Obama Better Known Than McCain?
An Andrew Sullivan reader takes issue with my contention that Barack Obama is “less of a known commodity” than John McCain.
Barack Obama has become an absolute pop culture and media sensation. America is literally obsessed with him. He’s a celebrity candidate who became a celebrity by running for president; he’s been discussed, debated, and argued over on television, in newspapers, in political magazines, in gossip magazines, on the internet, among every age group, every demographic, every race, and in every subset of American life.
No doubt. But there’s a decided difference in being vetted as a pop culture icon and as a potential president of the United States. We “know” more about Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan than we do about most of our politicians but we’re rather in the dark about their positions on nuclear proliferation and tax policy.
McCain has been on the national radar much longer and is making his second run at the presidency. Obama, despite the hoopla surrounding him since his speech at the 2004 convention, is still a fuzzy figure for most Americans. They know he’s all the things Joe Biden said about him and that he’s got a lot of hope and promises change. Beyond that, though, I’m not sure that the average American knows much about the direction in which he’d lead the country.
Despite having gone through a bruising and extended primary fight — which I believe ultimately helped more than hurt — he’s still hardly been introduced to the country. Given how long he’s been in national politics, it’s almost unfathomable that there’s anything like a Jeremiah Wright controversy waiting to be unleashed; someone would have found it by now. While I was instantly dismissive of the “Whiteygate” rumors, the fact remains that we’re likely to see more of that sort of thing, some of which will have legs.
Nor do I disagree with Andrew’s correspondent here:
On top of all this, Obama has the lopsided money advantage, the lopsided enthusiasm advantage, the lopsided technology advantage, the lopsided earned media advantage, the lopsided paid media advantage, the lopsided volunteer and voter registration advantage, the lopsided issue advantage, the lopsided party advantage, and the lopsided ground army advantage.
Obama’s the heavy favorite right now. Both parties picked, I believe, the best general election candidate available to them and this looks to be a Democratic year. Further, Obama is a special candidate, whose charisma (like that of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton) seems to be powerful enough to overshadow his deficiencies as a candidate. It’s his race to lose, no doubt. But he just might do it.
McCain’s chief asset is his experience and the fact that most people simply take it as a given that he’s got what it takes to serve as commander-in-chief. To be sure, Hillary Clinton tried to beat Obama on that count and (narrowly) lost. But McCain’s advantage on military affairs trumps Clinton’s far more than Clinton’s outpaced Obama’s. And the general election swing voter and the Democratic primary voter are different animals.
If November comes down to who can make the gals on “The View” squeal and get teenage girls to throw their panties, it’s not going to be much of a contest. If it’s about being the leader of a country at war, though, McCain’s got a puncher’s chance.