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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Joseph C. Phillips: Why Obama Can't Win

Joseph C. Phillips: Why Obama Can't Win...

In spite of fawning media coverage, an unpopular Republican president and economic challenges, Democrat Barack Obama has not managed to build a very substantive lead over his Republican rival John McCain. Recent polls show McCain closing the distance in key states and one national poll even had the Republican candidate with a slight lead. There are those that have of late attributed Obama's lackluster polling to race. It happens that they are correct.

But then Barack Obama's presidential run has always been about race. It has not, however, been about race as we most often envision it, as part and parcel of race-"ism". Most Americans are tired of race and are looking to move beyond it in a concrete way. Obama's polling numbers have not stalled because he has hit the glass ceiling of white supremacy. Barack has struggled because Americans no longer view him as a candidate that can transcend race. Many have, in fact, come to see him as ardently willing to manipulate race in order to gain a political advantage. Rather than representing a different kind of politician, he then appears to be not so different from any number of liberal Black politicians that have graced the political stage.

The polls have not moved because he is off message.

The Democratic senator's enormous celebrity was not achieved through any perceived brilliance in the areas of economics or foreign policy. The excitement of Obama was the potential to realize a vision of an America that finally lives up to her promise. A promise that is impossible so long as we are stratified by color and class consciousness. What Americans believed in was his ability to bring us one step closer to the embodiment of our national motto "E Pluribus Unum" - out of many one.

The irony is that Obama needs race; without it, the emperor has few clothes. For 40% of voters, his decidedly thin resume and new liberal policies are of little consequence. The trick is in convincing 11% of voters in the middle that he can indeed provide change they can believe in.
Happily for Obama, civil rights initiatives in Colorado, Nebraska and Arizona represent an opportunity for the Illinois senator to get both back on message and on the road to victory.
These ballot initiatives would ban preferences based on race, ethnicity, and sex in the state's public contracting, education (including university admissions), and employment programs. Obama's support of these initiatives would be a positive signal to those voters in the middle that the vision that launched him into national prominence is in fact a deeply held conviction; that he is committed to the idea of racial non-discrimination and that his vision of an America moving beyond the old conversations about race.

Recent polling by Peter Brown, the assistant director of the respected Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, suggests that Obama's continued support for racial preferences will hurt him in these states as well as the battleground states of Virginia and Michigan, which passed a similar measure two years ago.

So finally it must come down to race - not the ethnicity of either candidate, but their willingness to transcend old conversations of race in this country. McCain has not only avoided the use of race, but endorsed the initiatives signaling his vision of one America indivisible by race. Conversely, Obama has used the race card - tired and dog eared as it is - with abandon. At the same time, his support of preferences based on race belies the nobility of his speech and the vision that made him a star.

If he is, in fact, not going to move the nation beyond race, well, a majority of Americans are going to pull the lever for someone that has served honorably and that promises not to try and shake things up too much. There are simply not enough new liberals to push Obama over the top. The further from his vision of one America he drifts, the more difficult it will be for him to win.
The election then is John McCain's to lose. Time will tell if the old man realizes it before November.

Joseph C. Phillips is the author of “He Talk Like a White Boy” available wherever books are sold.

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