Friday, September 12, 2008

Phenomenon, Phenomena

Phenomenon, Phenomena
By Jerome Grossman

When the pundits cannot explain a political development, they label it a phenomenon, often defined as an outward sign of the working of a law of nature and therefore beyond human control, or an extraordinary person or thing, and therefore deserving of our admiration and love.

Barack Obama knows about phenomenon. For a year he was regarded as a super person by supporters and detractors. The nation hung on his words, few in number, “change, hope, yes we can”, that transfixed his vast audience who attended his séances to admire his person, his voice, and his demeanor as though he was not of this world. And for a while he wasn't, until he made the mistake of offering mundane specifics instead of directions to Bethlehem.

Now from the frozen tundra comes another unknown figure capturing our imagination, as did Obama, summarizing the American dream of mysterious origin, offering youth, beauty and hidden sexuality, implying solutions but not defining them, putting our desire to adore in a tight capsule.

America is in love again, this time with two different personalities each seeking adoration. The Democrats expect the widespread infatuation with Sarah Palin to fade before Election Day. Don’t be so sure! The Republicans think their luck is an act of God and so does Sarah Palin. The contest seems to be about political hegemony but it tells us more about the culture of 21st century America: our worship of personality and youth and good looks as well as our search for messianic leaders bearing solutions to problems that overwhelm.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Race Will Decide

Race Will Decide
By Jerome Grossman

If Barack Obama had selected Hillary Clinton as his vice president, he would have unified the Democratic Party, obtained the allegiance of her 18 million voters and put the ticket on the road to a landslide victory in November. Sarah Palin would have remained an obscure Governor and John McCain would have insisted on nominating his pal, Joe Lieberman, as his running mate.

The Republican political base would still be depressed, distrustful of McCain and hostile to Lieberman as that team ran to prove they were mavericks, rebels within their parties, hoping for a miracle.

Now we have a presidential campaign fought on personality and abortion and religion. Obama may complain about the personality factor, but he should remember that he defeated Hillary Clinton because he was more likable, not because of his issue positions.

As recently as the 2000 election, McCain stood against the ideologues and moneyed interests of the GOP. His transformation in this election was intended to win the nomination and his selection of Palin was primarily to use her to attack Obama's character. Watch her target: it won't be Joe Biden. Palin will indeed rally the party base, but will that be enough?

Palin's convention speech featured biting and sarcastic partisanship in the style of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, focusing on Obama personally in an attack-dog mode. Instead of presenting herself as a trustworthy leader, she told whom she hates and why. She kept away from the bread and butter concerns of the average voter. In the GOP division of political labor that will be McCain's responsibility taking the high road, while Palin does the attacking on the low road.

The Republican plan should not work. The McCain connection with President Bush, the unpopular war in Iraq, the price of gasoline, the housing crisis, the rising unemployment, the poor economy, should lead to a Democratic victory. Transforming the election into a plebiscite on abortion and religion and race may give the GOP a chance. However, at this time the Democrats appear to have the advantage in money, intensity and organization. Republican efforts are limited by very weak forces on the ground and it will be very difficult to rebuild in less than two months. They will have to motivate supporters through the media.

Race, of course, is the prime factor in this election. Yes, America has made great strides in improving the status of African-Americans. Yes, more blacks have attained middle-class status and good jobs in business and the professions. But a form of tribalism exist in our country that affects virtually all relationships including voting. The electorate is predominantly white and some will vote accordingly. Obstacles to black voting have lessened but still exist. Polling of likely voters does not always reveal true voting intentions.

To win, Barack Obama will need to build multiracial coalitions and that is already in progress. In some ways, that effort is really a test of our society, under improving racial conditions, in support of a candidate with the personality, appearance, education, life history and ability to which most Americans aspire.

The day before the election, Obama will be ahead in the public opinion polls by seven to 10% but that will translate into a very close election as some white voters will change their minds and their votes on Election Day as they have in the recent past. Every vote will be important.


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