The Obama Surge

Andrew Sullivan has a reader email post that captures, for me, the reason that Obama has been catching on of late and could very well knock Hillary Clinton aside in the run for the Democratic nomination. A sample:

It’s remarkable how little Obama has focused on black voters until now, but that may have been a savvy move. Fair or not, many African-American candidates get pidgeonholed [sic] as having only niche appeal. But Obama has spent all this time branding himself as a candidate who strives to transcend race, so that now when he has to campaign hard in the black community in South Carolina and elsewhere people don’t see him as limited to one constituency. Oprah is the perfect metaphor for that strategy. He’s trying to get the best of both worlds.

This strikes me as being right. His main obstacle to the nomination is his skin color and the fact that he would be the first black president. Assuaging the concerns of non-black voters first seems like the best approach to handling this problem and then doubling back to deal with the black voters. By doing this he assures non-black voters that he is not to be feared and then makes up with a constituency of which he is a natural part.

He also has some experience issues, but these can be overcome by his appeal to peoples’ hopes and a desire to break with the past. Hillary Clinton has the same issues with experience with just four additional years in elected office. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Clinton has decided to attack his “naked ambition” by revealing a third-grade essay where he says he wants to be president. She has her own naked ambition (notice the lack of ironic quotes) that’s far more obvious and pernicious; she’s trying to attack him from the ambition angle before he does the same to her, a common tactic among politicians.

On a completely unrelated note, before I recently moved to Chicago I hadn’t had a land-line telephone since 1999. I’m starting to remember why. I didn’t realize that telephone spam had emerged as a problem. Some scam artist with an automated dialing machine (company name PFS, 317 area code) has been calling me and claiming that I have a very large debt that’s past due with a company I’ve never heard of. This alone is about enough to get me to abandon the land line again. Be warned.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, , , ,
Robert Prather
About Robert Prather
Robert Prather contributed over 80 posts to OTB between October 2005 and July 2013. He previously blogged at the now defunct Insults Unpunished. Follow him on Twitter @RobPrather.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    As a prospect for first Black president Barack Obama is about as good as it gets. He didn’t grow up in what the sociologist Charles Moskos has characterized as the “Afro American community” but his African father has bequeathed him not only his complexion but also what passes for authenticity these days.

    I’ve always wondered whether he’d have a harder time convincing African Americans that he was a good standard bearer than white Democrats. Oprah’s imprimatur probably settles that question.

  2. Triumph says:

    Charles Moskos has characterized as the “Afro American community”

    He may have used the term, but he swiped it from someone else. Ida Reid was talking about the “Afro American” community in her 1927 Social Forces article on Harlem.

    Moskos did come up with the catchy phrase, “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I think he means something different by it. As I understand it he means a culture characteristic of Americans of sub-Saharan African descent, descendants of slaves. I am, no doubt, bowdlerizing his actual intent.

  4. Dave,

    I’m still waiting to see if Oprah’s endorsement helps or hurts. I’m guessing it will help, but most celebrity endorsements tend to hurt candidates. Oprah, however, is a person that people can relate to.

    I agree that Obama is a great prospect for the first black president, and if he’s nominated he might get my vote, depending who the Republicans pick.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m still waiting to see if Oprah’s endorsement helps or hurts.

    Me, too. My guess is that it won’t help as much as one might think.

  6. Alison says:

    I have noticed that in South Carolina, those who attended the Obama/Oprah rally had no problem admitting that Oprah was going to influence their vote.

    Though in Iowa and New Hampshire, no one will admit to this,but I bet you a bottom dollar that they vote the Oprah party line.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Oliver Willis jumps on the Obama bandwagon. I have carefully avoided any cheap shots.

  8. Wayne says:

    Personally I would prefer J.C. Watts from Oklahoma or even on the Dem side Ford from Tennessee.

    I couldn’t care less about the race or sex of the candidates but realize some do. I suspect many will vote for Obama or Hillary for that reason alone. If Obama losses, I doubt it will be because of his skin color.

    The Black vote has been 90% Democrat for quite some time and don’t see it changing in next election. Possible higher turn out but unlikely any higher then the anti turn out.

    I would prefer Obama over Clinton but unlikely to vote for any of the Dems that are running.

  9. Paul says:

    Hillary Clinton has the same issues with experience with just four additional years in elected office.

    I’m not a Hillary supporter but I can’t let this one go. She spent 12 years married to the governor of Arkansas and 8 to the President, and as we all know she didn’t spend that time baking cookies. Her resume isn’t 6 years in the Senate — 60 years in the Senate probably wouldn’t equal the experience of her 8 years in the White House. It seems pretty clear from the Dem debates that Hillary has more real experience than anyone else in the Dem field (or the field on either side) — the real knock on her is that maybe she has too much experience for a country that might be happier with a fresher face/name.

    PS, Hillary has 4 more years of experience in a federal elected office, but Obama has 4 more years than Hillary as an elected officeholder if you could his time in the Illinois legislature. I’m not looking to debate the relative value of experience in the state Senate vs. US Senate vs. CEO vs. mayor, just noting that I think the highlighted sentence isn’t actually correct.

  10. Triumph says:

    I’m not a Hillary supporter but I can’t let this one go. She spent 12 years married to the governor of Arkansas and 8 to the President, and as we all know she didn’t spend that time baking cookies.

    So how much experience does Monica Lewinsky have? Maybe Hillzilla should pick her as a running mate! Think of the cabinet meetings!

  11. Paul,

    You value her experience as First Lady much more highly than I do. The one real task she was given — health care — was a complete disaster and was enough to publicly sideline her as a policy force for the rest of Bill’s time in office.

  12. Paul says:

    Health care is the task she was put publicly in charge of. She did a lot more than that behind the scenes, it seems obvious in her debate performance she has command of the facts that comes from experience. Certainly way more experience than “I happened to be lame duck disgraced mayor a city when it was bombed” experience. Well, now I have certainly revealed two candidates I don’t want to vote for. Just my luck they are the frontrunners.

  13. LaurenceB says:

    I’ve been leaning towards Obama, but I have to admit that, after attending the Columbia event at Brice Stadium, I came away feeling less warm towards him. It seemed to me (and to my son, who was with me) that Obama was trying too hard to sound “Southern” and “Black”. That’s a bit of a turn-off to those of us who have regarded his authenticity as one of his strengths.

    That having been said, on matters of policy he’s the guy who seems to best match my interests, so I’ll probably still vote for him. Or maybe Bill Richardson.