Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Obama Watch (with The Hidden MoDo)

For Mrs. F's enjoyment, here's a bit of Maureen Dowd's Wednesday column, Will Hillzilla Crush Obambi? (fully available to Times Select subscribers):
Senator Obama glides between the black and white political worlds. In New Hampshire on Sunday, speaking to nearly all-white audiences, the Harvard-educated lawyer looked utterly at home, dressing like a Wall Street banker on casual Friday and sounding as white as Lou Dobbs.

He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Brandeis with equal aplomb and wryly noted that when he worked rebuilding a black community on Chicago’s South Side, people there couldn’t pronounce his name and called him “Yo Momma.”

He admits that he talks to black groups with a different cadence, but says that’s because he’s picking up a different rhythm from the audience. He rejects what he calls the expected script for black politicians, “that for them to be authentically black they have to somehow offend white people,” as he told Jeff Zeleny in The Chicago Tribune. Mr. Obama rejects complaints from blacks that he’s not black enough; but as Mr. Zeleny noted, Hawaii, where the senator’s white mother from Kansas and black father from Kenya met, and where he grew up and went to prep school, is not exactly the ’hood.

While Bill Clinton’s campaign pollsters used to worry that Hillary was not coming across as maternal enough, Senator Obama peppers his talks with remarks about being a father and husband. “I don’t miss diapers,” he confided to some parents at a book signing in New Hampshire, and later told reporters that he would decide whether to run with his wife, Michelle — “the smartest, toughest, funniest best friend that I could ever hope for.”

He was equally graceful reaching out to the female audience on “Oprah” and the male audience on “Monday Night Football,” when he did the opening skit this week on the audacity of hype, ending by putting on a Bears cap and flashing that killer smile. (The Windy City doubleheader must have made Hillary, a Chicago native, pea green.)

Senator Obama is Senator Clinton’s worst nightmare, as comfortable in his skin as she is uncomfortable in hers.


In terms of legislative and senatorial substance, it’s a wash. So far, she’s Senator Pothole and he’s Senator Bestseller List.

But unlike her impertinent challenger, Hillary will have to do a lot of fancy dancing to explain her opinions about the Iraq war. And we know that she’s not a good dancer.

Built on a cult of personality, her campaign will be ruthless in stomping on Obambi, as a Chicago columnist referred to the idealistic pol who was too naïve to steer clear of a sleazy fund-raiser who wanted to buy his favor with a sweetheart real estate deal.

Hillary hasn’t waited this long and market-tested this assiduously for nothing. Obambi’s message may be mushy communitarianism — we’re a crazy quilt and why can’t we all get along? — but her message is simply the Divine Right of Clintons.

So there is a second question, perhaps one that will trump race and gender. It’s about whether he’s tough and she’s genuine.

And speaking of that Monday Night Football tease, here it is:

The Christian Science Monitor asks the question, "What's driving Obama-mania?"
It isn't a single set of issues such as the war or the economy. Rather, the attraction seems to be a mix of Obama's own compelling personal narrative and many voters' desire for a less caustic brand of politics.

"It's the sense that you're in the presence of someone who is touched with the gift of grace," says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. Obama, Illinois' junior senator, exemplifies the hope that there's some way to triumph over the intense polarization of American politics, he adds.


According to Obama, his popularity stems from an embrace of a new style of national politics: Rejecting attack ads and a politics of who's up and who's down.

"There's a certain tone I've taken in my career that seems to be resonating," he said at the briefing. "People are looking for something new, and I'm a stand-in for that desire on the part of voters. They want a common sense, nonideological, practical approach to the problems they face."


Should Obama opt for a presidential run, he'd still have to master the art of living-room politics, say longtime poll watchers here. "The real test for him in New Hampshire is whether he has the stamina to do the door-to-door, living-room-to-living room campaign that New Hampshire voters have come to expect," says Robin Marra, a political science professor at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H.

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