Shelby Steele:

"[T]he cultural and historical implications of [Barack] Obama's candidacy are clearly greater than its public policy implications...his candidacy itself asks the American democracy to complete itself...."

I vigorously recommend Steele's essay in last week's TIME Magazine (here), which proved tremendously useful as I continue to wrestle with my ongoing ambivalence concerning Obama and his unlikely campaign.

As I have admitted previously on several occasions, I am strangely attracted to the notion of Barack Obama.

Why is this odd?

The candidate and I are diametrically opposed on almost every substantive issue--several of which I see as absolutely crucial to the future of our nation.

But still...I grow frustratingly fonder.


What is it about this forty-six year-old freshman senator, who can point to absolutely no uniquely heroic deed that recommends him to the presidency? What else could there possibly be about Barack Obama that makes him special?

Indisputably, obviously, it is race; or, more precisely, the mesmerizing combination of race, charisma, and potential.

Shelby Steele again:

" an opportunity for whites to think well of themselves, to give themselves one of the most self-flattering feelings a modern white can have: that they are not racist."

An obvious point. But this plays much bigger than the personal. The election of Barack Obama will forcefully declare that America is not racist. Obama can prove the self evident truth that all men are created equal in this storied "land of opportunity," where, regardless of race, all persons are free to enjoy liberty and justice and for all.

Obama can be the person in our lifetimes who transcends (even redeems) our tortured past and accelerates a national healing process.

Moreover, I dream that Obama will be the ultimate role model for African Americans who will come to apprehend, finally, that the game is not rigged. For I believe that believing is half the battle. Obama can personify the notion of unlimited possibility, which will encourage children of color to work hard and expect success in an America where we all benefit from one another's successes.

But I also have my doubts. Will Obama be a "sellout"? Not in the traditional sense of betraying the black community for a place at the white man's table. No, I worry that Barack Obama will "sell out" the vision of racial transcendence, opting instead for the "tried and true" Democratic Party message of historic and continued oppression, benign paternalism, and quid pro quo.

Once again, I strongly recommend Steele's insightful essay, "The Identity Card," which suggests that Obama is unlikely to choose (perhaps incapable of choosing) a path that leads us beyond the toxic politics of black and white.

My mixed emotions continue to swirl...
Category: Campaign 2008.7
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
David Freddoso on NRO lays out a complicated but compelling scenario in which the Republican primary process might not yield a presumptive nominee:

Convention Wisdom:
A Minneapolis floor fight is not so far-fetched.

I speculated on this possibility in brief a few weeks ago (here and here).

Moreover, I agree with Freddoso that a meaningful and/or raucous convention could be a great advantage to the Grand Old Party.

UPDATE: Fodder for a future post perhaps, but is has also occurred to me recently that an inconclusive primary season might tempt the relevant players to make a deal (or alliance) during the long interval following the voting but before the convention begins.
Category: Campaign 2008.7
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
After watching the Oprah and Obama spectacular in Iowa yesterday (live on C-SPAN), Tim, a Bosque Boys reader, wrote:

"He was loud, talked about 'Change' and at least one person in the audience fainted. What I saw was a lot of 'Look at me I am charismatic,' but not a lot of substance. I compare that with Mitt Romney's speech, and they are on two different levels. Mitt Romney talked about the substance of America, Obama shouted about change. I think Obama is drawing a lot more people to him, but many of those people may not really be able to give a good reason why."

Well reported, Tim. This observation, for the most part, squares with what I saw. I am more impressed with Obama, and less taken with Romney, but, in essence, Tim's analysis is spot-on.

Undoubtedly, Obama has won the coveted mantle of "the agent of change." Conventional wisdom focuses on this element as the key to winning--but I have asked before: "Do Americans Really Want Change in 2008?" I am not convinced we really do this time around. At least, the changes we seem to want are not of the revolutionary variety.

Obama's appeal is not rooted in dynamic proposals that set him apart from other contenders. In truth, Obama doesn't say anything different than any of the other Democratic candidates. He promises a compassionate administration and a society in which all God's children are cared for by a benevolent entity--the federal government.

Having said that, the freshman senator offers something entirely different. What makes Obama unique is his ability to cast himself as a liberal messiah.

Knee deep in the Advent season, Oprah Winfrey asked (and answered): "Is he the One?" "Yes!" Oprah assured us. This is the one on whom we have hoped. This is the one for whom we have been waiting. The long period of anticipation is over. The moment has arrived. Joy to the World! Peace on Earth! Goodwill toward Men!

