Only Racism Can Stop Obama Now?

Pat Lang has a long essay on why Barack Obama will “probably” be elected the 44th president but veers into an uncomfortable conclusion.

It seems to me that all of this has inflicted what should be fatal wounds on McCain’s chance of becoming president.  Am I sure that he will not be elected?  No.  Why?  Look at the polls.  Given the disastrous situation of the Republican Party, Obama should be polling ahead of McCain everywhere.  He is not.  Why is that?

Frankly, there are still a lot of people in the US who are very leery of voting for a Black man whom they do not know.  That is a sad thing, but true.  Blacks know that it is true.  Some readers will assume that I write of the South.  No.  I think Obama will do a lot better here than the pundits believe.

I’ve written several times now that I’m surprised Obama isn’t further ahead in the polls (he’s currently at 4.6 percent) given the circumstances.  Not only, as Lang notes, is the Republican Party in very sad shape but Obama’s charismatic, smart, and running as good a national campaign as I can recall seeing.

Is race part of the explanation?  Probably.   There are almost certainly many people, including some consistent Democratic voters, who don’t want to see a black man win.  The degree to which that will be offset by increased enthusiasm and turnout among voters who very much would like to see a black man win is unclear.

Recall that Obama was doing better than Hillary Clinton in most of the head-to-head polls against McCain.  Except for a brief period during the height of the Jeremiah Wright scandal, Republican operatives universally preferred the idea of running against Clinton vice Obama.   He was always the most feared candidate.

Why, then, hasn’t he run away with it?

First, while John McCain isn’t exactly the most beloved Republican among Republicans, he’s almost certainly the best general election candidate the party could have chosen from the available field.  While I’m tired of hearing it, his personal story is quite compelling.  He’s likable, in a curmudgeonly sort of way, and strikes people as trustworthy and reliable.

Second, while people seem to genuinely want to like and believe in Obama, he’s relatively new to the scene and people have some doubts about him.

Let’s look at some numbers from the latest Rasmussen poll, released yesterday on Perceptions of the Candidates and Trust:

Obama and McCain Polls 21 July 2008

A plurality of people think McCain is a better leader, shares their values, will keep spending from going up, and keep taxes down.  Meanwhile, a whopping 41 percent think Obama’s too inexperienced.

Indeed, the only “good” thing he has going for him in the perceptions list is that he’s on the popular side of the bring troops home/finish the job debate. That’s offset, though, by the fact that a plurality — indeed, a virtual majority — trust McCain more on Iraq.  And McCain has a solid lead on the broader “National Security” issue.  So, score the Daddy Issues for McCain.  (Who, incidentally, has a seven point lead among men.)

Obama’s edge, as one might expect of a Democrat, are on the Mommy Issues (along with a six point lead among women to go along with it):  Heath care, education, the environment, and ethics.  Realistically, the health is the only one of those issues that will get much traction.

Obama and McCain are essentially tied on the economy, energy, immigration, balancing the budget, negotiating trade agreements, taxes, Social Security, and abortion.

So, the bottom line remains what it has for months:  Obama’s the heavy favorite to win.  McCain’s only chance, barring dramatic intervening events (wars, terrorist attacks, scandals) to overtake him is by persuading people that national security policy is the key factor and maintaining his lead in that area.  My guess is that the war in Iraq will remain so unpopular that he won’t be able to get it done. But I wouldn’t count him out, either.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Gender Issues, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    Mommy Issues (along with a six point lead among women to go along with it): Heath care, education, the environment,

    Make that “Baby Mama” issues.

  2. Michael says:

    With the exception of the age/experience question, you would probably get almost the same result with any Republican and Democratic candidate combination, even a generic Republican and Democrat. People associate most of those issues with a party, not a person.

  3. Jaycee says:

    My opinion is that IF Obama wins, it will be BECAUSE of racism.
    Clearly, then, the most experienced candidate with the better credentials will have lost.

  4. Brittanicus says:

    Like it or not both Obama and McCain are going to be confronted with the omnipotent illegal immigration invasion. The simmering addition to all issues, because it has continuous gloomy implications on our economy. Either politician cannot hide it as a secondary problem, because it is equal to the war in Iraq. Even as ICE starts to materialize in raids on pariah businesses. This just nips at the spreading pestilence,that has worried its way into every fiber of American society. Both Presidential nominees have courted the special interest caucuses, but as much as they contend to push Americans into another AMNESTY. They will have to bypass the larger portion of the voting public, who see comprehensive immigration reform as a monumental disaster on all taxpayers. They might want to push for a path to citizenship, for illegal immigrants,but it still must be voted upon by the Congress. Washington will have to listen to the people, or hide behind close doors to undermined 80 percent of Americans who give this issue a resounding NO! Answers at NUMBERSUSA

  5. anjin-san says:

    Clearly, then, the most experienced candidate with the better credentials will have lost.

