Sunday, May 11, 2008

Barack Obama's Choice

Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in 2008. His narrow, deep base of Blacks and urban, upper-middle class liberal Whites was numerically strong enough to battle Hillary Clinton's broad base of large state White, Latino and Asian center-right Democrats in the primary states to a draw. His organizational skills in the (mostly small) caucus states established a sufficient lead in the delegate race to give him the nomination on points.

Now comes the hard part - getting elected President. Obama now faces a choice not unlike that John Kennedy faced in 1960 at the end of the Democratic nomination campaign. In 1960, a young and relatively inexperienced junior senator from Massachusetts outdueled the politically savy and deeply experienced Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas to win his party's nomination. But John Kennedy had a political liability that no presidential candidate had ever before overcome - he was a Roman Catholic in a nation that, to a large degree, still viewed itself as a Protestant country and viewed Catholics as outsiders. Only 32 years earlier, in 1928, another urban Irish Roman Catholic Democratic nominee, Al Smith, faced racial and religious descrimination unlike that ever faced before or since by a major party presidential candidate in the end suffering a crushing defeat. To counter that lingering racial and religious discrimination, John Kennedy reached out to his bitter rival Lyndon Johnson and offered him the vice-presidential nomination.

Barack Obama has a political liability that no presidential candidate has ever before overcome - he is a (half) Black man in a nation that, to a large degree, still views Black Americans as outsiders. There is one person who can help him overcome that liability and reach out to those people who may be uncomfortable about pulling the lever for him, namely Hillary Clinton. The question is, will he do it? It is clear from the actions that Clinton has taken since last Tuesday's primaries that she knows that the nomination race is over and that she is positioning herself for the vice-presidential nod. Will he do what John Kennedy did in 1960 and reach out and ask Clinton to be his running mate? If so, he will become President of the United States. But, in doing so, he will have to share the limelight with the most dynamic female politician of this (or any era) in American history. Will he do so?

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