And while his rhetoric is boilerplate, the real danger in Obama is that he may actually mean what he says. Why my alarm? He is a uniquely magnetically charismatic candidate. He can win the general election in November--and win in a big way, painting the map blue. His success will likely hinge on his personality and gifts--but he will then interpret his victory as a mandate for "change."

Many Hillary detractors castigate her as a socialist. Maybe that characterization fit during her idealistic young adult years during the heady atmosphere of the early 1970s. But Mrs. Clinton's journey--which began as the daughter of a suburban Chicago Republican--and now finds her playing the role of a center-left, establishment senator from New York, places her squarely in the "status quo" block of American politics. For a lot of reasons (political and personal), Hillary's America will never be any more radical than Bill's America.

On the other hand, Barack's America may very well mean a return to a pre-Ronald Reagan sensibility and an unabashed neo-liberalism. Are we ready for that? Can we survive that?
Although "Obama Fever" has paled somewhat in the wake of "Huckabee Hysteria," the new "Hillary is finished" bandwagon has not lost much momentum this week.

A few thoughts:

1. Obama can win. You read it here first (back in January).

2. But he has some very tough sledding ahead. As I laid out here last month.

3. Keep in mind, all the media know-it-alls who are predicting the imminent demise of Hillary Clinton this week are the same experts who were mindlessly parroting her inevitability last month.

The real story: Nobody Knows Anything. We are still almost one month out from a canvass. The story is going to shift several times before then. It is going to be wild--but the race in Iowa, as it has been for six months, remains too close to call. Nationally, Hillary still holds the upper hand.

4. Oprah? If we allow Oprah to pick our next president, I fear we will get the government we deserve. A thought: Oprah helps Obama most where he is the strongest: upwardly mobile white women. Hill is still strong with working-class women and minorities. But here is the great irony: I have a hunch that Democratic men will save Hillary, seeing her as their most pragmatic and hard-headed option in a troubled world.

With the aid of Oprah, Obama becomes the candidate of the tender-hearted. Edwards keeps the incorrigibly soft-headed. And Hillary remains the choice for the tough-minded. Of course, this leads to an obvious question: are there still enough clear-eyed men with calloused hands, stout hearts, and good old-fashioned horse sense in the Democratic Party to influence an election?
Category: Campaign 2008.7
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The reviews are in--and they are mostly raves.

The plaudits are usually followed by this statement: "it is just too bad that he had to do it."

In truth, I am not convinced that the speech Mitt Romney delivered was actually necessary. I remain skeptical that any significant bigotry, skepticism, or even interest in Mormonism was playing much of a role in this campaign. The address in College Station, however, offered a golden opportunity to address the nation in a statesman-like way regarding an issue of purported magnitude and historical significance—and champion a cause with which we all agree (at least all us Republicans).

More than a necessary defense of religious liberty and personal principles, the Speech, more accurately, was a brilliant public relations coup for a somewhat beleaguered campaign stalled and in need of attention, a morale boost, and a rallying point.

Mission Accomplished.

As Pat Buchanan wrote yesterday:

"If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, it will be due in large measure to his splendid and moving defense of his faith and beliefs delivered today at the George Bush Presidential Library."

Mitt is at the top of every page today--and he deserves to be. Well done.
The Okie Gardener asserts that Mitt Romney's Mormonism makes his attempt to capture the 08 Republican nomination nearly impossible.


1. Evangelicals and Mormons are unfriendly competitors for souls in the suburban neighborhoods of the South. More precisely, "conservative and evangelical churches view Mormonism as a non-Christian religion, even terming it a 'cult.'"

2. Any potential explanation of his faith (the "speech") by the candidate will only exacerbate the problem, awakening less vigilant evangelicals to a whole litany of startling idiosyncrasies integral to Mormon worship.

My colleague, the Okie Gardener, is a scholar of American religion, published and respected in his field. On almost all matters in this area of scholarship, I happily defer to his erudition.

However, in the case of Mitt Romney, and how his religion will play in this particular race for the Republican nomination (and his potential subsequent run for the presidency in the general election), I see things a shade differently. Although I expect a candidate other than Romney to win the nomination, I think hostility to his religion will play only a minor role in this contest.

The Speech may work to Romney's advantage.

1. I agree with the assertion that a speech explaining Mormon worship would not be productive, but Romney is assuring us that this speech will not be of that variety. Evidently, tomorrow's address will spotlight the "common cause" among Americans of faith and our "history" of religious tolerance. Evangelicals today are much more accommodating to Catholics and Jews in terms of political partnership. I think Romney can make a strong case for admitting Mormons as full members into that conservative social-political coalition. In a nutshell: clean-cut, straight-arrow Mormons make good neighbors and good partners in conservatism.

