Saturday, May 10, 2008

Obama Embraces New Caustic Pastor

Can you imagine the president of the United States attending a church where the pastor says everyone has a bit of "thug" in him and praises a rapper with a criminal record as a prophet? How about a pastor who calls the biblical patriarch Abraham a "pimp" and says Noah and Moses were thugs, Jesus has a "soft spot for thugs," and everyone has some "thug proclivities."

If Barack Obama is elected president, that is exactly what will happen. Now that the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. is retiring from Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama has said he will continue to attend the church. Explaining his decision, Sen. Obama said that the "new pastor, the young pastor, Reverend Otis Moss, is a wonderful young pastor." He said he also still values the Trinity community.

Known as the "hip-hop pastor," Otis Moss III has served as assistant pastor of the church for two years. Moss officially takes over in June. While Moss has not expressed hatred of America and of whites, as Wright did, in a sermon on YouTube, Moss derides middle-class America for not accepting the "prophetic brilliance" of thugs. Referring to these thugs, Moss says sardonically, "There are times when our prejudice keeps us from hearing ghetto prophets, who preach a brand of thug theology which keeps us from hearing the truth from their lips because of their course language and ragged subject-verb agreement."

To applause, Moss approvingly cites Tupac Shakur, a "gangsta" rap star with a long arrest record. Before being fatally shot in a drive-by attack in Las Vegas in 1996, Shakur faced a 120-day sentence for probation violations stemming from offenses including assault and battery and a 1994 sexual abuse conviction in New York. Shakur served 11 months in prison for his involvement in the sexual attack on a 21-year-old woman in a New York hotel room. Judge Daniel P. Fitzgerald of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan described it as "an act of brutal violence against a helpless woman." Shakur had also been convicted in Los Angeles of assault and battery on a music video producer and for carrying a loaded, concealed weapon.

Most Americans look to places of worship for inspiration and moral and spiritual guidance. Moss' message is the opposite. Claiming Shakur's message speaks to our "current condition," Moss blurs the distinction between right and wrong: He says those who don't get that a rapper like Shakur is a prophet and biblical figures are thugs are confined by "bourgeois paradigms." Instead of condemning those who break the law, Moss says to exuberant applause, "Our society creates thugs. Children are not born thugs. Thugs are made and not born." He adds, "This is good news for somebody who has a proclivity for 'ghettoistic' conduct."

Indeed, it is good news for those who do not want to be held accountable for their own conduct. In making that statement, Moss endorses the message of many black leaders who encourage blacks to see themselves as helpless victims of a bigoted society. As outlined in the Newsmax article "Rev. Wright Furthers Black Victimhood," the victim mentality limits blacks' aspirations and torpedoes their chances at success.

What is most disturbing about Obama's continuing attendance at Trinity is the fact that he is exposing his children to its negative message. Instead of uplifting members of his congregation and calling on them to adhere to the best values, Moss denigrates American society and looks to guidance from thugs.

A president is commander in chief and chief executive officer of the government. But he is also a moral leader. When President Clinton was caught having sex with Monica Lewinsky, parents all over the country were embarrassed and disgusted that they had to explain to their pre-teens the meaning of the sexual terms their kids read in newspaper articles describing Clinton's activities with the 22-year-old White House intern. What kind of moral leadership can be exercised by a man who sends his kids to listen to sermons denouncing America and whites and now calling Moses a thug and praising a convicted rapper as a prophet? What kind of example is set by a man who does not denounce the destructive message sent by this church to blacks and whites alike?

Tragically for segments of black society, in belonging to Trinity and contributing $26,270 to it last year, Obama is helping to spread the crippling message among blacks that they are victims. Apologists for Obama will say where he attends church and what he exposes his children to have nothing to do with being president. They are mistaken. It has everything to do with being president.


Barack Obama Is a Loser

What do you call a candidate who wins 90 percent of the African-American vote, between 30 percent and 50 percent of the Hispanic vote and 40 percent of the white vote in a tight Democratic primary race? A general election loser.

Apply those percentages to the general election, and the candidate will bomb. In 2004, President Bush won 43 percent of the Hispanic vote, 58 percent of the white vote and 11 percent of the African-American vote. That means that John Kerry did better among Hispanics than Barack Obama has done in the Democratic primaries; better among whites than Obama has done in the Democratic primaries; and almost as well among African-Americans. Obama's coalition is Kerry's, but weaker.

In a general election, candidates must appeal to the broadest base of support in order to win. Relying on small coteries of like-raced voters simply will not do it. And the simple fact is that Barack Obama will gain the Democratic nomination by winning intellectual centers, black voters and just enough whites to beat a deeply flawed Hillary Clinton.

