Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Surge

Journalists bored with Hillary Clinton’s seemingly certain anointment as the Democratic nominee finally have what they’ve been anticipating. After two terrible weeks for Hillary Clinton, commencing on October 30 during a Democratic candidates debate with her weaselly answer to the question of whether she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens, a national poll from USAToday/Gallup that had Barack Obama down 30 points just nine days ago now shows them virtually even. (The Rasmussen daily tracking polls, which have generally been more accurate than Gallup, have Hillary losing some ground but still leading by 21 points.)

Still, even if the USAToday poll was skewed, this has to be a considerable boost for Obama. It comes, I’d say, from two sources. The first is that the Clinton campaign has made, recently, one gaffe after another. The debate on October 30 was followed by Hillary’s complaints about the men ganging up on her and by Bill accusing them of attempting to swiftboat her—neither of which played well. And this week she’s had to admit that her campaign planted questions in an Iowa audience. It’s been as if her once flawless campaign was doing its best to confirm her critics’ complaints about her.

The other is precisely those men about whom Hillary was complaining. Obama and Edwards, notes Ben Smith in an astute column for the Politico, have become, in effect, “arms-length allies in their attempt to take her down.” (“The differences between Sen. Clinton and myself are much more dramatic,” said Edwards, “than the differences between Sen. Obama and myself.”) But an Obama surge comes at a considerable cost to the Democrats as a party. It cuts them off from the legacy of Bill Clinton—the only example of an effective Democratic President in recent memory. And it brings a contentious issue—driver’s licenses for illegals—back into focus. Hillary muffed her answer on this during the debate, but she was right to see the tensions in trying to both uphold our immigration law and manage a large population of people who can commit crimes or spread disease but who are unknown to authorities. Obama sees no such tensions; he’s unambiguously in support of driver’s licenses for undocumented workers—a policy opposed by nearly 80 percent of all Americans. Licenses for illegals would make for a fat political target come the November elections. Obama’s rise may end up hurting the Democrats big time.