Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, `he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name,' you know, `he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.' -- Barack Obama
As a conservative* I am skeptical of the Marxist notion of history as a process that responds to deterministic dialectic forces that control its flow and make it extend into the future as certainly as it extends into the past -- skeptical, but not altogether immune. There is a sense in this country that we are ready to turn the corner on the race issue -- that out of an understanding of our admittedly-racist past, and an appreciation of the more recent achievements blacks have made in society, we are ready for a new synthesis in the form of our first black president. I feel it. I share it. But I think our responsibility as citizens of our democracy is to choose the man we think will do the best job and then, if he turns out to be black (as he inevitably will some day), so much the better. Sadly, I don't think Barack's the guy.
But the news media apparently don't share my point of view. People will tell you that the media are in the tank for Obama but that is simply not true. It's not Obama they are enamored with, it is history. They are simply captivated with the sense that the moment for the first black president has come... and Obama is the candidate at hand. Here is the Rolling Stone cover I stole Obama's mug from to put him on the Twenty.
I chose the Rolling Stone's cover because it has Obama facing more or less the same direction as Jackson is on the twenty and because it has him looking rather Jacksonian I think. It is only right now as I type this, having just pasted the image into the text, that I notice the subhead of the Stones' endorsement: "The Candidate and the Call of History." What a perfect example of my thesis here. [Note to self: track down this issue of the Stone and see if it makes me look like an ass.]
The reason Obama keeps mentioning his blackness is not so much to accuse his detractors of being secret racists as to remind people of the flow of history and his appointed place in it. This is not to say that some of Obama's supporters don't think that all Republicans are closet racists; of course there are such people in Obama's base but there is simply no reason for him to campaign to them right now; he can take them for granted (and he does) since they have nowhere else to go.
Obama's not-so-secret weapon is the undeniable fact that the 'mantle of history' appeal works really well with undecided voters -- it resonates with the people in the middle who both candidates need to win. Independents tend to be less ideological and are much more susceptible to the argument that it is time for a black president.
That is why McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President is so brilliant. Undecided voters are also open to the idea that the time is right for a female president. Suddenly McCain has as good a grip on the mantle of history as Obama does. McCain's age, which was a big negative before, now adds spice to the "first woman president" angle. McCain is not likely to run for a second term and a Palin candidacy in four years is highly probable. And the fact that Palin is a strong conservative helps shore up McCain's wobbly support in his own base.
With the "mantle-of-history" gap suddenly closed, independent voters are faced with the odious chore of choosing between the candidates based on the issues -- a task which both candidates render almost impossible by making their campaign material indecipherably vague.
Currently the Obama campaign is trying, with little success, to convince the public that Sarah Palin isn't, you know, really a woman, but is instead some sort of Stepford Wives, Republican homunculus who is unfit to claim the mandate of history. It's an uphill struggle but they have to discredit her to make the contest once again a referendum on race relations. If they can't make that work they run the risk that the middle-of-the-road voter will notice Obama's voting record which (for 2007) was the most perfectly liberal in the country.
Although there have been a few defections, Obama still has the media in his corner. Most of them are Liberals and they hate the idea that the forces of history might be co-opted by the other side. But suddenly, with Palin in the race, the coverage is much less about the exciting moment in history and more about good old-fahsioned mud slinging.
*I describe myself as a "conservative" to save time since "hawkish minarchist traditionalist libertarian fuaionist" doesn't mean anything to most of my readers, readers who, if the terms are explained to them, will respond with "Oh, that's some kind of a conservative, right?"