The latest polls reflecting Obama’s near-collapse should serve as a morality tale of John Edwards’s two Americas — the political obtuseness of the intellectual elite juxtaposed to the common sense of the working classes.
For some bizarre reason, Obama aimed his speech at winning praise from National Public Radio, the New York Times, and Harvard, and solidifying an already 90-percent solid African-American base — while apparently insulting the intelligence of everyone else.
Indeed, the more op-eds and pundits praised the courage of Barack Obama, the more the polls showed that there was a growing distrust that the eloquent and inspirational candidate has used his great gifts, in the end, to excuse the inexcusable.
The speech and Obama’s subsequent interviews neither explained his disastrous association with Wright, nor dared open up a true discussion of race — which by needs would have to include, in addition to white racism, taboo subjects ranging from disproportionate illegitimacy and drug usage to higher-than-average criminality to disturbing values espoused in rap music and unaddressed anti-Semitism. We learn now that Obama is the last person who wants to end the establishment notion that a few elite African Americans negotiate with liberal white America over the terms of grievance and entitlement — without which all of us really would be transracial persons, in which happiness and gloom hinge, and are seen to do so, on one’s own individual success or failure.
Instead there were the tired platitudes, evasions, and politicking. The intelligentsia is well aware of how postmodern cultural equivalence, black liberation theory, and moral relativism seeped into Obama’s speech, and thus was not offended by an “everybody does it” and “who’s to judge?/eye of the beholder” defense. But to most others the effect was Clintonian. Somehow Obama could not just say,
There is nothing to be offered for Rev. Wright except my deepest apologies for not speaking out against his venom far earlier. We in the African-American community know better than anyone the deleterious effects of racist speech, and so it is time for Rev. Wright and myself to part company, since we have profoundly different views of both present- and future-day America.
The more the pundits gushed about the speech, the more the average Americans thought, “Wait a minute — did he just say what I thought he said?” It’s not lost on Joe Q. Public that Obama justified Wright’s racism by offering us a “landmark” speech on race that:
(1) Compared Wright’s felony to the misdemeanors of his grandmother, Geraldine Ferraro, the Reagan Coalition, corporate culture, and the kitchen sink.
(2) Established the precedent that context excuses everything, in the sense that what good a Wright did (or an Imus did) in the past outweighs any racist outburst of the present.
(3) Claimed that the voice of the oppressed is not to be judged by the same rules of censure as the dominant majority that has no similar claim on victim status.
What is happening, ever so slowly, is that the public is beginning to realize that it knows even less after the speech than it did before about what exactly Obama knew (and when) about Wright’s racism and hatred.
Even elites will wake up to the fact that they’ve been had, in a sense, once they deconstruct the speech carefully and fathom that their utopian candidate just may have managed to destroy what was once a near-certain Democratic sweep in the fall. And a number of African-Americans will come to resent that they are being lumped into a majority akin to the Rev. Wright, millions of whom the majestic Sen. Obama has nobly chosen not to “disown,” despite their apparently similar embarrassing racialism.
Over the past four days, I asked seven or eight random (Asian, Mexican-American, and working-class white) Americans in southern California what they thought of Obama’s candidacy — and framed the question with, “Don’t you think that was a good speech?” The answers, without exception, were essentially: “Forget the speech. I would never vote for Obama after listening to Wright.” In some cases, the reaction was not mild disappointment, but unprintable outrage.
The blame, such as it is, for all this goes to the Obama campaign “pros,” who, in their apparent arrogance over Obamania (a phenomenon due to the candidate’s charisma, not their own savvy), simply went to sleep and let the senator and his wife resort to their natural self-indulgence – itself the offspring of the Obamas’ privilege and insularity. Any amateur handler could have scanned that speech and taken out just 8-10 phrases, called for a tougher stance on Wright, a genuine apology, and put the issue behind them.
Now it’s too late. Like Hillary’s tear, one only gets a single chance at mea culpa and staged vulnerability — and he blew it.
Where are we now? At the most fascinating juncture in the last 50 years of primary-election history.
Superdelegates can’t “steal” the election from Obama’s lock on the delegate count. And they can’t easily debase themselves by abandoning Obama after their recent televised confessionals about abandoning Hillary.
But they can count and compute — and must try to deal with these facts:
(1) Obama is crashing in all the polls, especially against McCain, against whom he doesn’t stack up well, given McCain’s heroic narrative, the upswing in Iraq, and the past distance between McCain and the Bush administration;
(2) Hillary may not just win, but win big in Pennsylvania (and maybe the other states as well), buttressing her suddenly not-so-tired argument about her success in the mega-, in-play purple states. Michigan and Florida that once would have been lost by Hillary in a fair election, now would be fairly won — and Clinton is as willing to replay both as Obama suddenly is not; and
(3) The sure thing of Democrats winning big in the House and Senate is now in danger of a scenario in which a would-be Senator or Representative explains all autumn long that the party masthead really does not like Rev. Wright, whose massive corpus of buffoonery no doubt is still to be mined. (The problem was never “snippets,” but entire speeches devoted to hatred and anger, often carefully outlined in a point-by-point format).
What is the remedy?
I would go buy about 10,000 American flags to blanket every Obama appearance, have a 4×4 lapel-button flag custom-made for the senator, have Michelle finish every appearance by leading a chorus of “God Bless America,” draft every middle-of-the-road crusty drawling Democratic veteran (the knightly Harris Wofford doesn’t cut it) to criss-cross the country — and try to Trotskyize Rev. Wright from the campaign.
Oh, and no need for any more Obama half-conversations about race and “typical white person” clarifications. All that does far more damage to the country than even to Obama himself.
– NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author, most recently, of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.