Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can the Obama Campaign survive the Pastor Disaster?

Professor Paul Green: It’s about Change, Stupid

WGN Radio pundit and Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green argued, just two weeks ago, that Barack Obama had brilliantly succeeded in making the Presidential Race about “change.” As Green said, with that dominant theme as the playing field, “Experience doesn't matter,” at least for the Democratic party’s nomination and perhaps for the general election, as well. [Watch here] and [Read here]. Of course, Obama had to have the right background, smarts, talents and personality traits to pull this off: Eight solid years as a State Senator in the Illinois Legislature; three years in the U. S. Senate; solid academics [Columbia University and President of the Harvard Law Review], knows the issues, connects w/Dems and Independents, transcends politics and race-- and a heckuva a speech giver. Moreover, Senator Obama put together a fundraising and campaign organization that was better than what had been thought to be the best: The Bill and Hillary show.

Hillary, too much insider experience. Strike One

Indeed, in light of the above, it was almost the case that Hillary’s self-described “35 years of experience,” was a negative. First, 35 years counted every minute of her life after law school, even her private legal practice time at the Rose law firm in Arkansas, which tends to strain credibility. Second, even if you pared her relevant experience down to her eight years as First Lady and seven years as a U. S. Senate—that’s still fifteen years as a Washington, DC insider, hardly a plausible change agent. That is, Hillary has too much experience as an insider to be the credible outsider who would bring about “Change.” Strike One.

Obama’s Good Judgment

Barack Obama’s second primary campaign theme is that not only is he the candidate of change, but he has “good judgment.” Thus, he would bring about the “right kind of change.” His “go to,” argument on judgment was his decision to speak out against the Iraq War early and forcefully. Obama did so at an early Iraq War protest in Chicago in October, 2002 and he did so on this reporter’s TV show, Public Affairs,” on November 25, 2002. Simply put, his judgment then [and now] was that it was a mistake to authorize President Bush to take military action in Iraq.

He said he would have voted no on that War Power Resolution, saving, in his view and that of his supporters, half a trillion to three trillion dollars (depending on who the bean counter is), four thousand American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and avoided severe injuries to tens of thousands of American soldiers. And, perhaps more importantly in his view, Obama saw great damage to the World Wide reputation of the United States from following a reckless, dangerous and ill-conceived path to War, that was subsequently matched by gross mismangement of the War. Further, the characterization of the War as being mismanaged is agreed to, at least in part, by Senator McCain, the Republican’s presumptive Presidential nominee.

Hillary’s bad judgment? Strike 2

Hillary, as everybody now knows, voted in Fall, 2002, to authorize the President to take military action in Iraq. For many in the Democratic Party, that is all they need to know to support Barack Obama for President. Strike 2.

Obama: Right for the Dem Primary voters on almost all issues?

Obama's early, vocal and consistent opposition to the Iraq War is not all the Democratic Primary voters know about him. They know he is a great speaker; he is eloquent, he connects and he is credible. He is liberal and liberal in a way that is attractive to the Democratic base. He is against the Bush tax cuts, except perhaps for those that benefit low and some middle income families and individuals. He wants to reform trade agreements to avoid loss of American jobs. He wants to improve education by spending more on public schools, and to the dismay of most teachers unions, Obama supports some education reforms, including more charter schools. He generally is a big time supporter of labor unions, and they of him. He is a big time supporter of getting out of Iraq quickly, talking to virtually any foreign leader and of using much more diplomacy than is now the case. All of that, except for the Charter school expansion, generally plays quite well with almost all Democratic Primary voters.

Obama: So damn likable?

In short, what’s not to like about Barack Obama? If you are a liberal Democrat and for many independents, there is virtually nothing to dislike about Barack. Indeed, even for some Republicans, they might accept significant differences on the issues with Obama and vote for a guy who is so damn likable.

Unlike Hillary and Bill, Barack carries little or no baggage. He put together a great organization. He is always civil, respectful, calm, collected and cool. Cool Hand Luke. He inspires, he uplifts, he makes you feel good about yourself. In short, he has it all.

Obama’s Pastor Disaster: Strike 1

Indeed, just about when Hillary is close to facing a called strike 3,
along comes what Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn refers to as the “Pastor disaster,”
the connection of what appears to be a very peculiar and offensive, at least some of the time, Rev. Jeremiah Wright to his most famous congregant. The nation is treated to the visuals of Pastor Wright making incendiary, fiery statements about a U. S. Government that Wright asserts wants to gives blacks Aids, as opposed to the U. S. Government that the American people think has commited to give billions to African nations to eradicate Aids. And, there are more visuals of more fiery statements by Pastor Wright: Sep. 11 as “Chickens coming home to roost,” payback to America for what Wright seems to think are heinous foreign policy actions around the world.

Questions arise. What would cause Obama to bond with Pastor Wright, as he said he did for almost two decades? To have Wright marry Michelle and Barack, baptize their kids and be Obama's chosen, spiritual leader? And, when you get past that question, as Eric Zorn asks—“Why didn’t Obama begin creating distance from Wright back in 2002 when he began running for the U. S. Senate.”