2. The speech will be a major political story, with the potential to be a minor cultural event. This address will place Romney's name and campaign front and center for all interested voters. Romney will enjoy a rare opportunity to hold the attention of the very people in America who are most likely to decide the nomination. There is great risk in this gambit; it is a "make or break" outing--but most politicians would love a chance to take this gamble, viewing the potentially huge payoff as well worth braving the less appetizing downsides.

3. How serious is his Mormon Problem? I am disinclined to think an evangelical backlash could ever reach a point to which it will determine the outcome of any primary election in the South. No matter, even if that happened, the Deep South is not the kingmaker in this race. Romney can win this election without winning the South. And, after the primaries, where are evangelicals likely to go? Will they vote for their co-religionists Hillary Clinton and/or Barack Obama in November? The hatred in the hearts of most conservative evangelicals for the Clintons far outpaces their skepticism and antipathy for Mormonism.

I see the whole issue as a minor nuisance, a non-issue for most (non-evangelical) Republicans, who have been conditioned to treat religion in the warmest and fuzziest of terms. We (the people) seem to desire some brand of nebulous morality and spirituality--but rarely do we require much more than that.

Having said all that, where does Mitt fall short?

Mitt Romney's campaign is the smartest and best funded. He has a great strategy, which may have included arriving at this notable juncture in American political history at a most propitious moment. Almost certainly, he will win in Iowa and New Hampshire. Propelled by his enviable war chest and his superior organization, these early marquee victories could allow him to gain enough momentum to stampede the competition.

But maybe not. Romney has other more intractable obstacles. He is too Massachusetts. He has too many center-left skeletons in his closet. While I can certainly see a path to the nomination (and I think his chances may actually improve following the speech), my gut feeling remains that he will not emerge victorious in the 2008 Republican canvass. I think it likely that he will fall eventually to a more orthodox candidate.

No matter, Governor Romney deserves enormous credit for running an immensely well-executed and heady campaign, and I expect The Speech will give him a boost.
It is all over for Mike Huckabee. Today, Rush Limbaugh anointed him the "candidate the media wants to win." So long, Mike. We hardly knew ye. Do not let my light-hearted tone mislead you. I am 100 percent serious. Mike Huckabee's candidacy is now "deader than a door nail." Nobody comes back from this kind of pronouncement at the hands of Rush Limbaugh, the king of all conservative media. John McCain is still working (tragically and without any real hope of success) to overcome Rush's negative designation from back in 2000.

Even before this lethal blow, Huckabee was swimming against an arrestingly strong tide of resistance. Ironically, Huckabee's evangelical background is even more problematic for a Republican running for president in 2008 than Mitt Romney's Mormonism.

What's wrong with being an evangelical Republican in 2008?

1. To put it mildly, the axis of liberalism (Hollywood, the mainstream media, and the academy) looks askance at this particular religious persuasion. In a tight general election, this tradition opens up gaping holes for the opposition.

2. More importantly, a vital element of the conservative movement has soured on evangelicals. Traditional conservatives (many of whom are Catholic) are generally much more staid in their religious traditions than the evangelical variety. For many of the paleo-conservatives, George Bush represents much of what went wrong with evangelical conservatism (what Bush called "compassionate conservatism"). They see the Bush administration as disastrously unorthodox--even dangerous. Think of these examples: an evangelical foreign policy (saving the world through the gospel of democracy), using government to ameliorate the human condition ("no child left behind" and prescription drugs for seniors), and his "traitorously bleeding-heart" immigration proposals.

Traditional conservatives see the Arkansan preacher-turned-pol as more of the same, and they are coming out of the woodwork to throw cold water on the Huckabee boomlet.

3. Ironically, even evangelicals are divided. The traditional evangelical political leadership has not embraced Huckabee. While Pat Robertson et al probably do not speak for many evangelicals anymore (if they ever did), their reluctance to support this ordained Baptist minister speaks volumes about the emerging rift among born-again Christians.

Some of the division is generational. The older evangelicals are more conservative politically and more Southern than the new crop (think Rick Warren), who take a softer view of social conservatism. Huckabee's concern for environmental issues, his willingness to pursue social engagement, and his position on immigration is very much in line with an emerging composite of modern rank-and-file evangelicalism.

No wonder the paleos have had enough.

In all seriousness, the brief affair between Southern-based evangelical churches and the GOP may be approaching a dramatic rupture. Of course, in the general election, where exactly do these Mike Huckabee evangelicals have to go?

As for the rest of the party of Lincoln, where are we now?

For the moment, the race remains a fairly static contest. The following is a review of some of my earlier thoughts from the middle of last month, which seem more true today than three weeks ago.

» Read More

Huckabee: smooth. He is clearly the most articulate, clear-headed public speaker of this crew. No one in public life explains the interconnectedness between faith, politics, and culture better than Huck.

Romney: slippery. His refusal to answer the planted "gays in the military" question was tortuous. He has a tough time explaining his Massachusetts past. Anderson Cooper's pointed follow-up was as devastatingly illustrative as Hillary's notorious stumble in Philadelphia.

Rudy: straightforward. The guy has no capacity to tell anything but the truth. He has no filter. He will answer as honestly as possible any question you ask of him. I love Rudy--but can a man with this fatal political flaw ever win the presidency?

Ron Paul:
haunting. In your heart you know he is right. If it wasn't for Iraq, we would love him. If it wasn't for Iraq, the media would hammer him, and we would have never heard of him.

Fred: halting. He is a rough speaker. Good on the issues (and tall)--but still not ready for prime time. Is he getting better? Maybe a little? Or do I just want him to be getting better?

McCain: tragic. He is a great American--but if "he keeps on talking to the people who don't listen, who does he think is going to hear?" I like McCain. The great mass of Republicans disagree with me. Next.

Duncan Hunter:
unfortunate. He deserves better than this. Too bad.
Category: Campaign 2008.7
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
In my last post forecasting how the Republican nomination race might unfold, I once again articulated my expectation that Fred might break out in time to win the upcoming Southern primaries in South Carolina and Florida. But I also admitted my worry that I might be waiting for a broken-down bus.

The irony has not escaped me that I am predicting Hillary in the Democratic canvass, on the strength of her superior organization, while I look for Fred Thompson to somehow prevail in the GOP race completely lacking that same attribute.

Why? Too long an answer for this brief post, but in a nutshell: the GOP is a heart and soul party (more so than the Dems). And the GOP field in this particular cycle is so flawed (politically) that almost anything is possible.

But tonight is an important night. As we saw in the Democratic debate in Philadelphia almost a month ago, we are definitely at the stage of the campaign in which these events matter--just ask Hillary. Tonight's CNN-YouTube debate may very well set the tone for news coverage during the next month--depending on what transpires.

All that to say, if Fred is for real, he probably needs to show us something on TV this evening. Either he needs to break through a bit, or, barring that, he needs to stand visibly rock steady while one of his important rivals stumbles.
Category: Campaign 2008.7
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I'm not saying I invented Mike Huckabee--or even that you heard it here first--but I was impressed with the smooth-talking former Arkansas governor before many in the MSM gave him much of a chance. I like him. I think he is interesting. I don't believe all the ugly things his fellow evangelicals or conservative gatekeepers keep saying about him.

However, we ought to be realistic about what Huckabee is likely to accomplish. Can he win Iowa? Maybe. Although I think he is more likely to score a respectable Pat Robertson-like second place finish. And that would be a major accomplishment for the little campaign that could.

But where does he go from there? He is likely to come in second in Iowa because Romney is going to buy first place. Rudy and McCain just don't play there, and Fred is just too disorganized to make a move for that fairly complicated Midwestern prize. With all the GOP confusion swirling around this contest, Huckabee is a good vehicle for Iowans to register their dissatisfaction and frustration.

However, New Hampshire is something completely different. Huckabee is unlikely to run in the money in NH, which means Florida and South Carolina become all important. Without a win in FL or SC, Huckabee gets swamped on Super Tuesday.

Could Huckabee do well in Florida and/or South Carolina? It is possible--but that depends on Fred. At some point--and I am starting to wonder if I am waiting on a broken-down bus--I expect the Thompson campaign to put things together enough to win the two Southern primaries. In fact, Huckabee taking the bloom off the Romney rose in Iowa helps Fred a lot. If Rudy can mount an effective challenge against Romney in New Hampshire, the Massachusetts governor will not head South with enough momentum to roll through Dixie. However, if Fred is completely dead in the water in FL and SC, and Romney does not have things wrapped up, and Rudy fails to win the hearts of the Palmetto and Sunshine States, and Huckabee is the remaining viable red-state candidate, then Pastor Mike has a shot at making a real run for the nomination.

But that is a lot of ifs.

Nobody Knows Anything--but my guess is that the Huckabee candidacy is nearing its peak. I would be very surprised if Huckabee won more than 25 percent of the vote in Iowa, and I would be even more surprised if any subsequent state total exceeds his tally in the Hawkeye State.