Susan Estrich is nervous. She’s nervous because the polls don’t show Obama leading with the kind of numbers he should have given all the smiles he’s attracting from the gods of campaign fortune. He’s got money, an adoring media parade following him around like he’s the pied piper, a frenzied and energetic youth base, a less than ideal Republican opponent with a host of his own problems, a demoralized GOP, an unpopular incumbent, a sagging economy, high oil prices, an unpopular war which he opposed . . . shall I go on? And he’s what, 8 or 9 points ahead at best? And it’s July. As Estrich says, ask President Dukakis what it means to be up in July (or ask President Clinton what it means to be down in July).
Estrich posits a host of possible reasons for Obama’s less than stellar numbers and, regrettably, race rates highest on her list. She also wonders whether people are worried about Obama’s youth and lack of experience. It’s fair to say that both are legitimate points for an honest political analyst in this season. But Estrich’s emphasis draws heavily on her ideology. It’s clear that race hurts Obama with at least some small percentage of voters and it would be foolish to claim otherwise. But this factor alone cannot be enough to decide this election. I think Estrich knows that (hence her tentative reference to age and inexperience) but she has reasons for wanting to emphasize race (just as she also had reason to emphasize Obama’s tensions with Jesse Jackson). She wants you to feel guilty about not liking Obama. She wants you to think your legitimate gripes secretly or subconsciously might be racist ones.
One way Estrich attempts to help that guilt along is to remain silent on a number of Obama’s obvious flubs. She didn’t hold back in her criticisms of other Democrats or of the Democratic Party more generally, but she is reserved when it comes to Obama’s real difficulties with voters. For example (and incredibly!) she never even mentions the perception of him (now growing with this Brandenberg Gate nonsense) as an arrogant, wannabe punk. Inexplicably, she makes no mention of his many (Freudian?) slips of the tongue (rural voters clinging to guns and God, etc.). Remarkably, she never thinks to mention the names of Rev. Wright, Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers or Fr. Pfleger. She assiduously avoids any mention of Michelle. She doesn’t talk about Obama’s slick re-engineering of himself and his positions and his absurd tendency lately to take himself way too seriously. Indeed, as Estrich ticked off her list of recent Democratic candidates, I couldn’t help but notice how similar Obama now seems to Kerry, Gore and Dukakis. With the exception of Bill Clinton, Democrats really do have had an uncanny knack to nominate insufferable people who are very difficult for regular people to like. Whatever one may say about his differences with either of the Bushes and Reagan, one didn’t get the sense from any of them that they considered themselves to be above reproach. On some level you knew that these were normal people (or as normal as politicians probably get) and that they didn’t get up every morning reveling in how much smarter they were compared to you. Obama (like Dukakis, Gore and Kerry before him) tends to give the impression that he is a very earnest and very grim student affairs director in charge of a grievance hearing whenever he is attacked. It is hard to imagine him laughing at himself and it looking genuine.
That said, Estrich does ask a fair and rather pointed question about Republicans as she closes her article, "You know there will be a major effort on the Republican side to destroy Obama. But will there be anything else? And if so, exactly what will that be?" It could be a lot more than it has been so far, that much is certain!