By A.B. Stoddard - 04/30/08 05:42 PM EDT
Forget bitter — how about bored?
Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama the 'X' factor of the 2016 cycle How did Hillary Clinton do? Pundits react to speech FULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton closes out Democratic convention MORE (D-Ill.) has just days left before his fifth attempt to finish off Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and he looks like he knows what we do — that more than likely he will fail again. With more states won, more pledged delegates, more of the popular vote and, reportedly, a majority of silent superdelegates locked up, Obama wants to move on to battle John McCainJohn McCainMcCain granddaughter comes out in support of Clinton With reservations, moving toward Hillary Clinton FULL SPEECH: Hillary Clinton closes out Democratic convention MORE. A story in The New York Times this week characterized the candidate as bored. The word wasn’t in quotes, but Team Obama had clearly described him as fatigued or weary. Very much the opposite of fired-up and ready to go.
It would be neat and tidy to blame the politically cataclysmic effects of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for Obama’s subdued posture. Wright is a problem of Obama’s own making that would be just as toxic no matter whom he was vying with for the nomination — former Iowa Gov. Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), anybody. And to be sure, the ranting reverend is keeping many a superdelegate up at night. But so is the burning question of whether Obama will ever fire up again. There is a distinctly familiar look in his eye these days, that of George Herbert Walker Bush circa 1992. The man is clearly not enjoying any of this, visibly counting the moments until closure. Clinton is, of course, ebullient and gushing.
She isn’t on her game, she owns the game.
Voters are noticing. Clinton has eclipsed what was Obama’s 10-point lead in just one week, and the new AP/Ipsos poll has Obama tied with McCain while Clinton pounds him. Now McCain and Clinton are teaming up in agreement on a gas tax holiday to save consumers 18.6 cents a gallon this summer, while Obama sits on his lonely high road, opposed. The proposal is meaningless, goody-bag politics, and Obama is absolutely correct that it threatens roads, highways and thousands of jobs since the repair fund is paid for by the gasoline tax. But studies show voters choose their own self-interest before the greater good. Those far-away jobs don’t mean much to some Hoosier who is paying too much to fill his car up while he drives to work. Hillary has that guy’s number, and a new television ad to drive this all home. It is so convincing he won’t remember Hillary likely hasn’t driven a car herself in nearly 25 years.
Obama resists political decisions — like denouncing Wright — until it is almost too late. He and his team intend to remain pure. They don’t leak, they don’t like framing stories, and their use of surrogates is pitiful. The entire campaign is a daunting experiment, since this process is not pure, and likely never can be.
But for Obama to win now, and again against McCain, he must want this badly enough for people to know it. He must accept that style often trumps substance. He doesn’t have to be a fighter like Clinton, or a breathless, jump-from-your-chair populist like John Edwards, and he doesn’t have to be an angry black man. Obama is capable of his own passion and purpose and he needs to remember where he left them. If he doesn’t begin hurling fusillades of economic details at these blue-collar white voters, with I-am-bursting-with-excitement-about-helping-your-economic-outlook enthusiasm, they will never give him the time.
Change is big in Seattle, but in many struggling pockets of most of America, change is a luxury voters can’t afford.
Obama may have big problems he cannot fix — whites and Wright — but wanting it is in him. Unless it isn’t.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.