In the late spring of 2004, things looked bright for the Democrats. Media spin was making Americans doubt the war in Iraq, ignore the war in Afghanistan, wrongly believe the economy was in trouble, and the Democrats had settled on Senator John Kerry for their presidential nominee, a decorated veteran who fought in Vietnam. Polls showed Kerry in good position and the Democrats were sure that they were about to regain the White House.
Then it all fell apart. The economy’s strength became impossible to deny, the successes in the Middle East wars reminded many Americans that the cause was worth its price, but even so the Kerry campaign felt it had a good chance. Then Kerry’s boastful war record finally came under serious scrutiny. While some Republicans tried to discredit everything Kerry did in uniform, and some Democrats tried to blame everything on a Conservative conspiracy, the facts revealed by other Swift-Boat veterans from the Vietnam conflict raised reasonable doubts about the veracity of Kerry’s hero claims, forced him to backtrack from a false claim to have fought in Cambodia in 1968, and reminded America of Kerry’s shameful hypocrisy as a war protestor, not because of his stance against the war, but such things as throwing “his” medals over a wall then somehow displaying the same medals in his office years later, or attending unsanctioned and illegal negotiations with the North Vietnamese government while still commissioned as a U.S. Navy officer. What did Kerry in, though, was not his position or actions in themselves, so much as it was his refusal to admit false claims or apologize for insults to the U.S. military and the nation. Democrats refused to accept the fact that Kerry had damaged his own campaign through his actions and behavior, and denounced the collapse of Kerry’s credibility as ‘swift-boating’, a term which has clearly different meanings to different audiences. The objective verdict for the Kerry campaign would have to say that the man shot himself down, in part because his character in fact was much different from the image he sold to voters.
Back to 2008 and Barack Obama. Enjoying a commanding lead over rival Senator Clinton for the Democratic nomination race, he wanted to close her campaign out in Pennsylvania. Most political race followers know what happened then: Playing the class envy card that has become the hallmark of the modern Democrats, Obama discussed why believed Pennsylvanians were unhappy with the present condition, saying that they “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations“.
That, folks, is a very, very stupid thing for any candidate to say. But in Obama’s case it’s much worse, because Senator Obama has run on a claim that he rises above the cheap rhetoric, that he stands for the ideals held by all Americans, that he wants to focus on what unifies and advances America. That statement, no matter how he tries to backtrack or rephrase it, effectively proved that Obama is by no means the man he claims to be, that his prime claim to credibility has been proven a lie in front of the whole nation. Obama’s “clarification” during this week has been received for what it is, a self-serving and dishonest attempt to duck what he really said, and denial about the damage he did to his own reputation and credentials.
With that said, no one should believe this seriously damages the Obama run to the Democratic party nomination; Obama’s numbers are still too much for Clinton to catch. And Obama’s base is going to stick with him all the way through the fall. This blunder won’t cause lifelong Democrats to back off their man. Where it hurts is
where it happened in places like those he was discussing – Pennsylvania and states just like it, where folks may be Democrat or Republican or whatever, but they hold hard and strong to certain values and rights, and a politician who does not support gun rights and freedom of expression and religion, a politician who does not respect the laws protecting our borders, while at the same time understanding that new citizens are welcome and valued, well, that politician is just not going to get support there. It’s not just what he said in about Pennsylvania a week ago, but the whole message that is starting to come out about Obama, his hate-filled pastor of two decades, his class warfare rhetoric when he panders to areas with high unemployment, and Obama’s shocking inability to understand the values of small-town America. His behavior of the past month, coupled with lame excuses in place of squarely admitting his wrongs and asking for forgiveness, has demonstrated a callous character in Obama that will, in the general election, cost him three or four states that he would have won if he had spoken more as the man he claimed to be. And that kind of self-inflicted injury could easily prove the fatal cost to the fall election. But just like Senator Kerry before him, we can be sure that Senator Obama will simply pretend that he was a victim of conspiracy, never admitting that his own worst enemy looked back at him every time he saw a mirror.
Update (Kevin): Minor edits applied. Obama’s quote was made at a private fundraiser in San Francisco on April 6.