Thursday, August 14, 2008

No, Barack Obama isn't Tom Bradley

I've always tried to be as realistic as possible about Democratic chances in the fall and not let emotion and wishful thinking sway me.

But I have to say, there are a number of huge, gaping flaws John Heilemann's "Why Obama isn't doing better in the polls" story in New York magazine this week.

First off, it strikes me as a bit of an absurd premise. Every national poll I've seen shows Obama beating McCain. In every state that John Kerry carried, Obama is leading by a comfortable margin. He's ahead in Ohio (which would put him over the top) as well as Iowa, and he's bouncing back and forth in Virginia, Florida and other red states.

Remind me again: What, exactly, are we complaining about?

I know, I know, I know... he should be doing better. Frankly, I don't care about that. A victory is a victory. If Obama carried the thing by one single vote, I'll be plenty happy.

Second, the big fear is the "Bradley Effect" -- i.e., that white people will say that they're going to vote for Obama, but when in the privacy of the voting booth, they'll pull the lever for McCain.

Frankly, I don't buy that -- for a number of reasons.

For one thing, Obama has already proven the fact that millions of white people will pull the lever for him in the Democratic primaries. When he lost in New Hampshire he never had a decisive lead. It's true, a few polls were showing that he was leading, but others were showing it tied, and there was always a segment that hadn't made up its mind. (In short, it was always close.) And HRC had started in New Hampshire with a big lead.

But the much more important reason is, Tom Bradley lost in 1982. This is 2008. The civil unrest of the 1960s and 70s were still fresh in a lot of people's minds. Bussing was still an issue. Affirmative action was an issue. And while these things haven't quite disappeared, they're hardly as potent as they were 26 years ago.

The third critique is that Heilemann says that to win, Obama will have to carry 40 percent of the white vote.

Well, duh. But I don't think that's such a reach.

Look, Al Gore and John Kerry -- both decent men, who would've made for fine Presidents -- were horrible candidates. And they won bigger than 40 percent of the white vote. Obama is far and away the best candidate I've seen in my lifetime. He might not get the majority of whites. But I doubt very much that he's going to lose them by 20 points.

Sure, there will be some whites who can't bring themselves to vote for a black guy. But are these the same guys who were pulling the lever for Kerry and Gore? I tend to doubt it. And given how dire our national situation looks (even more dire than it did 4 years ago) I think Obama's race will be much less of a factor.

When I started thinking about candidates last fall, I said to all my friends, "I'll vote for which ever Democrat has the best shot of winning." For a little while I thought that might be John Edwards (Oy!). And I'm not saying it didn't cross my mind that HRC might be a better candidate than Obama -- but the disorganization and madness of her campaign shows she wouldn't have only run a bad general election campaign, she probably would have been a train wreck of a president.

I just can't get too worried about Obama in November. I think he's a lock.