With this most recent gaff, following on the press stampede over his bowling abilities, I’d say that all the pieces are in place to plop Senator Obama firmly into the standard media narrative of the elitist liberal. Last week’s New York Times Sunday Magazine story (Sokolove, Michael , “Change Makes a Call on Levittown,” 6 April 2008) was essentially sympathetic and by a liberal supporter, but it was a toe in the water of the narrative.
Now we just need a story associating the Senator with some characteristic liberal elitist consumer good. Sacre bleu! Senator Obama welds a mean crocket mallet! Or that Malia Ann and Natasha were raised on Baby Einstein when heartland kids were running around in the woods with bb guns. Or hell, there’s nothing like the golden oldies: maybe there’s a picture of him windsurfing somewhere. Crocket playing, Baby Einstein watching, windsurfing liberal elitists! Then all that will be left is for Maureen Dowd to bless it with a few of her trademark witticisms and it will be off to the races.
Combine the Reverend Jeremiah Wright story, the budding liberal elitist story has got to be causing a lot of relief over at the McCain campaign. For the first time since his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, Senator Obama is looking beatable.
What supporters of the Senator don’t get is that an election is not an occasion for a candidate to speak truth to electoral power. It is a contest to see who can flatter the electorate most vociferously without going so far as to sound insincere (special thanks to Mitt Romney for helping to demarcate the outer limits of this phenomenon). Every prejudice in the country must be honored, no matter how ill-founded or small-minded and no matter how much in conflict with the interest group to whom the candidate read a litany of promises just last week.
This is the problem with young, idealistic and first time voters as your base. They have no idea why it is that old politicians are so bland and cynical. It’s because that’s how one gets to be an old politician. The problem with Senator Obama is that he has had too many positive experiences telling the truth — or, honestly, well hedged and carefully parsed truth — he’s not exactly getting up in your face with it — and it has gone to his head. He started to think that he was invincible, that the sort of stuff that liberals say in their publications or to each other in closed-door strategy sessions could be said for mass consumption too. He hasn’t had enough chastenings like the one that he is presently receiving. These are lessons that most politicians learn on the small stage, before acceding to the national stage. This is what people mean when they say that Senator Clinton has superior experience.
It’s quite possible that this was the inevitable story that a month in Pennsylvania was going to generate and he would have been better off to have avoided the state altogether. But he’s in, so now he’s got to do something. The primary night election analysts are going to be zeroing in on the class, income and race demographics of returns and it will be the primary story of the night, even before the Clinton campaign begins to spin this aspect of the story hard the next day. One can already see the rumblings of the liberal elitist narrative, but the actual voting could be the story that finally gives it legs.
Now this is me playing instapundit. It’s the perception of the hour and one of the phenomenal aspects of Senator Obama so far has been his ability to come back strong. On the other hand, a similarly surprising aspect of the Senator has been his excess of conciliation with mortal opponents — witness the Samantha Power imbroglio.
Hillary Clinton’s pending win in Pennsylvania is going to do a lot to resuscitate her campaign. If she can plausibly dovetail it to a narrative about how she can win in the difficult states, that’s going to pose a real threat. Senator Obama has got to kill this. Apologies and some words about how he misspoke aren’t going to cut it.