This is not a winning coalition. It is, in fact, a recipe for disaster against John McCain. The black vote counts for a far greater percentage in the Democratic primaries than it does in the general election; McCain can lose virtually the entire black vote and still win handily (Bush did it in 2000 and 2004, Bush's father did it in 1988 and Reagan did it in 1984 and 1980).

McCain will do far better among whites than Hillary did. Obama cut especially into Clinton's main base of support -- whites -- by exploiting her gender, winning 40 percent of white males in Indiana and 45 percent of white males in North Carolina. McCain is far more appealing to white men than Clinton. Hillary is perceived as a shrew -- most men find her unpalatable. If Obama could not win more than 45 percent of white men in North Carolina running against Clinton, how can he hope to beat that percentage against McCain?

And then there's the Hispanic vote. For a Democrat, Obama is shockingly unpopular among Hispanics -- he won just 32 percent of California's Hispanic vote in the Democratic primary. McCain, by contrast, is incredibly popular among Hispanics -- he routinely wins 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in his Arizona Senate contests. Such percentages will not translate directly to the general election, of course -- there are more registered Hispanic Democrats than Hispanic Republicans. But those percentages bode ill for Obama, who will struggle to overcome racial barriers, as well as an immigration-friendly Republican like McCain, who also shares many family values with Hispanic Catholics.

These numbers are not likely to change significantly before November. This is because Obama has established himself as a candidate -- he is a mixed-race Adlai Stevenson carbon copy with better rhetorical skill. His association with Jeremiah Wright will not win him additional white votes; his elitism will not win him additional lower-class votes; his racial appeal does not have the same appeal to Hispanic voters.

This leaves McCain in the unexpected position of November front-runner. He will almost certainly win Florida and Ohio, and he will challenge in Pennsylvania. He will retain the states President Bush won, as well. Democrats expected a political realignment in 2008, with a strong new coalition led by young voters. Instead, they may end up with 1972 all over again.


Obama vs. McCain: Let's Get It On

Barack Obama, the first "postracial candidate," is heading to the Democratic nomination almost entirely because of his near-universal support from black voters in the Democratic primaries. In both states Tuesday, his share of that vote was 90% or more. If one resets the black vote to the norm of earlier elections, Hillary Clinton is the nominee.

The idea that Obama was a postracial politician dates to his famous keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004. He set the postracial template himself in the speech's third sentence, describing his father born in a small Kenyan village, herding goats, etc. His mother was "born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas." Over the next three years, writers ratified this postracial definition of Obama's own design. From this idea, a Democratic star arose.

Hillary Clinton, who now resembles the robot's crawling hand in the final scenes of "The Terminator," can plausibly argue to the superdelegates that much of this is electoral bunk. In Indiana, her share of the white vote to his, men and women combined, was 60-40, a huge lead. In North Carolina, 61-37. They won't buy it. Ever. The "first woman" running for president would have to be pulling 90% of her own piece of history, women, to compete with his achievement. Obama has locked up 90% of a constituency that Democrats not only must have to win in November, but that they've elevated to mythic status the past 40 years. As well, the black vote came spontaneously to Sen. Obama, without him having to make an overt appeal for their vote, as she did with women.

The Democratic superdelegates are products of their party - nice liberals, nice people. To stiff Obama's black voters at this late hour, most of the superdelegates would have to be as hard and clinical about politics as the Clintons. They aren't. Obama moves them and validates their commitment to the Democratic idea. Shelby Steele described the force even Hillary can't match in these pages last March: Race lifts the Obama candidacy "to the level of allegory. . . . Because he is black, there is a sense that profound questions stand to be resolved in the unfolding of his political destiny." The superdelegates are faced with choosing between the Clinton machine's brutal demographic math and thinking well of themselves. No contest.

Will the national electorate sing from the same hymnal as the superdelegates' offstage chorus? Who knows, but let's get on with finding out. Barack Obama is going to run an aura campaign. As it has been from the start, it's going to be a speech candidacy, a rhetorical candidacy, a JFK candidacy, the promise of another Camelot. Listen here to Barack describing what it's all about Monday in Indianapolis: "I believe that this election is bigger than me or John McCain or Hillary Clinton. It's bigger than the Democrats versus Republicans. It's about who we are as Americans." That's as big as it gets.

Will more than 50% of voters want a piece of this dream in November? Will the Rev. Wright specter be gone by then and the "bitter" remark forgiven? Sure. Why not? By any measure, the country's mood is awful. Some of it is gas prices and some the mysterious mortgage and credit crisis (Barack knows how it happened: "We do need a government that stands up for families who are being tricked out of their homes by Wall Street predators"). Whenever Americans get glum near an election, it's a good bet that pitching their ideals at them will appeal, and thank heavens for that. FDR was an ideals candidate and so was Ronald shining-city-on-a-hill Reagan.