    You mean like when Bill Clinton defeated GHW Bush?
    Can you tell us how racism played into that?

    Well we got 8 years of pretty good government out of that deal…

    (some credit going to the reformist GOP congress that came in 2 years later)

  6. Moonage says:

    I don’t think the situation’s as black and white ( no real pun intended ) as the polls allow. Although the Dems took over Congress a couple of years ago, their popularity has sunk to all time lows. Some races that were guaranteed Democrat pick-ups have suddenly become contested, and some are now in the leaning-Republican side. So, this ground-swell of anti-Republican sentiment that is supposed to be making it easy for Obama might not actually be there. A lot of average white people I think WANT to vote for a black man, but are fearful of a complete Democrat take-over in DC that has to date been a total failure. Toss in Obama sticking it to his core group with the FISA vote and endorsing Bush’s Faith Based Initiative and suddenly he’s not what he was sold to be six months ago. So, I don’t think he’s even running a particularly good campaign to date. He’s easy to look at, he has a sharp wit, and he has a fantastic speaking talent. He should be blowing away the Republican candidate most Republicans don’t even like a whole lot. I don’t think racism has anything to do with the numbers we’re seeing right now. Sure, some peope won’t vote for a black guy, but a whole lot of black people will vote for the black guy just because he’s black. So, in my opinion, it’s a wash. The only thing slowing down Obama right now in my opinion is Obama with an assist from Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    You can equate it to race, but most people I know simply do not think Obama has the experience necessary to lead this nation. If one examines what he has accomplished in the past it looks pretty slim. When he was a community organizer, he was to help a depressed area. He helped get the money to fix the problem. Problem is, the money went to Tony Rezko and the situation worstened. Obama is afraid to debate McCain face to face. He is clumsy without a teleprompter and has held zero leadership positions. Wait, he was leader of a committee in the Senate that was concerned with Afghanistan. He never attended.
    There are black men who are qualified to be President of the United States. Collin Powell is one of them. Barrack Hussein Obama is not. Who the hell does he think he is negotiating with foreign leaders when he his on a fact finding mission? How dare he dress down the President of Afghanistan? Who is he to deal with Maliki? We have a President, and it is not B. Hussein Obama.

  8. Given the disastrous situation of the Republican Party, Obama should be polling ahead of McCain everywhere. He is not. Why is that?

    Oh, I don’t know? How about, the disastrous situation of the Democratic Party? Or maybe America isn’t ready to jump on board the Progressive Prius to the Year Zero Utopia with both feet just yet.

  9. Floyd says:

    So Pat Lang… Where were you when Alan Keyes was running??
    Who was whining racism then??
    If McCain losses will it be because 90+% of blacks will vote for Obama??[lol]
    Your article hedges it’s fallacy with obvious Racism on your part! No thanks.

  10. jrobert says:

    Look, Barack Obama is the first african-american canidate in the United States who actually has a realistic chance of winning a presidential election.(I believe Collin Powell could`ve done it if he went through with the idea to run for office and unless Newark Mayor Cory Booker decides to run in another ten or twenty years
    I don`t see any other african american politician who could do it).If Obama were to win the presidency I think that it might help to change the way so many other countries around the world view America due to this cowboy -posturing reputation that George W. Bush has cultivated over the years particularly with Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.
    At the same as seemingly intelligent adults let`s be frank here.There are people in the United States from both political parties in every state who would probably not vote for a black man to become president.African Americans make up 12% of the population in the U.S. So that means Obama could get every single black person who`s leagally able to vote and still not win the election and by the way I`m saying this as a black person myself.He has to appeal to all people-as he will be the president of all of the United States. Now is that selling out?
    No, that`s being smart and realistic about what it will take to win the presidency.Particularly if you are not a middle aged caucasian male as basically every other president has been.
    He won`t be the president of the ”red states” or the ”blue states” or the ”bible belt” or of ”black america”.There is one America and so, whoever becomes the next leader of the free world let us hope that it will based on who is best qualified to lead the country.

  11. Beldar says:

    Dr. Joyner, you wrote:

    McCain’s only chance, barring dramatic intervening events (wars, terrorist attacks, scandals) to overtake him is by persuading people that national security policy is the key factor and maintaining his lead in that area.

    I would amend that slightly. Potentially the best thing McCain has going for him right now is the price of gasoline at the pump, if he can persuade the public that he and the GOP are more likely than Obama and the Dems to do something constructive about that. It’s the domestic issue on which the Dems are most vulnerable because they’re so obviously blocking normal market forces through big government regulation; it’s the domestic issue that is higher right now on the “top concerns” list of a broader spectrum of voters; and it’s the domestic issue that most directly links to the national security issues on which McCain is naturally on strong ground.

