You just knew the love affair was going to end sometime.
Barack Obama, who enjoyed rock-star status in his run for the White House, went under severe scrutiny after word came out that his pastor/spiritual advisor had been spewing some real over-the-top rhetoric from the pulpit.
And here’s a video of Wright.
You really have to hear some of these sermon excerpts; they’re something else. But several things happened since the sound bites became public: Obama removed his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, from his campaign committee. Over the weekend, Obama’s poll numbers dipped significantly, putting a dent in his momentum. And the media, for really the first time, began digging into the candidate and looking beyond the surface.
Note to Obama: Welcome to the big leagues, keed. This is just a rite of passage.
Although I can’t see myself voting for him, I like Obama. He’s done something to electrify the disenfranchised in this country. He brings a sense of hope that one hasn’t seen in decades. And, unlike Howard Dean four years ago, he actually has a chance to win – at this point it would take some major pooch-screwing on his part for him to lose the nomination. But he reminds me of Gary Hart in the 1980s in that, while he speaks of new ideas, he’s awfully vague about what these new ideas are. No one seems to have any idea whether these new ideas are good or bad for the country, but they are new.
Obama’s also got a bit of Ronald Reagan luck. Up until now, he’s made it to the front line of candidates without anyone laying a glove on him. OK, there were a few lightweight jabs here and there (mostly from the Clinton camp), but he simply hasn’t undergone the scrutiny that Hillary Clinton or John McCain went through. And that part is dangerous; the more a voter knows about a candidate, the more informed he will be when he hits the polling place.
Of course, we’ve had years to check out the other two leading candidates. Hillary’s been under the microscope since the early 1990s (being a rather controversial First Lady will do that), and McCain lived under the glare eight years ago, when he was George Bush’s biggest Republican opponent. This is Obama’s first rodeo.
One can blame the so-called lefty media for this lack of scrutiny, and I concede that it’s a valid point. There are news types out there who are wrestling with themselves – how does one criticize an Obama without creating the perception he’s anti-black, a “cracker?”
But the truth is, like Reagan in 1980, Obama brings a fresh face in troubled times. He presents himself well. He’s polished. He says the right things, and can launch an oratorical barnburner when he needs to. But, like Reagan, it’s easy to get caught up in the veneer without paying attention to what’s underneath. And, as I mentioned, that’s dangerous.
Even if Obama believed his pastor’s anti-American rhetoric, you can’t help but root for the guy. He’s tailor-made for the media. Journalists tend to be a bit more idealistic than the common herd – they’d have to be, because I can’t think of any other reason why someone would want to go into that field anyway. We tend to pull for the underdog. Back when I was getting started in the business, Watergate was still fresh in people’s minds. My contemporaries thought it would be a good thing to uncover scandal and corruption in high places, and maybe even hang a president or three. Woodward and Bernstein were our role models. (My advice to young idealists who want to go into journalism: Forget it. The pay sucks.)
Naturally you’d find more idealism on the left side of the political aisle than the right, too, though in 1980 Reagan cornered the idealism market. He was an outsider who represented something new, something fresh. Jimmy Carter, who was something new and fresh four years before, was something old and stale come 1980.
So far, Obama has made mostly the right moves on the campaign trail. For the most part he’s stayed on the high road while the Clintons, veteran politicos both, launched occasional salvos from the gutter. He may not be making major policy points – that part is still too vague for the informed voter to even consider – but he’s scoring major style points. Again, like Reagan in 1980 and Jack Kennedy in 1960.
To Obama’s credit, although he removed Wright from the campaign committee, the candidate refused to disown his pastor and friend. And in his speech this week, he gave white voters an insider’s look at how the black community views things.
He may have stopped the damage to his campaign in the short run, but the general election is more than seven months away. By then, Obama will have been faced with further scrutiny that is just part of the vetting process. Last week’s events cracked the door open. We’re looking for a president; probably the most important job in the world, and it’s imperative we know who’s going to fill that job. Hopefully, Obama will continue to take this scrutiny in stride, and the voters will get to know the man underneath the veneer.