When You Go All In
How did the Unity Pony become the most divisive Democratic Politician in recent history? The Scary Smart One explains:
What happened to the potential on display at the 2004 convention? A decision both explicable and execrable - to accuse another Democrat of being racist. With that claim, Obama placed himself in a box that is becoming a coffin for more than just his campaign. His coalition was never enough to secure him the nomination unless he turned out super majorities within those groups. He did not have to do much with the wine track voters who enjoyed their fauxgressive rejection of Hillary, enthralled with the talking heads and blogger insider gossip. But with the AA vote, the challenge for Obama was to overcome Hillary's substantial appeal to that group. This was uniquely a problem with Hillary, as none of the other candidates enjoyed that kind of support. The weapon he chose was to smear the Clintons as racists.
Who would have thought this would be the tool employed, given the early themes of the Obama campaign? It wasn't just warm-fuzzies and unity ponies. The spousal unit was an early Obama supporter, and thought there was something really valuable to way in which Obama used a rhetoric of struggle and completion to recast race relations and the Democratic task of fulfilling the dream. I have seen it put cynically (hell, I have put it cynically myself) that Obama was just promising the (mostly white) comfortable class of the party that he wouldn't insist on looking at those nasty claims of justice if they would just elect a black dude and redeem their souls. Sure, we could, but it is better, and perhaps sustains a spark of hope in the savage rhetoric of the last few weeks, to see him as sincerely arguing the role of Joshua as our proper charge. In this reading, we have a narrative of struggle that succeeded, we have made it over the hump, we are walking into the promised land. The sacrifices of Moses are to be honored in the fulfillment of his task, and that we gratefully and joyously celebrate what we have achieved. The worst is past, we have come through the wilderness, and we will not lose our people again.
To have remained within that argument, even in the absence of more substantive and wonky offerings, would have provided a powerful and necessary force to the Democrats' claim upon the body politic. It would have built up the coalition by insisting on its common cause. The older arguments about race, as exemplified by the preaching of people like Wright, would have been rejected without being demonized. As Maya Angelou said a decade and more before - our passage has been paid for.
Instead, he chose a high stakes political strategy to maximize his constituent turnout in an attempt to remove his chief rival with a devastating and unanticipated blow, and has ended up more firmly enmeshed in one of the most divisive rhetorical modes imaginable on the left. The price Obama is paying for having reached for crude racial politics is to be joined at the hip to Wright and others like him. The speech Obama gave after the first big revelations about Wright was his last attempt to reclaim that original rhetoric, and it failed because there were no deeds to back up his words. Without deeds, there is nothing upon which to moor the call for transcendence. Today, in his brief, weary appeal to what he has written for 20 years, Obama merely ended up highlighting the shortcoming of that appeal - writing and talking are fine, but at some point you must act and embody your words. It would have meant rejecting the rhetoric of resentment presented by Wright. It would have meant refusing to use politics in that mode to build up margins. He is paying for launching the racism attacks because now he has no ground on which to stand to defend himself against older modes of race thinking and their corrosive, divisive politics. The longer the race goes on, the more he is caught in the net.
Upstart challengers need to win big early, and then use that momentum to carry them on to victory. But the upstarts have to knock-out the establishment candidates, otherwise the frontrunner's money and organization will grind down and defeat them.
At the beginning of the year, Obama had more money and a better organization than anyone except Hillary. She also beat him in name recognition, even though he was the media favorite. Edwards and the rest of the Democratic pack were virtually blacked-out of news coverage and had anemic fundraising.
Some people have suggested that Obama entered this campaign mainly to boost his name recognition for a future run. Even if that was true at the inception, by the beginning of the year Obama was poised to win the nomination and probably the White House.
There was only one obstacle: Hillary Clinton.
He needed to knock her out of the race early with some decisive wins, before her strength reasserted itself on Super Tuesday. He got the first big win in Iowa, and appeared to have momentum going into New Hampshire.
But that's where he suffered a stunning defeat. Then Hillary won again in Nevada. Obama needed a big win in South Carolina or he was done.
So Obama took a huge gamble that nearly paid off. He went "all in" and played the race card. Had it worked and Hillary been forced to end her campaign, the party would still be united and looking to victory in November. But instead it backfired.
He got the win in South Carolina, but Hillary hung on to win on Super Tuesday. Then she persevered through a horrible February to win in Ohio and Texas. Despite two months of WWTSBQ meme, she again won big in Pennsylvania.
Obama, his advisors, and the OFB are starting to realize they shouldn't have gone all in. The dealer is turning over the cards and it looks like they have a busted flush. They don't seem to be taking it well.
"He fears his fate too much, or his desserts too small, who fears to put it to the touch, to win, or lose it all." - Montrose