Friday, February 29, 2008

A Full-Immunity President?

Be very careful what you wish for.

A WEEKEND'S WORTH OF SERIOUS READING. Somebody has to talk about what's happening here and what it means. We're in the process of seeing the canniest pair of politicians in American history reduced to humiliated ruin at their own game, by a rank newcomer, after starting their campaign with a gigantic lead. So far, all the leading lights are still discussing this startling outcome in terms of the campaign only. For example, WAPO media critic Howard Kurtz is groping his way through the subject, thus:

Is Barack Obama protected by a special suit of armor--one that fits only African Americans?

Obviously, anyone running against the first black candidate with a serious shot at the presidency has to be sensitive about racial slights, real or perceived. Remember when Joe Biden got into trouble for calling Obama "clean" and "articulate"? And the backlash against Bill Clinton's comments, especially when he dismissively compared Obama's South Carolina win to Jesse Jackson's earlier victory there, underscored the tricky terrain...

[I]s this a big enough factor, in Obama's case, to change the nature of the campaign? Are opponents forced to pull their punches? Would it be deemed more acceptable for rivals to criticize a white candidate's admission of past marijuana and cocaine use?

After all, Obama's two main rivals, Hillary and John McCain, have already had to apologize to him for things said by supporters....

Politico's Ben Smith says Obama may be milking the contrition of his rivals:

"Most of them have apologized for saying something insensitive about Obama's race, his name, or his heritage. And the dynamic of outrage and offense this campaign has proved race to be a much touchier subject than gender. At times, Obama's campaign has sought to downplay burgeoning outrage. At others, he's stoked it for political advantage..."

I've previously stated my own belief that America is ready for a black president. I've also said that race is a three-edged sword, which I explained, like the rest of the herd, in campaign terms:

The first two edges have been abundantly noted and commented on. Yes, there are Americans who still aren't ready for a black president, though not nearly as many as the paranoids in the liberal media feared. There is also a deadly danger to anyone who makes a charge or even an observation about Obama that might conceivably be interpreted as suggestiive of racial prejudice. The third edge is concealed between the bright lines of the first two....If every gaffe or unpleasantness committed by the Obamas on the campaign trail is going to be shushed up or suppressed to spare their racial sensitivities, resentment is bound to grow like mushrooms in the dark. If that's the strategy, the third edge will cost Obama the election.

But those who have been observing a related phenomenon called the Bradley Effect are concluding that so far at least, it's not nearly the hindrance we might have imagined:

This seems like a good time to revisit the "Bradley effect," the theory that Obama was losing votes on election day from scared whites who told pollsters, uh, sure, they'd vote for the black guy... and then voted for Clinton or Edwards. While there have definitely been odd pockets precincts and counties where Obama bottomed out... we have not seen another situation like New Hampshire, where Obama underperformed his polls. Check out Virginia, where the final SurveyUSA poll showed Obama beating Clinton 60-38 and getting 47 percent of the white vote to her 49 percent. On election day Obama won by 28 points and won the white vote 52-47. He won the white vote again in Wisconsin, winning by 17 points a state where polls had him up by 5 or 6.

The Pew Research center has been testing this out with every primary and come to different conclusions, and I haven't done as much research as them, but outside of the deep South there doesn't seem to be the lying and polarization among scaredy-cat whites that we were told existed after New Hampshire.

Yes, what happens in the campaign, and why, is interesting and important, but what nobody is yet contemplating is the effect such matters might have on a presidency -- you know, the thing that comes after a presidential campaign. I guess I'm elected.

I'll start by returning to the subject of the Clintons. I know I had Clinton fatigue long before the Democrats did. When Hillary was still riding high in the polls, I asked:

I mean, do Americans really want to go back to sex scandals (Lewinsky, Willey, Jones, Huma...) and campaign finance scandals (Charlie Trie, Norman Hsu...) and personal corruption scandals (Whitewater, Marc Rich, Hillary's private jets...) in an age when lowly U.S. Senators are coming across with bathroom stall scandals and the young lions of the Democrat Party believe they can prove the President and his VP not only stole two elections in a row but also planned the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history? In this context, the standard Clinton fireworks are pretty small potatoes if you ask me. [YAWN]. Excuse me. Didn't mean to be disrespectful there, but facts are facts.

Hillary's stock has plunged like Victoria Falls since then, but note that nothing I cited ever became an issue in the campaign. There were plenty of murmurs, of course, but only in the righty blogs, who have always been part of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" the Clintons succeeded in pinning Bill's, uh, troubles on in the past. None of it stopped the party establishment from regarding the controversial, carpetbagger wife of an impeached ex-president as the "inevitable" heir to the Democrat nomination for the presidency of the United States. Despite the continuous, unending reams of scandals, large and small, the political pundits saw Hillary as formidable and probably unstoppable. Certainly, they expressed no early interest in stopping her themselves.

