DESPITE WHAT OPRAH SAYS, OBAMA NOT THE RIGHT TONIC FOR DEMOCRATS
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Even before Oprah Winfrey cheer led Illinois Senator Barack Obama for President in 2008 on Larry King Live, Obama for President 2008 bumper stickers, mugs, and tee shirts were hot ticket sellers on websites. Internet chat rooms pulse with talk about an Obama presidency run, and Chicago papers run articles speculating about the prospects of an Obama candidacy. Though Obama hasn’t said anything about his plans, the Democratic Party’s newest telegenic, shining star has to be flattered by the clamor for him to toss his hat in the ring. But that’s what it should stay, flattery.
Obama is not the shot in the arm the Democrats need to take back Congress and the White House in 2008. He is too new on the political scene, too untested, too politically nice, too liberal, and most of all he’s an African-American.
Those factors make it virtually impossible for Obama to pry one, let alone, two states away from the Southern Republican bloc. The solid South, that is the South that is mostly white, conservative and male, pro war, anti-big government, vehemently opposes any political tilt to minorities, and is heavily influenced by ultra conservative Bible Belt fundamentalism. These political attributes are the exact antithesis of Obama’s political appeal, pitch and thrust (despite his tepid plea for the Dems to court the Christian fundamentalists). The Southern strategy has proven to be a winning formula for GOP presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.
A presidential candidate also must raise mega millions, get their party’s official stamp, and appeal to conservative, white middle-class voters outside the South. Obama showed in his walk over Senate race in Illinois in 2004 that he can corral the big bucks. During the campaign he raised a record four million dollars in a three-month span. But that was a state race. A presidential bid is far different. To prove that he’s a viable candidate, and bag the money, he must preach a centrist, conservative message of family values, tax fairness, and military preparedness. He simply hasn’t been on the political scene long enough to sell that message and open the money spigots. And he’d need every penny he could get. The Republican contender will have a united party behind him (or her) and have mountains of cash.
Obama won’t send conservative evangelical Christians scurrying to the barricades to defeat him. That dubious distinction, if Jerry Fallwell’s recent Devil reference to Hillary Clinton is to be believed belongs to her. But as a liberal, and African-American they will be hyper wary of him.
Then there’s the issue of race. Obama did reasonably well in neutralizing, if not totally breaking down the reservations of many whites in Illinois to vote for a black candidate. But his opponent was the lightly regarded, fill-in outsider, Alan Keyes, who also is an African-American. Many Republicans in the state sat that one out. It will be a far different story if Obama hits the national campaign trail. While polls show that more whites than ever are willing to vote for a black candidate for state and local offices, there is yet no evidence that that openness extends over to a vote for a black candidate for the presidency.
In fact, white males more than any other group have bought the Republican’s anti-government, anti-liberal line. Bush bagged more than sixty percent of the white male vote in 2004. The percentage of the white male vote that a white male Republican candidate likely will get won’t change much in 2008. If Obama is the Democrat of choice, that percentage the Republican might get might jump even higher. Colin Powell found that out when he briefly toyed with a presidential run in 1996. Despite his enormous popularity, and cross over appeal, he ultimately decided not to run, and one of the reasons was his concern that race would be an issue and a liability.
The Republicans will likely pour millions into beefing up their diversity pitch among blacks and Latinos. They will tout Bush’s minority business, homeownership, and education initiatives as a better deal for minorities than anything the Democrats have to offer. That claim won’t convince the majority of blacks to vote Republican. But it could pare down the number that dash to the polls to vote for Obama. Even if Obama got the overwhelming majority of black votes, which is likely, that’s not terribly significant. Any Democrat that runs will do just as well with black voters.
The Democrats hope to retake the White House rests on their ability to find a white male candidate populist enough to convince a significant number of swing state voters that a Democrat in the White House is a real alternative to the GOP policies on the war, the economy, health care, immigration and energy issues, and centrist enough to convince them that he is as tough on terrorism and as big an advocate of a strong military as the GOP.
That’s a tall order. Obama is not the man that can fill it, at least not in 2008.
Columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator, and the author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006), a hard-hitting look at Bush and The GOP’s court of black voters. For order information, see www.blackgopbook.com