Barack Obama, having been given a free pass by most of the media, has encountered increased scrutiny, mostly due to his relationship with the fiery, hate mongering pastor of his church, Jeremiah Wright. Is the media just being mean or is there substance to the scrutiny?
The pattern in the past for neophyte politicians has been for the media to build them up, only to tear them down. For most of Obama’s Presidential run, the main story of his campaign has been of a African American John F. Kennedy who had somehow transcended race to bring Americans of all ethnic backgrounds together. TV stories of Obama rallies, filled to overflowing with enraptured fans fainting in the aisles, abounded. MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, who might well have fainted in Obama delirium had it not been unseemly to do it on the air, once suggested that if one wanted to know what the 60s were like, there it is, referring to an Obama rally.
Obama was very lucky also to have as an opponent Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in a series of primary and caucus contests. Hillary Clinton may have a little more political experience (though not nearly as much as she has claimed), but she lacks Obama’s charisma on the stump. Most polls have given her a high unfavorability rating. She’s just not well liked.
Also the fact that Obama was judged fairly to be the most left wing member of the Senate was shunted aside as irrelevant. Terms like “liberal” and “left wing”: were just labels, after all.
The bloom started to come off the rose because of a statement Michelle Obama, the candidate’s wife, made at a rally in early February. “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”
The statement gave a lot of people some pause. Has Ms. Obama not been proud of her country, which overthrew Nazi and Soviet tyranny and landed men on the Moon, before her husband’s run for the White House. That struck people as a lack of patriotism unbecoming of a potential First Lady of the United States. Naturally, talk radio stars such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity pounced.
The translation of Barack Obama from secular messiah to typical politician accelerated when Hillary Clinton beat Obama in the Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island primaries. Even though the balance of delegates won had not changed over much, the idea of Barack Obama as the inevitable nominee was placed in just a little bit of doubt.
Obama’s troubles really became severe when snippets of sermons delivered by Obama;s fiery, hate mongering pastor, Jeremiah Wright, hit Youtube and, from there, cable news and talk radio. The mainstream media seemed reluctant to focus on the revelation that Obama had been going to a church for decades where the most virulent, hateful, anti-American, and paranoid ravings were being uttered in sermons. The alternate media of talk radio, the blogosphere, and Fox News carried the story, though, and Obama’s poll numbers started to freefall.
Obama attempted to stanch the bleeding by delivering a well crafted address on race relations in America which repudiated Rev Wright’s words, but not the man. Some in the mainstream media bought it. Typical was Chris Matthews who declared that the speech was, ” one of the greatest speeches in American history” and “worthy of Abraham Lincoln.” He suggested that Obama’s speech should be studied in schools, alongside classics of literature.
The alternate media had its doubts. Some commentators pointed out how Obama seemed to throw his white grandmother under the bus, as it were, by making her the moral equivalent of Jeremiah Wright. Geraldine Ferraro, former candidate for Vice President, was incensed that she too was compared to a “racist hatemonger.”
Polling data would indicate that while many people thought that Obama’s speech on racism was well delivered, that concerns remain about Obama’s relationship with Wright. Obama has also suffered in matchups not only with Hillary Clinton but with the Republican candidate John McCain. One astonishing poll suggested that a full 52 percent of likely American voters were less likely to support Obama because of the Wright controversy and the Obama speech.
So Barack Obama has a problem. It cannot be solved by blaming the media or playing the race card. It can only be solved by convincing enough people that Obama deserves to be President. So far Obama seems to have failed in that task.
The nightmare that the Democratic Party faces is the prospect that Obama might win the nomination, as he is still ahead in pledged delegates, but is too wounded to beat John McCain in the fall. How could the Democratic Party bosses deny a charismatic, African American politician the nomination without slapping the most loyal constituency group they have may be a problem that cannot be solved. And the Democrats have only themselves to blame.
Sources: Doubts Emerge over Obama’s Race Speech, Andrew Ward, Financal Times, March 21st, 2008
Is Michelle Obama Becoming a Problem?, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, Feb 19th, 2008
Barack Obama’s Hate Mongering Pastor–Jeremiah Wright, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, March 14th, 2008
Barack Obama’s Speech Tries to Get Past the Jeremiah Wright Controversy, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, March 18th, 2008
Obama Speedch Grades, Rasmussen Reports, March 21st, 2008
Ferraro Slams Obama For Comparing Her to Preacher, Dan Whitcomb, Reuters, March 20th, 2008
Obama’s speech meets unsympathetic ears with Americans, Gary Reese, Southern Political Report, March 20th, 2008