So long as the American mood sits in the dumpster, John McCain will have his hands full. The instinct of the McCain camp will be to compete for the unhappy white vote Hillary leaves behind with lurches toward Obama-like populism. That compulsion was already evident in the demagogic anti-Wall Street passages of his speech on the economy last month.

John McCain needs to find an Achilles heel in this opponent. It's there - not the Wright mess but Obama's dustup with Hillary Sunday on Iran, when he tagged her for "saber rattling" and "tough talk." Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, collector of centrifuges, makes Jeremiah Wright look like Little Bo Peep. Yet this Tuesday Barack Obama said he assumes the American people will see it is "not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but our enemies, like Roosevelt did, Kennedy did, and Truman did." In the here and now, a more apt name comes to mind: Jimmy Carter.

A grand Enemies Tour awaits President Obama - Iran's Ahmadinejad, Syria's Assad, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, North Korea's Kim Jong Il, an al Qaeda "diplomat" from Osama bin Laden, Sudan's Hassan al-Bashir, Zimbabwe's Mugabe, Burma's junta.

If John McCain can't talk the American people out of re-Carterizing themselves, what has he been preparing for all these years?


It's Obama, Warts and All


Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each took a state Tuesday. But the result was a damaging loss for the woman who was once the overwhelming front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Here are some observations on the race:

- Mr. Obama is now the prohibitive favorite. Tuesday night, he took at least 94 delegates to Mrs. Clinton's 75 and leads the former First Lady by 176 delegates in the AP tabulation. He has 1,840 of the 2,025 delegates needed to win. Mr. Obama needs only 185 - or 38% - of the 486 outstanding delegates (217 to be elected in the six remaining contests, and 269 superdelegates yet to endorse a candidate). Mrs. Clinton needs 341, or 70% of those left to be awarded. Mr. Obama understands this. On Tuesday night, he added a big dollop of general election themes and pre-emptive defenses against coming attacks to his stump speech.

- Mrs. Clinton may battle until June and possibly until the convention in August. There's nothing Mr. Obama can or should do about it. After a long, bitter struggle, losing candidates often look for reasons to feel aggrieved. There is no reason to give her one. No pressure from Mr. Obama or party Chairman Howard Dean is better than pushing her out of the race.

- The Democrats' refusal to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations at their convention is an unresolved problem. If they insist on not seating these delegations, Democrats risk alienating voters in states with 44 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. And here Mr. Obama is at greater risk than Mrs. Clinton, especially in Florida. He trails John McCain badly in Sunshine State polls today, while Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. McCain there.

- The length of the Democratic contest has been - in some ways - a plus for the party. The AP estimates that more than 3.5 million new voters registered during the competitive primary season. And the hundreds of millions of dollars spent energizing Democratic turnout will leave organization and energy in place for November. Mr. Obama is a better candidate for having been battle tested. And Mr. McCain has to fight hard for attention. He's mentioned in less than 20% of the coverage in recent months, while Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are talked about in 60% to 70% of the coverage.

- The length of the Democratic contest has been - in some ways - a minus. It has revealed weaknesses in Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton. Mrs. Clinton came across as calculating, contrived, stiff and self-concerned. Mr. Obama is increasingly seen not as the Second Coming, but as a typical liberal Chicago pol with a thin record, little experience, an array of troubling relationships and, to top it off, elitist sensibilities. Nominating him will now test the thesis that only a Democrat running as a moderate can win the White House.

The primary has created a deep fissure in Democratic ranks: blue collar, less affluent, less educated voters versus the white wine crowd of academics and upscale professionals (along with blacks and young people). Mr. Obama runs behind Mrs. Clinton's numbers when matched against Mr. McCain in key industrial battleground states. Less than half of Mrs. Clinton's backers in Indiana and North Carolina say they would support Mr. Obama if he were the nominee. In the most recent Fox News poll, two-and-a-half times as many Democrats break for Mr. McCain (15%) as Republicans defect to Mrs. Clinton (6%) and nearly twice as many Democrats support Mr. McCain (22%) as Republicans back Mr. Obama (13%). These "McCainocrat" defections could hurt badly.

State and local Democrats are realizing the toxicity of their probable national ticket. Democrats running in special congressional races recently in Louisiana and Mississippi positioned themselves as pro-life, pro-gun social conservatives and disavowed Mr. Obama. The Louisiana Democrat won his race on Saturday and said he "has not endorsed any national politician." The Mississippi Democrat is facing a runoff on May 13 and specifically denied that Mr. Obama had endorsed his campaign. Not exactly profiles in unity.

