At an excellent family-and-friends gathering this past weekend, several people were aghast at my continued Obama skepticism. A Republican school board member from the Fox Valley told me he was voting for Obama over McCain, and for all the right "need for change" reasons. A friend I hadn’t seen for ages who was on her way to volunteer for Women for Obama in Ohio after the party stared at her iPhone in disbelief after she called up one of my blog posts. Don’t worry, I assured them and others. I’ll be with you in three days – after Hillary loses in Texas and the party browbeats her into conceding.
This was not to be. If the Obama bubble didn’t burst Tuesday night, it is at least straining against its skin; the pressure of the air inside trying to force itself out into the open air. This has much more to do with Obama being subject to the all too familiar Treatment by the usual nut-right cabal than anything Hillary Clinton did. What Hillary couldn’t (and wouldn’t) do to take the gloss off of the Obama movement in months of campaigning was accomplished in just a couple of weeks of wing-nuttery from the usual suspects in the right-wing media machine.
Since the GOP became convinced of his inevitability after the Wisconsin primary two weeks ago, its surrogates on mainstream radio and elsewhere have employed entirely predictable smear and scare tactics to try to take him down to their low, slug-like level. People with their head in the clouds, thinking that Obama was going to be able to conduct a campaign above the fray like some kind of electronic tea party, were suddenly faced with the vicious innuendo and overblown claims of personal deficiencies that have been standard with the wing-nuts since their success in getting Junior Bush installed by the Supreme Court in 2000. They suddenly became aware that Obama could not unilaterally stop politics-as-usual. As long as right-wingers with no souls were willing to sling mud from the caves of their own personal and political hell, he would be a walking target for those peddling the smut of the politics of personal destruction.
The hope that Obama could change the tone of political discourse through sheer force of will is a large part of his appeal. But his impressive ascendancy to historic electoral heights was bound to bring the arrows of the increasingly-desperate right-wing. These are the same people who want you to believe that the "Clinton machine" would do anything to win. But it is they who will do and say anything – and say it, and say it again and again – to put enough doubt and fear about the Obama unknown so that you scurry for the McCain known. They did it with John Kerry in 2004. And they have already done enormous damage to Obama’s veneer of invincibility. The most important number to watch is Obama’s negatives. The last NYT/CBS poll had his negative number at 23%. Watch that number creep up as the GOP onslaught continues.
Paul Krugman continues to be the only member of the MSM commentariat with a healthy dose of Obama skepticism. In his column on Monday, he questions Obama’s they-all-do-it-in-Washington assumptions. "But Mr. Obama, instead of emphasizing the harm done by the other party’s rule, likes to blame both sides for our sorry political state. And in his speeches he promises not a rejection of Republicanism but an era of postpartisan unity." Blaming both sides does not give nearly enough credit to Karl Rove’s Republican apparatus for poisoning the political atmosphere.
While McCain is promising a "respectful" campaign in the fall, the GOP smear machine has always kept their candidates in plausible personal deniability – that’s why they hand their most ridiculous poison talking-points to lower-rung sycophants for try-outs before walking it up the wing-nut ladder. For instance, local Obamaphobe Rick Esenberg spent too much of his time about a couple of months ago trying to convince his readers that Obama’s attendance at his ethnocentric south side Chicago Christian church was cause for grave concern. That talking-point has now moved up to Fox Noise’s Sean Hannity, who is pounding the red herring into the ground this week. Obama should know and should say that "both sides" are not nearly equally at fault for the sad state of political discourse. Maybe now that he has a big red target on his back that the wing-nuts are hitting repeatedly, he’ll understand that.
Although Hillary’s poll numbers were slipping for two weeks in Ohio and Texas, her remarkable second comeback was solidified after her now-famous red-phone ad that popped up late last week. I am torn between admiring the expert political strategy behind the ad and being repulsed by the emotionally-manipulative plea to the Fear that has worked too well for the Bushies. [It did leave me wondering why she is up at her desk with blazer and glasses on at 3 a.m. I would have had her in her jammies, reaching over Bill to get the phone at that hour, like Tony Soprano.] No, on second thought, I am repulsed. No matter how valid the point – you get the sense, on matters big or small, Hillary really would know what to do intellectually and instinctively and that Obama would need to get input from one or several aides for most things – we don’t need to stoop to the gutter GOP level to make our points. Just because it worked doesn’t make it right.
In any event, all kinds of demographic groups that she lost in Wisconsin – women, Latinos, white men – came back to Hillary in Texas and Ohio. Obama has yet to win in a big, blue state (except his home Illinois). There was a lot of talk on cable last night about the party staging re-do primaries in Florida and Michigan in June, which they really have to do. It may all come to a head then, something that I think would be problematic for Obama, who may end up being a streaky flavor-of-the-month. He tried a few "Yes We Can"s in his speech last night, but I sensed some flatness. Is this what happens when the air goes out of a bubble – not with a pop, but with a distant hissing sound?
For her part, Hillary gave her usual adequate speech last night, even co-opting Obama’s signature chant with a "Yes We Will" chant of her own. At the end, though, something new: Bruce Springsteen’s "Land of Hope and Dreams" blared out of the loudspeakers at the end. Interesting choice. "Meet me in the Land of Hope and Dreams," he sings. There might indeed be more than one way to get there.