by Frank Schnittger
Thu Aug 7th, 2008 at 03:06:18 PM EST
Oh no! Not another Obama diary I hear you say. ET has been a relatively Obama free zone in recent times despite some commentary on his European tour and his Irish roots. And yet the outcome of the US Presidential election could have very profound implications for Europe indeed.
Obama is being almost universally applauded for running a very professional election campaign machine - in sharp contrast to McCain's relatively inept performance. And yet Obama has consistently failed to achieve a clear lead over McCain in opinion polls - the Real Clear Politics average of polls shows him only a few percentage points ahead - and his favourable/unfavourable ratings are hardly better than McCain's.
His triumphant Middle Eastern and European tour didn't yield the expected bounce, and even the most ridiculous McCain attempts to target his "celebrity" status are not widening the gap in Obama's favour. Maybe Paris Hilton set the right tone by targeting the white haired wrinkly guy and making a better fist of articulating an energy policy...
Incredible as in may seem to many in Europe, an Obama victory is anything but a foregone conclusion. Much greater swings in opinion polls occur regularly in US politics (witness Hillary Clinton's demise after earlier 30 point leads). So what is wrong with the Obama candidacy, and why might McCain still win?
Ok, but here are some theories.
Firstly, however much Obama might wish to transcend race, to many he is still the black candidate. For the McCain attacks at his being "elitist", read an "uppity" black who upsets the residual natural status hierarchy of small town US society in many states.
Secondly, despite Hilary's active endorsement and support, many Clintonistas still bitterly resent her defeat and see it as part of the sexism endemic in US society. They may only be huffing and puffing and come round by November, but as yet many pumas have not transfered their support to Obama.
Thirdly, despite almost unprecedented economic collapse, almost no one, including Obama, is challenging the dominant MSM and political paradigm of free markets, less regulation, lower taxes, and greater inequality to get America moving again. In this paradigm he is an inexperienced left-winger who will do the opposite of what "America" "needs" to get the economy back on track. The greater the economic or national security anxiety, the more some Americans will run to the father figure.
Fourthly, xenophobia. Many Americans don't know where Yurp is, and Obama's popularity here smacks of a lack of patriotism and a potential betrayal of American interests rather than of a positive movement towards a more cooperative and consensual world order. If you think your security depends on having a strong military, you're not going to be too happy with a conciliator, are you?
Fifthly, no one is effectively challenging "the surge is working" narrative, which makes Iraq - the original basis for Obama's campaign - much less of an issue going forward, despite the fact that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki effectively endorsed Obama's withdrawal timetable proposal.
So what can Obama do to address these issues and sharpen the campaign focus on his areas of strength?
Firstly he needs to soften and blur his "black" identity. I have already suggested a stop off in Ireland to highlight his Irish roots would do him no harm at all. Obama ancestor opposed corruption in Dublin - The Irish Times - Thu, Aug 07, 2008
BARACK OBAMA had a distant Irish cousin who went on to become provost of Trinity College and later bishop of Ossory, new research shows.
It has also been revealed that an Irish ancestor opposed political corruption in Dublin.
The Democratic nominee for the US presidential election is directly descended from the Kearneys of Shinrone and Moneygall, Co Offaly, the research has revealed. His ancestry had already been traced back to a shoemaker in Moneygall on the Offaly-Tipperary border. Further research shows a Tipperary connection.
The Kearneys prospered in the 18th century, with John Kearney, a distant cousin, becoming provost of Trinity College and later bishop of Ossory.
Michael Kearney, described as Obama's sixth great granduncle, entered the guild of barber surgeons and periwigmakers in 1717, and was enrolled as a hairdresser in the freemen's rolls in 1718. He had the right to vote in elections to the city council in Dublin.
In the 1750s, "when the aristocracy tried to gerrymander elections in Dublin city council, to put in their own candidates", Michael Kearney was prominent among guildsmen in opposing them.
After the 1780s, the fortunes of this line of the Kearneys declined because of economic changes after the Act of Union and a downturn in the fashion of wig-making.
A genealogy which includes a Bishop, a Provost of Trinity College, a fighter against aristocracy, and a family which experienced the brunt of British imperialism cannot be a bad heritage for Obama to highlight. Why should his African roots be allowed to dominate all discource?
Secondly, Obama needs to stop McCain setting the policy agenda on energy and the economy. Arguing that people should ensure that their tyres are correctly inflated may be technically correct, but hardly the best way to inspire the electorate. Is Gore really so politically toxic that Obama can't embrace at least some of his sustainable energy proposals? Hell, Paris Hilton would make a better energy spokeperson that McCain, so this issue should be a big plus for Obama.
Thirdly, the vexed issue of his VP choice. He needs to diffuse the Hillary factor. McCain is actively targeting the predominantly older, less educated, male white vote she courted so effectively. Perhaps Obama should swallow his pride and give her the VEEP spot. His more hysterical supporters will go ballistic - but they'll get over it come November. A VEEP has almost no effective role in the US political system unless the President gives him/her one - and Obama can effectively sideline Hillary later if she isn't singing from the same hymn sheet.
But finally, Obama needs to take a real stand on some policy issues - and argue his case. His headlong rush to the the current political centre marks him out as a lightweight who can't stand his ground and who will be easy meat when the Washington establishment gets to work on him. It isn't all about getting to the White House first and then deciding what the political and economic realities of the day allow you to do. You also have to prepare the ground for a radical policy departure by "selling" it to the US electorate first.
By taking the road of least resistance now Obama also risks being seen as a weak President later - with no mandate for radical action and no means of managing a restless Democratic majority in congress. He needs to take a stand on a few issues now:
- Adopt most of Gore's sustainable energy plan
- No more bail-outs for banks. If they need money they pay for it with equity which can be sold (hopefully at a profit) for the taxpayers benefit later. Hell it could fund the Social security system if the Government had large shareholdings in many banks. That's what pension funds do - they invest, and expect a return.
- Hire Paris Hilton to respond to "the white wrinkled ones'" more ridiculous attack ads. Gentle mockery and a sense of humour is the most appropriate response. Obama doesn't need to go there.