I wake up screaming. Well, not actually (and I must credit C for that phrase, which applied to a very different situation a very long time ago), but rather I do wake up wondering how I've made it so far through these winter days that vie to outstrip each preceding one in terms of persistent gloom and sunlessness, the cold that seems to issue from one of hell's antechambers, the endlessly ramped up schedule of tasks and responsibilities.... One of my students wrote to say the other day that he was suffering from "the winters," and asked permission to miss class--his winters, unfortunately turned into the sort of flu that has been laying out number of people of late--and I totally understood. The winters indeed.
Several longtime correspondents (an old friend, one of my mentors) and some new ones have written me enthusiastically about the Obama campaign (at right, Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, at his victory celebration in South Carolina, Getty Images), championing in particular success in Iowa and New Hampshire, where he finished second, and, on Saturday night, the blowout in South Carolina. (He received 55% of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 27% and John Edwards's 18%.) They've all made great points about his ability to win over young voters, the enthusiasm he inspires (which had frothed up to a mania a few weeks ago), and his appeal, based on the Iowa voting breakdowns, to white voters. One noted, as some news accounts and pundits also have, that he received more votes than the top two Republicans, McCain and Mittens, combined--shades of his Illinois US Senate primary victory, where his vote total alone exceeded that of all the Republicans combined--while another pointed out that for the fourth straight contest, not counting the Michigan balloting, the Democrats have drawn more voters than the Republicans, in part because of interest in Obama. Disgust with George W. Bush would also have something to do with it, but I do agree that Obama is generating a lot of excitement, and his victory in South Carolina was pretty stunning, because of the margin of victory, because of the demographic breakdown of his votes, because of what it might say about possible outcomes there or in more moderate Southern states, like Virginia and Arkansas. None of my correspondents seem in the least worried about Obama's rhetoric--beyond the brilliant speeches, and his victory speech in South Carolina was one of the best I've ever heard him give--or his policies, whatever they may be, they don't seem troubled by his overt use of Republican discourse or ideological and policy vagueness, they don't think that Republican smear machine, coupled with the establishment media (I'm always trying to find the right name for these folks), will wring and wrack him in the same way that it did Gore and Kerry. They all seem more concerned with the strategies and actions of the Clintons, who, no surprise to me, are fighting with lead gloves to ensure Hillary's nomination.
I guess I should be more concerned with the Clintons' actions, especially their racialization of the campaign, exemplified most recently by Bill Clinton's Barack Obama = Jesse Jackson and "black candidate" comments last night, but to me, what Obama, if he's going to be the nominee, needs more than anything is to experience the sort of political fight, complete with racist commentary, smears, distortions of his legislative and personal record, what have you, that he'll be encountering in the general election. Anyone who thinks the Republican Party and its surrogates in the establishment media are going to play fair, especially if the party's choice, Mittens, gets the nod, or the media's beloved McCain, somehow becomes the Republican nominee, has been asleep these past two decades. The Republicans know how to jack up racist and socially-based appeals like there's no tomorrow, and time and again, voters have shown they are gullible enough to fall for it. I know this sounds cynical, and I'm trying not to be, but as I keep saying, I hope Obama's team, and the candidate himself, is gearing up for what's coming. Whining, demanding fairness, and trying to appeal to better angels and angles doesn't work most of the time with these folks. They are ruthless, and if they weren't, we'd never have been plagued with the worst president in US history (and yes, that includes the abysmal roster of James Buchanan, Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, etc.). Whether Obama's really battle-toughened yet isn't clear to me, but I am coming to grasp that his sustained highminded, above-the-fray pose, which he dropped recently to deal with the Clintons' tactics, does appear to have tremendous appeal across partisan lines, and not just to the punditocracy, who have been looking for any reason to go after the former president Clinton, and continue their attacks on Hillary. He has been mentioning a bit more policy in some of the clips I've seen recently, and he did openly state that it's the politics of Washington today and the policies of the current administration that he wants to change, whose rejection he represents, so maybe there is hope.
As 1,000 and more articles have already noted by now, the real test will come on February 5, when he'll be competing in two dozen states, only a few of which--Alabama, Georgia, and Tennesee--have demographics like South Carolina (though all three are considerably larger). There's Illinois, which he should win without breaking a sweat, but also the diverse behemoths of New York and California, and a range of other states like Massachusetts (where the dual Caroline-Teddy Kennedy endorsements might help), Minnesota, Delaware, and Connecticut, where he has a good opportunity to do well, and others, like Missouri, Alaska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma, where he may not. I'm especially curious to see how my conservative native state, Missouri, votes, especially since its Democratic junior senator, the very moderate Claire McCaskill, and former moderate Democratic Senator, Jean Carnahan, have endorsed Obama and are now actively campaigning for him. I'm as curious about New Jersey, which I think I once read is the one of the most ethnically diverse and balanced states in the US, and could be swayed by Hillary's proximity as much as by an energized youth vote and higher turnouts among African-American voters and Latinos, if they chose to vote for Obama over Hillary Clinton. (I filled out my absentee ballot and have mailed it off, a process that New Jersey has streamlined considerably in the last few years.)
So we'll see how it turns out. I'm on the edge of my seat. Really.
I haven't checked many blogs today, but I didn't see much mention of the passing last night of Eugene Sawyer (at left, CBS file photo) who was Chicago's second Black mayor, serving from 1987-1989. Sawyer, an Alabama native, represented Chicago's 6th Ward on the Chicago City Council from 1971 until 1987, when he was chosen by the council to serve as Mayor after the sudden death of the remarkable Harold Washington. The City Council session that selected him was contentious, and I can recall even now that Sawyer was not the first choice of many of Chicago's Black political class. Many of Washington's supporters wanted councilman Timothy Evans, now Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, named mayor, while many of Washington's fiercest opponents supported Sawyer. Sawyer eventually received 29 votes to Evans's 19, and on December 2, 1987, he was sworn in as mayor. In his brief tenure, he not only managed to ensure a period of political calm, but maintained many of Washington's priorities and saw several enacted, including gay rights legislation and affirmative action opportunities in city contracts. He was defeated in the 1989 by Richard Daley, who has been the mayor ever since, and left government service thereafter. Sawyer was 73 years old.