Obama is still behind nationally but I am not sure that he is beaten. He looks like the future of the Democratic party to me and Hillary looks like the past. Her husband isn’t helping in that regard either. Jay Cost the HorseRace Blogger, the best analyst of polls I have ever encountered, isn’t calling this one either. In his latest analysis of the demographics he goes right to the critical question:
……can Obama win white voters?
Since he lost Nevada, pundits have been suggesting that he cannot. But I think the picture is much more complicated than it first appears.
First of all, we have to acknowledge that Clinton is currently beating Obama in the polls among white voters nationwide. The latest LA Times/Bloomberg poll tells the story pretty succinctly. Clinton leads Obama among white voters by 19 points. Compare this to Clinton’s 9 point lead among all self-identified Democratic primary voters – and it should be clear Clinton is doing better with white Democrats than with the Democratic electorate at large.
So, the more precise question is: can these numbers change, or has Obama “maxed out” among white voters?
Race still matters in America but it is whole lot different than it was back when I was a kid in the fifties. What is clear to me as a long time expatriate is that Obama is so archetypally American. America may not have entirely transcended race but it is clear Obama has. And it is clear that he is highly intelligent and that he can focus that intelligence effectively. Particularly outstanding is his ability to avoid divisiveness. Saying for example, “They are all good candidates.” of his opponents in both parties without seeming hypocritical. Or that it is important to acknowledge that Republicans can have ideas even if you don’t agree with them.
I see politics as a constant struggle to balance opposites and the primary pair of opposites in politics being the individual and the group. Johna Goldberg -coming from a very different perspective than my own – makes this exact point in a recent interview here with Glenn and Helen Reynolds of Instapundit when he says that all public policy issues boil down to Locke versus Rousseau – to individual versus collective. (Interestingly the point comes up in the context of Goldberg expressing his view that Huckabee’s compassionate conservatism is too collectivist for him a traditional conservative.) While both sides of politics must deal with both, the left has an affinity for the collective interest, the right for the individual. I look back on the politics of the 20th century and see the collapse of laissez faire capitalism in 1929 countered by a greater emphasis on the group provided by FDR. My father, like many of the people who lived through the depression, saw FDR as successfully helping America avoid the totalitarian collectivism of both Communism and Fascism while moderating the overly individualistic form of capitalism that had produced the boom bust cycle. In my own youth, I saw the left try to reinvent itself under JFK and come undone through assassination followed by getting bogged down in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the right had recognized that it had to reinvent itself after the Goldwater defeat of 1964 while the left drifted. The right’s moment came under Reagan and he moderated the big government liberalism that had dominated American politics since FDR.
Obama to his great credit recently recognized that Reagan was the last president to bring real change and by doing so shows he wants to be in that category of president. Initially Bill Clinton (and Tony Blair) excited me as politicians trying to reinvent the left, but I think both fell short coming up with more of an uncooked mix of the neo-Liberal reforms of Thatcher and Reagan along with essentially unchanged ideas from the old left. Hillary has said she wants to raise taxes to get back to spending more on the common good. The key words are ‘get back’ which I read as returning to familiar model of big government. Hillary wants to apply that model to health care. Obama says he wants to change the health care system so that big medicine doesn’t have every seat at the table. I’m not sold yet because I don’t see the detail in his policies but I really like the direction he seems to be headed.
So I see Obama as neo-left mark II. He is of a new generation and puts things together differently. I think if he gets in now he will do a lot of learning on the job. I am concerned with his emphasis on Iraq simply being a mistake and implying we can just end it without disastrous consequences. What I learned as an opponent of the Vietnam war that whether it was a good idea initially should not be the determining factor in how a war is ended. Abandoning people we have convinced to fight on our side at great cost is massively destructive to our national interest. More so if it is unnecessary as it appears to be at this stage. But I am not the slightest bit concerned that Obama wouldn’t give his best trying to move us into a new political era. He visibly recognizes the need for a fundamentally different approach and credibly shows that he is entirely capable of making the attempt. That is his great strength and why he will win if he can convince enough people. And if he doesn’t win this time he may get another chance.