a U.S. Senator in 2005, Obama announced his candidacy for president. Since one doesn’t run for president on a whim, it’s fair to assume that Obama has spent most of his 3 – plus years “in” the Senate either preparing for his presidential campaign or absorbed by it. Thus, for the first time since Wendell Willkie ran in 1940, one of our two major parties is asking the American people to elect someone to be president principally on the basis of qualities he has displayed campaigning for president.
Jacob Weisberg, who doesn’t even allude to qualifications or preparedness, is satisfied to judge Obama entirely on political criteria: “Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums, and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, lacks clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma.” Other voters, however – including a few who are not bigots filled with hatred – think elections are about governance, rather than about performing impressively and coolly as a candidate as an end in itself, and wonder whether a prospective president with Barack Obama’s slender record in public office is up to the job.