Obama pitfalls looming

The American people are gradually coming to the realization that they are, in all likelihood, going to be forced to choose between Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) when they go to the polls to elect a new president this November.

Those who predict the future based on studies of the past behavior of the electorate are telling us that McCain shouldn’t have much chance. His party has held the White House for two terms and the popularity of the Republican president he hopes to succeed is nothing to write home about. Moreover, we are in the midst of an unpopular war and the economy seems to be tanking.

To make matters even worse, on top of the congressional losses the GOP suffered in 2006, there has been a spike in Democratic voter registration that can be only partially explained by the lively contest going on for the nomination within that party. When Democratic candidates declare the American people are demanding “change,” it is a declaration with which few would disagree.

On the other hand, elections are always about “change” and, more importantly, about the future. A year or so ago, a Democratic friend suggested that the basic problem his party will face this fall is that whoever wins the presidential nomination is going to discover, perhaps too late, that George W. Bush isn’t going to be on the ballot in November. The Democrats will try to convince voters that whomever the Republicans nominate should be regarded as little more than Bush’s surrogate, of course, but at the end of the day voters will have to choose between two very different candidates, neither of whom will be seen as simply a Bush stand-in. Voters will need to sort out what kind of change they’re seeking.

Democrats are convinced that voters in 2006 rejected not just the performance of Republicans in power, but the Republican vision. Thus, during the primaries, Obama and Clinton and those who have fallen by the wayside since Iowa seem to be running on the assumption that voters are ready to embrace them for what they stand for rather than because they aren’t the Republicans who in power have proved so disappointing. That assumption could prove their undoing.

Given the atmosphere in which this year’s race is being and will be run, one would expect the likely Democratic nominee to thrash John McCain in the various head-to-head polls being taken these days. Such polls are meaningless in the sense that they can’t possibly tell us how voters will feel in November, but they do give one a sense of the relative strength of the nominees. In 1988, Ronald Reagan’s vice president trailed the Democratic nominee in similar polls by nearly 20 percent going into the Republican convention.

This year, the probable nominees are in a virtual tie amidst news that should crush the hopes of the GOP. That could change, of course, as 1988 demonstrates, but one wonders if Obama will be able to change it. The man is doing well right now against a flawed and surprisingly inept Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), but the real test will come later.

Voters are going to get to know Barack Obama before November and there are early indications that could lead one to conclude that they aren’t going to like him as much when that happens as they do now. He clearly represents a wing of his own party that includes the likes not just of Jeremiah Wright, but of Rosie O’Donnell and the inhabitants of the MoveOn fever swamps, but excludes or looks down on many traditional Democrats. As the election campaign unfolds, many voters are going to have to ask whether they want the same “change” these people seek. Obama may discover before it’s all over that they do not.

Obama himself projects a positive image, but those who support him share a very dark view of this country that he seems reluctant to disavow. Like Rosie O’Donnell, the Rev. Wright seems to believe, for example, that it may not have been Osama bin Laden who was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon back in 2001. In their fevered minds, it may well have been the Israelis, the CIA or the neocons who did the deed so that the United States could do what we’ve done since.

Obama has been careful to distance, but not completely disassociate, himself, from this crowd of crazies and particularly from Wright. Since the United Nations Human Rights Council recently hired a lunatic who is urging an investigation of whether Bill Kristol and his fellow neocons were responsible for Sept. 11, perhaps Wright has a future in an Obama administration’s diplomatic corps.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com.