For most of us who grew up in the 20th century, two things seemed certain never to happen in our lifetime: a black person getting elected president of the U.S., or the Cubs winning the World Series. At the outset of July, I am now absolutely convinced that at least one of these campaigns will succeed this coming fall. Sad to say, only one of the two quixotic efforts excites me at the moment.
I’m not sure what to make of the formerly inspiring presidential candidate known as Barack Obama. That he has been so eager to dash past the center towards the right on a variety of issues suggests that his presidency would be business as usual—the Democratic base taken for granted, military spending unchecked, corporations unregulated. Obama’s spineless stance on telecom immunity has rightly earned him the ire of the party’s netroots. There is no natural constituency to call him out for his utterly absurd criticisms of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against capital punishment for child rapists. Yet Obama, a legislator in Illinois when that state’s death penalty process was exposed as hopelessly biased by race and class, has now endorsed the expansion of capital punishment to include non-murderers—a favorite weapon of the Jim Crow South.
By using the law-and-order card to score cheap political points, Obama has deployed the same tactics the Republicans have relied on since the 1960s. In doling out centrist mush, he’s following the playbook of the 2000 Al Gore and the 2004 John Kerry. His economic agenda is far closer to Wall Street than Main Street. Like Kerry, Obama is betting that popular distaste for Bush’s pathetic legacy will be enough to propel him into office. In truth, the Dems are doing McCain and the Republicans a favor. As less and less separates the two candidates in terms of issues, the election becomes a referendum on personalities. And the Republicans have been pretty skillful in turning harmless characters—from Mondale and Dukakis through Gore to Kerry—into menacing threats to the heartland. The candidate’s race, moreover, was not a factor in those smear efforts.
As for where his campaign goes from here, that’s up to Obama. Personally, I’m far more inspired by what’s happening on the North Side of Chicago…In any event, enjoy the summer!