Obama’s judgment questioned by supporters: Strike 2

And, when you get past that one, as Zorn notes further,

You don’t have to be a knuckle-dragging racist to doubt Obama’s judgment here and to wonder why voters should believe he can elevate the tone in America when he apparently couldn’t even do so in his own house of worship.

And, remember, although Eric Zorn is a very balanced journalist, he is an opinion journalist who has been a long-time supporter of Barack Obama. So, if he is asking the above questions, what are others thinking?

Rep. Lang says Obama will be okay

This reporter has argued in his television interview with Democratic State Rep. Lou Lang that the Pastor Wright issue will stay with Obama in April, May and June and perhaps to the Democratic Convention and beyond. Rep. Lang, a Democrat and Obama supporter, takes the view [Watch here and read here] that in large part, voters who would otherwise vote for Obama will not change their votes as a result of Pastor Wright.

Journalist Parker: Obama should have spoken out sooner on Wright

Kathleen Parker, a syndicated columnist, who is somewhat right of center takes a pretty balanced view of Obama’s handling of Pastor Wright, but still concludes with this:

…[R]acial harmony will require more than hope. It will also require that people like Obama speak up and object to harmful rhetoric, sooner rather than later, even if it hurts the ones he loves.

That brings the issue back to Obama’s judgment and leadership.

Obama can overcome his Pastor Disaster

Although far from a plus, the Pastor Wright thing is an issue that Obama can overcome. He still leads in pledged delegates and the popular vote. Almost surely, Clinton cannot catch Obama on pledged delegates. If she cannot make it close on the total Democratic primary popular vote [Obama leads by more than 700,000 votes], Clinton probably cannot get enough super-delegates to offset Obama’s lead in pledged delegates. Unless, that is, Clinton can bloody up Obama with items like the Pastor Disaster.

Obama doesn’t like to campaign about race and certainly has never focused a campaign on it. Remember, he was the candidate who transcends race and politics. Or, so it has been said. He gave “The Race Speech,” on March 18, 2008 and hoped that would end the Pastor Disaster and his temporary focus on race. It didn’t. Hillary emphasized to Democrats yesterday, “[Wright] would not have been my pastor.”

Obama is rooted in the African-American community, but he is not limited by it.

Barack Obama was fond of saying during his U. S. Senate Democratic Primary, “I may be rooted in the African-American Community, but I am not limited by it.” Then State Senator Obama argued, correctly as it turned out, that he would be competitive in every demographic in that Primary. Consistent with that message, Obama will try to get off race as soon as he can. He likes to talk about education, healthcare and jobs—what pols call the kitchen table or lunch bucket issues.

Obama: Reassuring the voters and super-delegates on his Judgment.

If Obama can talk about race and Pastor Wright just enough to reassure Democratic voters and the super-delegates that he has good judgment and that his historical treatment of the Pastor Wright issue was simply an aberration, an unimportant aberration in his past that tells voters nothing about the future, Obama can right himself on Wright.

Pivoting away from Race.

Further, Obama needs to pivot from race and argue, again and again, to the super-delegates that he has the judgment and leadership that,unlike Hillary, would have avoided a reckless involvement in what he calls “a costly and dumb war.” That avoidance, Barack would argue, would have enabled change, years ago, for the country in the economy, jobs, healthcare and education. If Obama can do all of that, which is a very big if, then Obama wins the Democratic nomination. It is as simple as that.

More electable than Hillary?

The general election contest with Senator McCain? Now, that’s another matter. But, as Obama’s consultants David Axelrod (Obama's Chief Strategist) and Pete Giangreco(A major direct mail and message consultant to Team Obama) will remind Obama, “[Y]ou can’t win the general if you don’t win the primary.” On the other hand, if Barack Obama can’t persuade the super-delegates that he is more likely to beat John McCain than Hillary Clinton is, he might not be able to win a sufficient number of the super-delegates to win the Primary. [This also sssumes that the resolution of the Michigan and Florida delegates issue in a likely Democratic Convention credentials fight, or in a compromise reached between the campaigns before the campaign, does not hurt Obama significantly.] It is as simple as that.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search,
can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama and McCain, former Presidential candidate Richardson-- and many other pols, including this week's show with Rep. Lang and last night's show in the City of Chicago and Aurora with WGN Political Pundit and Professor Paul Green at
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs Youtube page include this week's show with Rep. Lang , last night's show in Chicago and Aurora with WGN Radio political pundit Paul Green, last week's show with Senator and likely 2010 Illinois Gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady,our show with former Sen. Rauschenberger, assessing Barack Obama, our prior show with Republican U.S. Senate Republican nominee Dr. Steve Sauerberg, discussing his Democratic opponent--Senator Durbin-- and domestic, cultural and foreign policy issues, our prior show featuring State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston,IL), discussing Barack Obama, as well as various Illinois Budget issues (spending, mass transit, capital budget, education, gaming and taxes) and possible 2010 Illinois gubernatorial candidates and 2010 U. S. Senate candidates (assuming Obama moves up to President in 2008) , a discussion with State's Attorney for Cook County Republican nominee Tony Peraica; and Anita Alvarez, Chief Deputy to current State's Attorney for Cook County Dick Devine and now the Democratic nominee for State's Attorney of Cook County.