    The importance of energy policy in this election is why I think McCain’s best chance is to swing for the fences and pick Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his Veep nominee.

  12. James Joyner says:

    if he can persuade the public that he and the GOP are more likely than Obama and the Dems to do something constructive about that

    A pretty big if, I think. Not that the Dems have any great ideas, either, but tax holidays and the like aren’t getting it done.

    What does Palin bring to the table on energy? Palin lives in an oil state but, then again, so did President Bush. And he was even in the oil business.

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    It’s not surprising the most liberal of all US senators is not finding traction with the general voting population. The empty rhetoric is not winning over anyone undecided and those who are just voting antiwar have obviously chosen sides already.

    The next couple of months, starting with the conventions and continuing through any potential debates, will decide the race as the American people become acquainted with the two candidates. I expect experience to win over enough voters to give the presidency to McCain.

    Beldar’s point about high energy costs could not only help McCain but if the Republicans get busy they could use it to regain losses in the congress. Energy is bigger than the pols realize and most people understand the fat cat Republicans want to drill while the hippie Democrats want us all to ride bikes. In a lesser of evils election guess who wins that battle?

  14. Anderson says:

    A pretty big if, I think.

    Um, yeah, considering that gas was like $1.50 a gallon when Bush became president.

    I’m not sure how much influence the President can have on gas prices either way, but I don’t see how the GOP points fingers. At least, not without some demagoguery that will make even the SCLM wrinkle its nose in distaste.

  15. Michael says:

    It’s the domestic issue on which the Dems are most vulnerable because they’re so obviously blocking normal market forces through big government regulation;

    I don’t think it’s nearly obvious enough to people who aren’t interested in politics for it to be useful to McCain.

  16. sam says:

    The empty rhetoric is not winning over anyone undecided and those who are just voting antiwar have obviously chosen sides already.

    Well, McCain ain’t doing himself any favors re his natsec cred by doing things like referring to the Iraq-Afghanistan border and claiming the surge was responsible for the Anbar Awakening when, if fact, the Awakening predated the surge by about six months.

  17. chris says:

    Obama-sseiah followers still raging against anything that doesn’t have their savior lowering the sea levels.

  18. anjin-san says:

    if he can persuade the public that he and the GOP are more likely than Obama and the Dems to do something constructive about that.

    I am waiting for him to explain why his friends the Bush family blocked drilling for almost 2 decades…

  19. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Translated into English, Beldar is saying that McCain can win by advocating Drill, Drill, Drill as the solution to our energy problems, and to hell with any environmental consquences.

    This may be correct — certainly Rasmussen’s latest polls indicate that the American people have suddenly become less concerned about any environmental consequences of drilling the moment the price of gas rose. But there’s one little catch: everybody, including the Dept. of Energy, agrees that even if we start drilling immediately and massively it will be 7 to 20 years before the price of gas drops more than a few cents per gallon as a consequence. So what will happen when McCain and the GOP, this year, advocate major drilling and it does absolutely nothing to actually lower gas prices by November? (Or, for that matter — if McCain is elected — by 2012?) Given this, why won’t Obama be able to trump him as the campaign continues by suggesting that we will be able to lower gas prices just as fast by instead developing more energy-efficient cars and means of transit — and with environmental advantages thrown in?

  20. Bruce Moomaw says:

    As for why the race remains so stubbornly close despite Obama’s supposed dazzling advantages: I don’t think there’s any mystery at all. McCain, lest we forget, was not only held as a POW but tortured for years — in this respect, at least, he’s a genuine hero. And this fact gives him a tremendous advantage that no other GOP nominee could possibly have had: it makes it almost impossible to accuse him of being opportunistically selfish or deliberately dishonest. Instead, when McCain says something dumb or flips 180 degrees (as he frequently does), Obama is forced to fall back on saying that McCain did so because he’s guilty of wishful thinking or literal forgetfulness. This unique advantage, by itself, will I think be enough to keep McCain breathing down Obama’s neck in the polls all the way to November.

  21. DL says:

    I have a difficult time referring to the Maverick, who is known and loved in liberal circles far and wide as trustworthy and reliable, and even less, likable. But, as George wallace used to say about the editor of the New York Times, I’m only one vote.