- As much as Mr. Obama's cheerleaders in the media hate it, Rev. Jeremiah Wright remains a large general-election challenge for Mr. Obama. Not only did Mr. Obama admit on "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Wright was a legitimate issue, voters agree. Mr. Obama's favorable ratings have dropped since Mr. Wright emerged as an issue. More than half of Mrs. Clinton's supporters say it is a meaningful reflection on Mr. Obama's character and judgment.

- This will be a very difficult year for Republicans. The economy's shaky state, an unpopular war, and the natural desire for partisan change after eight years of one party in the White House have helped tilt the balance to the Democrats. Mr. Obama is significantly weaker today than he was three months ago, but Democrats have the upper hand in November. They're beatable. But it's nonsense to think this year is going to be a replay of George H.W. Bush versus Michael Dukakis or Richard Nixon versus George McGovern.

- Mr. McCain is very competitive. He is the best candidate Republicans could have picked in this environment. With the GOP brand low, his appeal to moderates and independents becomes even more crucial. My analysis of individual state polls shows that today Mr. McCain would win 241 Electoral College votes to Mr. Obama's 217, with 80 votes in toss-up states where neither candidate has more than a 3% lead. Ironically, Mrs. Clinton now leads Mr. McCain with 251 electoral votes to his 203 with 84 in toss-up states. This is the first time she's led Mr. McCain since I began tracking state-by-state results in early March.

Mr. McCain is realistic enough to know he will fall behind Mr. Obama once the Democratic nomination is settled. He's steeled himself and his team for that moment. And he's comforted by a belief that there will be plenty of time to recapture the lead. Mr. McCain saw Gerald Ford come from 30 points down to lose narrowly to Jimmy Carter in 1976, and watched George H.W. Bush overcome a 17-point deficit in the summer to hammer Michael Dukakis in the fall of 1988.

- The battlegrounds will look familiar. It will be the industrial heartland from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, minus Indiana (Republican) and Illinois (Democrat); the western edge of the Midwest from Minnesota south to Missouri; Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada in the Rocky Mountains; Florida; and New Hampshire. Mr. Obama will argue he puts Virginia and North Carolina into play (doubtful), and may make an attempt at winning one or two of Nebraska's electoral votes (it awards its electoral votes by congressional district). Mr. McCain will say he can put New Jersey and Delaware and part of Maine (it splits its vote like Nebraska) in play. But it's doubtful he'll win in Oregon or Washington State, although he believes he can.

- Almost everything we think we know right now will be revised and even overturned during the next six months. This has been a race in which conventional wisdom has often been proven wrong. The improbable or thought-to-be impossible has happened with regularity. It has created a boom market for punditry and opinion offering, and one of the grandest possible spectacles for political junkies in decades. Hold on to your hat. It's going to be one heck of a ride through Nov. 4.


Hamas & Obama: Apparently, It's Only a Smear if McCain Says It

At Contentions, Jen Rubin reports that Barack Obama, the King of Righteous Indignation, is righteously (actually, risibly) indignant over a "smear" by John McCain - namely, McCain's factually true (and totally understandable) observation that Hamas wants Obama to be president.

Remarkable. On the plane ride here to Chicago, I caught up with our Mark Hemingway's superb article, "A Curious Kind of Friendship - Barack Obama's dubious record on Israel," in the current print edition of NR. There are gems throughout the piece, but Mark starts out discussing the Hamas endorsement:

When asked about the endorsement, Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, was flattered that Hamas compared his candidate to JFK: "We all agree that John Kennedy was a great president, and it's flattering when anybody says that Barack Obama would follow in his footsteps."

So what is "flattering" to Obama when Obama's top spokesman addresses it becomes a "smear" of Obama when McCain does?

This is of a piece with the whole kerfuffle over Obama's middle name. Remember how that became a smear, too? Except, as I noted here a while back (thanks to a Bret Stephens WSJ column), the first person to make a point of using "Barack Hussein Obama" turned out to be Barack Hussein Obama. ("Well, I think if you've got a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, that's a pretty good contrast to George W. Bush," Mr. Obama told PBS's Tavis Smiley on October 18, 2007. "If you believe that we've got to heal America and we've got to repair our standing in the world, then I think my supporters believe that I am the messenger who can deliver that message.")

So, Obama wants to be able to appeal to the Islamic world, which is rife with jihadists, by holding out the likelihood (i.e., the certainty) that he would be more understanding and accommodating (which is to say more prone to appeasement) than any GOP rival, but we are supposed to say nothing about the fact that this is naturally alluring to jihadists (as the jihadists themselves are pointing out)?

I hope Sen. McCain does not decide that this, like the patently relevant Wright matter, is somehow beneath his dignity to discuss.



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