Now, though, the Conventional Wisdom is that Hillary ran a bad campaign, that she was a bad candidate, that the fabled Clinton magic had, like the Fonz of Happy Days, somehow "jumped the shark" and lost its mystical feel for the heart of the American electorate. Poor Hillary is suddenly a sad female hammerhead whose latest jump was a bridge too far. Isn't that the new narrative?

It's bunk. All of it. Make no mistake. The Clintons, both of them, are master politicians, whatever the weaknesses of their ethics, ambitions, and policies. In a curiously American way, the nakedness of their Machiavellian maneuverings was always part of their allure. That's why Bill was deemed the first black president. You could see the game he was playing every step of the way, but he was so damned good at it, and charming to boot, that you let him take you in. Because he also knew that you knew, and he counted on you understanding that he was half sincere and half self-serving rogue.Which is to say that he was a pure politician and purely American -- in that he was never claiming to be better than you in absolute terms, but only at working the system on his AND your behalf. That's how he skated through the Lewinsky scandal and kept his approval ratings higher than all those dully virtuous presidents who didn't enter the Oval Office and see it as a stationary exoticar pussy-magnet.

The blanket, knowing forgiveness that gave Bill his two terms was also extended to his wife -- whose personal travails we all understood without her ever coming clean about them. As a people, we accepted her marriage of convenience and saw it as the dues she had paid to become just as pure a politician as her rapscallion husband. Despite her seeming lack of humor, that was the joke the members of her party were willing to share with her without forcing the punchline to be uttered out loud.

So now it's all over. A long, deeply committed relationship axed via text message, What can do that? Only an infatuation. All the durable lovers have deserted them -- blacks, feminists, poor single mothers dying for another chance to be betrayed by yet another sweet-talking user, and even the unionists who have always known their cause depended absolutely on smiling corruption. Momentarily at least, they have all forgotten that American politics is about finding the best politicians who are willing to be on your side for a price you can both agree on without spoiling the pleasure between the sheets at least one of you is counting on. They've forgotten everything, including the basic nature of the transaction.

You see, Hillary was never a femme fatale. That's the role Obama has stolen. He's the mysterious, alluring, elusive siren, arousing, intoxicatingly seductive, remote but poetic, blade strong yet easily wounded and possessed of myriad vulnerablilities, all of which must be observed, placated, avoided, kow-towed to, and appeased. He is running for the position of national Greta Garbo.

A romance made in heaven, to be sure, the stuff of dreams. But what if, underneath it all, he too is a politician. What if he should turn out to be simply a different kind of manipulator than the Clintons -- not the jolly whore of our egalitarian tradition but a greedy mistress with a grievance and a murderous grudge?

Down to earth. If the Clintons can't make a dent in the campaign of a coolly ambitious, non-African-American, Ivy League Chicago machine politician, what will any of of us be able to do if he turns out to be inept, short-sighted, vengeful, corrupt, or actively seditious? If some clumsy American politician accidentally says something to offend his 300K-a-year Princetonian executive wife, for example, will we all have to apologize -- or pay in some other coin? If he violates his vow to uphold the Constitution, will we have the recourse we would have with mere politicians? Or will every voice -- in politics and the press -- fall silent, because raising an objection of any kind is tantamount to a hate crime?

What stories will not be pursued by the already horrifyingly cowardly PC media? What legitimate policy objections will not be posed by senators and congressmen who are already living in daily fear that their most inadvertent verbal slip will bring down 400 years worth of resentment on their heads?

Think about it. If the "First Black President" has already been made to look a bigot for daring to promote his wife's candidacy over Obama's, what chance do the rest of us have in the next four or eight years if we start to see in Obama a Carter, a Ferrakhan, or Quisling? No matter what he does, he could never be impeached. It's debatable whether he could ever be criticized. Let alone mauled and mocked and belittled day after day like a Bush or a, uh, Bush.

The first black President must be a politican, not a messiah. We've already seen what happens when teflon meets a halo. The halo wins. Without even being responsive. The truth is -- and this is not racist, but statistically valid -- that the first black president really can't coast unexamined into office; he has an absolute moral obligation to demonstrate with full candor and understanding that he isn't Marion Barry, Alcee Hastings, William Jefferson, Ray Nagin, or all the mayors of Newark, Detroit, and Philadelphia who have ridden the horse of jury nullification into sinecures of power only to abuse that power in systematic ways while branding all who objected to their corruption as bigots.

What we cannot afford at this time in our history is a sainted Jimmy Carter, a well educated Huey Long, or a closet Castro..

Inquire of yourselves -- again and again -- how did a neophyte take down the Clintons?

This weekend, read ALL of the following pieces and then ask, how well do you really know this obviously clever and oh-so-ambitious man?

Obama's Women Reveal His Secret.

What You Didn't Know About Obama and Rezko.

More on That Canadian Television Story about Obama and NAFTA.

Walking on Eggshells.

Granted, it's a lot of reading. But you've got all weekend. Unless Brizoni gets off his ass and contributes something more amusing.

A final thought. If you forgave the Clintons because at least we always knew the game they were playing, how sure ARE you you know the game the Obamas are playing. Me, I don't have a clue.

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