Presidential primaries are notoriously difficult things to predict; the things start earlier than preteens girls drinking tap water. It’s easier to forecast, say, the standard deviation of my golf score in May (hint: look up to see if there’s anything higher than “triple bogey.”) The campaign for the 2008 presidential election, for instance, started in the spring of 1984. Thankfully, the media does a fairly good job of choosing the candidates for us without such inconvenient necessities as voting, and they’ve already picked a front-runner, Barack Obama. Obama is a senator and, not inconsequently, an African-American. And that’s the true question that needs to be answered up front. Are Americans truly, finally open-minded and progressive enough to elect an Illinois lawyer to the Presidency?
Right now, Obama is riding high on a wave of positive publicity. He’s appeared on the cover of Newsweek, a grand accomplishment in and of itself had it not been for the fact that last week’s cover story was how the computer was going to change the workplace for the better. (With Newsweek’s penchant for prescience, Obama will be elected president in 1952.) He’s written a best selling book, The Audacity of Hope, an uplifting tale of how a gawky kid with a funny name can rise to be a U.S. senator with only a few dashes of hope, optimism, pride in oneself, and having your opponent resign after a newspaper shamelessly crowbarred a court order to release the details of a divorce agreement that both husband and wife wanted kept sealed and is replaced by a candidate who didn’t live in your state prior to his announcement of running against you and has gone on record in stating that the U.N. is putting saltpeter in the water towers of most red states to eventually reduce the population where the black helicopters and blue helmets can take over the White House, MoMA, and the editorial desk of the New York Times, two of the three which have, notably, already been accomplished..
Obama’s upbringing seems tailor-made for a seven-minute soft-lens biography to be played at, oh, I don’t know, perhaps the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. Born in Hawaii, his parents (his mother was white, his father, from Kenya) divorced when he was at the laughably inexperienced age of two and whose only claim to fame up to that point was only being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize six times. His childhood, of course, was not without the normal pressures of teenagers everywhere; drug use and violence occasionally peppers his otherwise white, middle class environment. (Midnight trips to Taco Bell and buying Foreigner CDs aren’t mentioned in his memoirs, but can be safely assumed.) His father moved back to Africa and was killed in a tragic accident when Obama was 21. He eventually ended up at Harvard, becoming a lawyer and a professor before being elected to the state senate.
His big-S Senate race in 2004 was largely a blowout. Obama won this race with 70% of the vote, an astounding number even if one removes all of the Chicagoans who voted five or more times. While Obama was a skilled campaigner, most will credit a good dose of luck; his first opponent resigned, and the second one came in late from Maryland, a state not heretofore known as being part of Illinois. Illinois also has a slight tradition of electing African Americans to the Senate; of the grand total of five African Americans who have been elected to the Senate, two come from Illinois. Though it should be also pointed out that two of them were elected in that glowing twilight of our history known as Reconstruction, when senators were elected by Thomas Nast caricatures representing the Sugar Trust.
The Democrats weren’t going to let a charismatic, minority candidate flounder in the obscures of an ornery Midwestern state. They chose him as the keynote speaker for their 2004 convention as the hoped-for future of the Democratic party—a magnetic, reasoned voice who seemed casually nonplussed about his ethnicity. The Republicans, for their part, chose as his counterpart the indefatigable Zell Miller, who delivered a speech calling for the beheading of several federal judges and a constitutional amendment requiring the destruction by arson of most of the eastern seaboard plus San Francisco.
How Obama handles his infant candidacy remains, of course, to be seen. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the fact that he’s only been a Senator for two years, and will not have completed a full term by 2008. Even Jack Kennedy, the low-water mark for inexperienced Senators running for President, was re-elected at least once. He also needs to fight his way through a crowded field of candidates, last counted to be approximately 18,000 former Representatives. He has yet to propose or publicize any large issues that would placate the liberal wing of the party (such as giving all illegal immigrants perpetual tax-free status upon arrival to the nation in exchange for fealty to the Democratic Party or union membership or, most certainly, both) while simultaneously endorsing those things to appease the population at large (such as shooting illegal immigrants on sight). Plus his middle name is Hussein, something I’m sure will make the required campaign visit to Dearborn, Michigan all the less awkward.
Still, there is great hope in many circles that Barack Obama’s incredible combination of charisma, accomplishment, biography, and checked boxes in the Democratic Historical Guilt Equivalency Survey will make him an incredibly attractive candidate. And yet there’s still much work to be done. In a nation still divided by region, values, history, and the degree of devotion to specific flags of dubious historical importance, there is one obstacle Obama has yet to overcome. She’s from New York.