Drift and complacency are dooming Obama's campaign
By MARTIN SIEFF
Aug. 22, 2008 at 1:12 PM
WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Sen. Barack Obama heads into his nominating convention in Denver next week on the skids: Four years ago Sen. John Kerry, the doomed Democratic contender against President George W. Bush, was in a far stronger position heading for his nominating convention in Boston than Obama is now.
Three major polls this week put Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican putative presidential nominee, either breaking even or ahead of Obama by as much as 3 percentage points. McCain's gaffe about how many houses he owns isn't likely to significantly change the situation. Obama's eagerness to zero in on it makes a mockery of his overconfident and naive pledge to stay positive throughout his campaign.
Devastating to Obama is the polling data that say as many as 20 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters now say they will vote for McCain. Obama, riding into a convention where his nomination is assured, therefore remains burdened by a resentful, confused and highly divided party, even though there are actually no major contentious issues that should divide it. It is McCain, against all the Conventional Wisdom predictions of earlier this year, who presides over an increasingly united party rallying to his support.
The race is obviously far from over, but the skid in Obama's standings over the past month has been extraordinary: The Dog Days of August, so fatal to Democratic nominees like Kerry and Michael Dukakis in 1988, have eaten Obama alive, too.
Obama has committed no obvious super-blunders, but he has had his share of embarrassing bloopers, as has McCain. The campaign for the presidency of the United States is now so grueling that either of the main contestants would have had to come from the planet Krypton to be immune to its pressures. However, the mainstream U.S. media have magnified and even distorted McCain's every hiccup and ignored the far more numerous gaffes from Obama.
The idea that race has become a key issue in the campaign is also absurd. It is true that 9 percent of those polled in one survey said they were reluctant to vote for a black candidate. But they were never going to vote for a liberal Democrat of any persuasion anyway.
Everyone knew Obama was an African-American from before the moment he threw his hat in the ring for the Iowa caucuses: Indeed, as a freshman senator aged only 46, with no national experience beyond his four years so far in the Senate and a virtually non-existent record on key votes and legislative accomplishment there, he would not have gotten within a prayer of his party's presidential nomination had the romance of his Kansas-Kenya background not made him a dream candidate first.
Also, Obama was riding consistently high in the polls a couple of months ago, with leads as great as 12 points or more in some polls. His victory over a conservative septuagenarian after eight years of a Republican in the White House with gas prices at a record high, the dollar plummeting and the housing market in chaos seemed assured.
Obama has not veered from his planned message. He has meticulously masterminded every detail of what was supposed to be his imperial progress. The problem is that none of it is working.
When Obama moved to the center on a host of issues to sound reassuring, he sacrificed his reputation for bold, innovative change and for courageous integrity. When he wowed world leaders and public audiences on his foreign trip from Afghanistan to Berlin, he came across at home instead as a celebrity on a Paris Hilton scale. The more the U.S. media gave his grand tour favorable coverage, the more his poll numbers fell.
Even Paris Hilton's famed YouTube video hurt Obama in the end much more than it did McCain, because Hilton, like McCain, spoke coherent, honest and detailed sense on energy issues. She acknowledged the nation's need to maintain and expand offshore oil drilling and other conventional energy resources.
By contrast, the alternative energy resources that Obama advocates are still largely non-existent in terms of technological and engineering capability. When Hilton shows a greater, more confident and far more detailed mastery of one of the three key issues in the entire campaign than the Democratic nominee, he really has problems.
Most of all, Obama and his strategists never anticipated that McCain, with fewer financial resources and a far smaller, more informal staff, would prove energetic, aggressive and effective in his daily counterpunches at the Democratic candidate.
Although McCain is more than a quarter-century older than Obama, he is the one who has been far more intellectual, coherent, energizing and dynamic in the national debate. Obama's favorite means of presentation -- the long, usually vague but inspirational soaring rhetoric of a prepared speech -- was great to rally Democratic Party hard-core activists back in the early days of the campaign, but MTV generation America has no time for it. McCain's punchy messages are making far more impact there.
If Obama loses after everything he had going for him, including the biggest financial war chest in U.S. political history, the venerable liberal establishment of the Democratic Party is likely to be eaten alive by a neo-populist new generation over the next few years. To lose three times in a row -- especially in an election in which every economic indicator pointed to a Democratic landslide -- will make sweeping, unprecedented change and upheaval in the party inevitable.
Worst of all, Obama has been in apparent denial about his collapsing poll numbers when the one thing above all the public craves from its national leader in a time of fear and economic crisis is, as the greatest of Democratic presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, famously said in his first inaugural in April 1933, "action, and action now."
Obama simply must deliver a credible, detailed plan of action to confront the economic and energy issues facing the nation in Denver next week. If he doesn't, his goose is cooked.