Hillary Clinton’s remarks suggesting that Barack Obama has a white voter problem brought howls of protest from Democrats and pundits. What she didn’t say, probably because she is still nominally running for the Democratic nomination in a primary dominated by liberals, is that his race may not be as big a problem as his views. That’s the premise of this Los Angeles Times column, which makes a persuasive case that Obama’s appealing demeanor and the issue of his race have masked a larger, ideological problem.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a prominent Obama supporter, admits: “The key is going to be whether Barack can avoid getting on defense on social ‘wedge’ issues and can stay on the offense on economic issues.” She’s not the only one who thinks Obama may be caught on the wrong side of the ideological divide. The LA Times piece explains:
Obama has “handicaps and potential problems, race being one of them, [but] it’s not the only one,” Pew Center President Andrew Kohut said. “He is perceived as a liberal. He is perceived by many voters as not well grounded on foreign policy and not tough enough . . . and he has a potential problem, distinct from race, of being seen as an elitist, an intellectual.”
Well, that sounds quite a bit like the McCain game plan. Jill Zuckerman reports:
“We’ll make the case that Barack Obama is a wonderful new voice selling old, discredited ideas, including the most massive tax increase since Walter Mondale ran for president,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser. “It’s a combination of weakness, not being ready to be president and not being able to deliver on the things he says he will deliver on.”
So it might have been more accurate for Clinton to have said that Democrats who nominate a left-liberal without foreign policy experience do so at their own peril, though she did try a bit of that with her “3 a.m.” ad. Obama has yet to confront an all-out ideological attack. Such criticism may sound like “old” politics. But all politics, in the end, is about making distinctions and getting voters to choose between candidates’ competing visions.
McCain’s camp appears eager to do just that, perhaps in the town hall formats where they believe their candidate thrives. (Has Obama ever faced questions from a crowd that doesn’t agree with his ideological premises?) How Obama stands up to that line of inquiry will in large part determine, just as much as the unavoidable politics of race, who wins in November.