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Vague and unelectable 

Two reasons I don't support Obama

A number of people whose opinion I respect, including friends, are supporting Barack Obama's bid for president. They like his rhetoric, his demeanor, and more than anything else, the possibilities for change in American life they see in his candidacy. Obama's personal story is stirring, and if he is nominated by the Democrats, I'll surely vote for him. But I don't think he can win -- and another four years of GOP misrule is the last thing this country needs.

When he threw his support to Obama last week, 2004 nominee John Kerry quoted Martin Luther King, saying, "The time is always right to do what is right." Trouble is, life and politics frequently offer you more than one "right thing" at a time. To my mind, the "rightest," most critical thing to be done this year, for the good of the nation and the world, is throwing the GOP out of power. That's why Democrats have to nominate someone who could win in November.

I'm not a pollster or prophet, but nonetheless here's something I feel is a cold, hard fact: There is no way on God's green earth that Barack Obama will be elected president of the United States. The reason is disgraceful, yet simple: he's a black guy (OK, half-black) and this is America.

If you want to know why Obama can't be president, or why he lost the New Hampshire primary after leading in the polls by more than 10 points, look no farther than former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt. Some political observers call it the "Bradley Effect," but for North Carolinians, it will always be the "Gantt Effect." I'm talking about the longstanding pattern of polls overstating support for black candidates among white voters.

In 1990, former Charlotte mayor Gantt, an African-American, ran a strong campaign for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent, Jesse Helms. A couple of days before the election, polls showed Gantt ahead of Helms by up to six percentage points, but Helms won by four. It was similar to what happened to Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, also African-American, when he ran for governor of California in 1982: way ahead in the polls, a loser on election night. The same pattern has repeated itself in numerous elections. Analysts say a substantial number of white voters, afraid of being considered prejudiced, tell pollsters they're voting for an African-American candidate when they actually plan to vote against him. The Gantt Effect, along with the documented last-minute surge of undecided voters to Hillary, beat Obama in New Hampshire. How then, you might ask, did Obama win in Iowa? Simple. That state didn't have a secret ballot election; it held a public caucus, where, as The Nation's John Nichols put it, "neighbors saw who neighbors backed."

If only progressives, open-minded independents and African-Americans voted, Obama could win, and probably pretty easily. And there's no doubt that it's fun, and even inspiring, to think that Obama's appeal crosses all demographic lines, and that he could help America rise above its divisions. It's also great to think that there's an angel on your shoulder and Santa Claus comes down the chimney every Christmas Eve. But it's an obvious truth that thinking something doesn't make it so. At least you'd think it was an obvious truth. Many progressives have convinced themselves that, because they and their friends are jacked up about Obama, the rest of the country is bound to follow. In other words, they're doing what we lefties often criticize right-wingers for: creating their own self-perpetuating echo chamber that's divorced from the rest of the nation.

There's nothing I'd love more than for the United States to be in a place where the election of a black president would be a genuine possibility, but -- and it pains me to say this -- just because racial prejudice is socially unacceptable in today's America, that doesn't mean it's not still thriving.

Beyond the race issue, there's another problem with the Obama movement: its vagueness. Many progressives, particularly 20-something liberals such as the ones who put Obama over the top in Iowa, seem caught up in America's media-image culture, throwing their support to the cool-looking guy who talks about hope without offering many specifics. Obama's rallies are high-energy lovefests, but while watching him speak to a passionate crowd of supporters, I felt as if I was swimming in a sea of platitudes and vague promises. Obama projects a JFK-esque cool, but he's also a bit of a mirage, disturbingly hazy about exactly what he plans to do once in the Oval Office. We know he'll bring the troops home eventually, and provide a health care plan that will still leave tens of millions without insurance. And, of course, he'll bring "hope," "change," and a "new approach," whatever that approach may be.

Right now, Obama's vagueness is working for him in that he is essentially an empty slate upon which millions are projecting their own desires and dreams. But, frankly, that's not a responsible way to choose a president, a leader who will have to deal with the reality of cleaning up the mess created by George W. Bush -- who, as we know, has governed by his own set of shallow platitudes during these seven long years.

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