  22. Beckwolf says:

    Yeah, I’m just going to assume the writer of this article is looking for an excuse already in case Obama loses. I see rather substantial proof that race is not the factor that has driven down Obama’s numbers, facts that were completely ignored here. When Obama was fighting Hillary, his rallies created huge levels of support. No facts were needed, it wasn’t a true policy game. It all came down to emotions, and he stirred the greatest.
    After winning the Democratic nomination, he was forced to turn to facts. At this point, his policies and economic reform suggestions were consistently shot down, as they still are today. As emotion became less of an issue and facts became more important, his support immediately dropped. If this was about race, that support never would existed in the first place, proving that his policies have been his problem and not his skin color. From that fact alone, if he wins then part of the credit can possibly be given to skin color, but there is absolutely no way that it could be the other way around, simply based on the way the support has changed.
    Further lowering his numbers has been the constant array of flip-flopping. McCain is accused of flip-flopping, but even many who accuse are admitting that they are calling it flip-flopping when his stance has changed from several years ago, not merely a few days ago, whereas Obama isbeing called a constant flip-flopper because he will say one thing to a group in the morning, and then the opposite to a group the VERY NEXT DAY. The first time he was caught in such an act, his numbers dropped by practically double digits, providing yet more proof that race would not be the reason for him losing the election.
    Again, the drilling issue, for which he made an enormous blunder. He attacked the idea of drilling here at home by saying that we shouldn’t because it might be an entire five years before it brings any solutions. Boy was that the dumbest thing any politician could say. The standard response was something to the effect of…”so then why shouldn’t we do it now?” He gave the overall impression to many that if it wasn’t something that could bring immediate change, giving credit to him because he’d be in office at the time the positive results were seen, then he didn’t care about it. Never mind the fact that there are NO short term fixes, that the very thing we need are long term solutions that do take a while to show a change, but do bring that change. Again, huge drop in numbers for those ridiculous comments. It seems, overall, that as policy becomes more important than image, Obama is losing the support he enjoyed when he was playing Mr. Hollywood. Without the substance to go with the flash, despite his skin color he stands a good chance of losing this election with his numbers in such a fluctuation.

  23. anjin-san says:

    Beldar’s point about high energy costs could not only help McCain but if the Republicans get busy they could use it to regain losses in the congress.

    Good luck with that. The Bush family blocked drilling for almost 20 years while the Saudis waxed fat…

  24. anjin-san says:

    most people I know simply do not think Obama has the experience necessary to lead this nation.

    So that’s what? Three votes for McCain?

  25. Beckwolf says:

    “if he can persuade the public that he and the GOP are more likely than Obama and the Dems to do something constructive about that.”

    Shouldn’t be much of a problem for him at all. Now that Obama’s own economists have shot down his economic proposals as being entirely counterproductive, the GOP already appears more constructive. His statements about drilling offshore being worthless because it would take, gask, a few years to bring any changes really put him out of step with many, and cost him severely. It’s an obvious statement, pure common sense, but if we had started five years ago on a plan which would help within five years, that time would be now. We can either focus on long term solutions, or wait until a magic non-existant solution comes about which can be implemented in a single day and create change instantly. Five years down the road the help offered can already exist, or we can continue looking for the quick fix. Personally, I’m going to side with the long term solutions that, like any decent solution, takes a while to implement and affect us. Having the plan running five years from now is a whole lot better than still having nothing. Obama came off as only wanting a solution if it creates immediate change so that the credit would be given to him while he was still President, assuming he actually was given the job of course.

  26. Beckwolf says:

    “So that’s what? Three votes for McCain?”

    Childish and counterproductive. Considering the closeness of the latest polls, if McCain has 3 votes then that would mean Obama has a whopping 3.18 votes, not even 4 for himself. McCain has millions of votes already, as does Obama. The differences lie in the changes in the number of votes each has. McCain has been seeing a steady rise, while Obama has been putting his foot in his mounth and over the past few weeks has seen nothing but a steady drop, meaning that if the current trend were to continue at even half speed, Obama would lose in a landslide with the popular vote. Even with being ahead, the curve of votes itself shows Obama in serious trouble. Double digit leads to practically touching each other in so short a time demonstrates that Obama’s recent strategies have backfired.

  27. Michael says:

    Beckwolf, I believe the 3 people comment was specifically towards the “people I know“, not all of McCains supporters.

  28. Beckwolf says:

    “McCain ain’t doing himself any favors re his natsec cred by doing things like referring to the Iraq-Afghanistan border”

    Considering that most people didn’t even know that he had the border line incorrect, being even more unknowledgable than McCain about foreign borders (as most are) until the news pointed it out, I’d say that this didn’t do a thing against him, as the only ones who seem to care are the ones already looking to slam McCain anyway. Obama, however, gets the number of states in his OWN COUNTRY incorrect, claiming that there’s 57, and then believing that a presidential term lasts for FIVE years…now THAT has to hurt. Getting the number of states wrong and the length of a presidential term trumps McCain not knowing foreign border lines any day of the week. If it’s to be a comparison, if that’s how we judge the candidates, then I’d say Obama really, really blew it already. He doesn’t know borders within his OWN country versus McCain screwing up a comment on a foreign country, he doesn’t know presidential terms, he doesn’t understand long term consequences of Robin Hood economics, he completely forgot his past stance on Tibet and several other countries…and yet people say that McCain has the bad memory, yeesh.