Reprinted with the express permission of Gene Lyons | A syndicated columnist, Gene Lyons is also co-author (with Joe Conason) of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton and author of Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.
If Hillary Clinton had no other reason to keep running for the Democratic presidential nomination, it would be to demonstrate that Tim Russert, Keith Olbermann, Maureen Dowd, David Broder and the Beltway media gasbags don’t decide American elections.
Last week, Sen. Barack Obama, the supposedly inevitable Democratic nominee, lost the West Virginia primary by 41 points. Democrats haven’t taken the presidency without winning the Mountain State since 1916. To use a geographically appropriate metaphor, if there has ever been a canary in coal mine primary, that was it. Naturally, the media consensus saw a meaningless result in a race they’d already called for Obama. Evidently, bitter West Virginia rednecks don’t watch cable-TV.
In 2000, the same pundit chorus urged Al Gore to quit in Florida for the sake of the country (and the Republican party). Everybody knows how that worked out. Today, Gore’s a Nobel laureate. George W. Bush, like Obama a uniter, not a divider, became the most unpopular, ineffective president in U.S. history. Ever heard any media princelings explain how they went so comprehensively wrong? Me neither.
If nominated, Obama can’t possibly defeat Sen. John McCain without bringing Clinton voters to him. Recently, however, I’ve been hearing from many passionate Democrats who say they can’t and won’t vote for him in November. So I asked a few to explain why.
Mine is no scientific survey. Ranging from 26 to 86, my correspondents live in seven states, north, south and midwest. They don’t know each other personally. None participates in politics except on a local, volunteer basis. I chose them because they’re unusually articulate.
Most think Obama a sure loser in the McGovern, Dukakis tradition. They believe he’s totally unqualified. “I‘ve voted for every Democrat from President to dog-catcher since 1952. That will end with Obama,” insists H., in Maine. “He won’t get 150 electoral votes, more than he deserves. The Democratic party’s been teetering on the edge of extinction. Obama’s arrogance will kill it…
“Just four years out of the state senate. If he were white or female, his candidacy would be a joke. Imagine if he’d opted to run for vice-president with Hillary. McCain would lose, Democrats would come close to 60 Senate seats and pick up 35 in the House. The Democratic left’s need to swoon after eight years of a moron, coupled with unbridled Clinton-hatred, will produce a disaster for the party and country.”
It’s the Obama campaign’s cynical use of race beginning in South Carolina that’s the deal-breaker for others. “He is making his way to Denver by dividing our party over race, which is maybe the most idiotic campaign tactic ever,” writes C. in Kansas. “This time the witch hunt is coming from our side. It’s heartbreaking. Obama supporters want you to think Bill and Hillary Clinton are lifelong members of the KKK. The audacity of hope campaign has had to audacity to go there…This fall, they’ll try to make nice and talk unity, but the people they alienated in the most hateful way won’t be there. They deserve to lose for being so callous and childish.”
J. in Florida agrees. “Obama and his supporters’ use of the ‘race card’ against the Clintons (with the help of the in-the-tank media) is sickening. Now we have vile, racist, crazed-for-power Hillary. Obama means to avoid the ‘divisiveness’ of the Clinton years by blaming it on them. That’s a despicable lie, and he knows it. The only way of avoiding divisiveness is to cave to the Republican agenda, which I believe he’s more than eager to do.”
“He and his supporters,“ J adds, “have systematically sacrificed the central constituency of the Democratic Party–the poor and working class–on the altar of constituencies who look to politics for reaffirmation of their identity: college students and childish Sixties neolibs. (The African-American constituency makes sense, so no gripes there.)”
By abandoning the principle of universality in health insurance, most think Obama has guaranteed that meaningful reform cannot be achieved. Z in Georgia adds that Obama’s vagueness on economic issues foretells disaster. “He has no perceptible position on the economy other than: ‘We can do better. Yes we can. Say it with me.’ I foresee broken campaign promises followed by belt-tightening austerity measures in a one-term Presidency. In short, Jimmy Carter in a better-tailored sweater.”
“I view the Obama candidacy as a narcissistic endeavor by a mediocre politician dividing Democrats along social vs. economic progressive lines,” J insists. “He’s forcing a choice between winning in 2008 and possibly saving Roe vs. Wade and promoting gay marriage versus abandoning the poor and working class.”
“I’ve decided I won’t help Obama and his personality cult transform the Democratic party into an organization that represents only the interests of rich social liberals.”
What do I think? I suspect most will grudgingly return by November, but that non-African-American working class voters won’t.