Sick of Obamania yet? Get used to it, it’s only January. For now, the more realistic of those of us interested in US politics will have to endure the pretence that Barack Obama could be elected President of the United States.
That’s not to say that Obama could not win the Democratic nomination. This is the party, after all, that chose George McGovern to run against Nixon in 1972, and Michael Dukakis to bear its standard in 1988. The Democrats have a remarkable capacity to stuff up, and we could yet see Obama standing triumphant on the podium at the Democratic convention in August.
The Republicans would love nothing more. Courtesy of Dubya and his cronies, the 2008 presidential election should – especially given the United States’ expected economic performance this year – be a near-impossibility for them. But squaring off against Obama would dramatically re-weight the race in favour of most of the Republican candidates.
Why? Nothing to do with race. Or even that he called his book something as facile as The Audacity of Hope. Merely that Obama is the least experienced, most insubstantial major candidate in decades – probably since religious nutter Pat Robertson came second in Iowa in 1988. He has been a US senator for three years, and before that was a member of the Illinois state upper house. And that’s it. Even Mike Huckabee – who also wrote a book about hope – has at least governed Arkansas.
The Obama campaign likes to portray him as a sort of latter-day JFK. But in 1960, Kennedy had already served in Congress and the Senate for 14 years and had been involved in or written on US foreign policy since before WW2. Obama, in the famous words of Lloyd Bentsen, is no Jack Kennedy.
In the place of experience, Obama talks a lot about “hope” and “change” and “fixing Washington”, as if every non-incumbent in American politics since John Adams hasn’t run as an outsider. You can see the likes of Hu Jintao and Kim Jong-il delighting in the prospect of dealing with a President Obama. Vladimir Putin, you get the impression, would eat him alive. The likes of John McCain – who has made an entire political career out of playing the outsider – will mercilessly hammer this in the campaign.
The only strength Obama has – and the key reason he has received a sleigh ride from the mainstream US media so far – is racial reconciliation, or as he carefully phrases it, “unity”. This is not to be underrated in the US, although arguably the Bush Administration has, via Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, done as much for African-American status as any previous administration. Nevertheless, it doesn’t look especially promising when a candidate’s strong suit is white guilt. [AdAge has an interesting argument that another one of Barack’s marketable qualities is his appeal as an “acceptable black” to hardened racists.]
We’ve endured eight years of a Republican president who was manifestly ill-suited to the position. Hopefully Democrats will be wary of trying to inflict the same fate on the world in 2008. We’ll have a better idea of whether they are after tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary.