Saturday, June 07, 2008

Financial Times -- Obama "surely he has lost his shine"

The world is watching the US Presidential race with more interest than usual. This assessment by Philip Stephens in London's Financial Times has the effect of a splash of icewater in the face. He makes some compelling points. Mud on his shoes, indeed...

January was a lifetime ago. Familiarity has taken its toll. The fact that Mr Obama is black no longer seems, well, quite so extraordinary. After months in the trenches against Mrs Clinton, the man bidding to be the first African-American to win the White House now has some political mud on his shoes.

He learnt along the way that middle America has more pressing concerns than the price of arugula; that he had better learn to bowl before staging photo-opportunities in a bowling alley; and that it is unwise to denigrate the cultural conservatism of small-town America. As for inspiration, it does not pay the bills. Casting himself as the candidate who transcended old divisions, he has been forced to dump the less temperate black pastor who had been almost a surrogate father. He has found it much tougher to win over white blue-collar workers than to impress the latte-drinking intelligentsia. Mr Obama, the rest of us now know, has his blemishes.

The primaries took their toll. The Republicans’ John McCain will not have to mention his opponent’s skin colour to stir old prejudices among some white voters. He can take his cue from Geraldine Ferraro, a former vice-presidential candidate and supporter of Mrs Clinton. “If you’re white you can’t open your mouth without being accused of being a racist,” she said last week. “They [working class whites] don’t identify with someone who has gone to Harvard and Columbia Law School and is married to a Harvard-Princeton graduate”.

Mr Obama in other words is damned as part of the liberal elite. Never mind he is the son of an absent father and was raised by a mother reliant on welfare. Or for that matter that Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain both had far more privileged starts in life. Mr Obama could not haul in the white votes in the swing states.

There is an unspoken connection here between colour and class. Presidential elections are about character as well as policy. Voters, I heard one Washington insider say the other day, want a president who looks comfortable at a country and western show. Could the black Mr Obama ease himself in to such a picture?

Later in the column...

So there you have it: half a dozen or more good reasons to suppress any lingering sense of excitement about the coming fight between a 46-year-old African-American and a 71-year-old son of an admiral and former prisoner in Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton. Forgive my credulousness, but this is a truly momentous election. The candidates may also decide to make it an honest one: Mr McCain pitching experience, judgment and independence against Mr Obama’s vision of a different America.

1 comment:

vietnamcatfish said...

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