Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A dynamic duo in the works?

MSNBC reports today what Democratic insiders have been quietly saying among themselves for some time: that the populist and fundraising groundwork may already be laid for the viability of a Hillary Rodham Clinton-Barack Obama ticket in 2008.

That very real possibility calls for a re-examination of race, politics and the politics of race – it even calls for a different way of looking at what we think “electability” really is.

Obama’s campaign has consistently outpointed Clinton’s on the money front; yesterday it was announced that Obama had raised $34 million in the second quarter of the year alone, besting Clinton’s efforts by a mil or so. But despite revealing both a proven fundraising prowess and a charisma sorely lacking in much of the rest of the Democratic field, Obama remains subject to the chin-pulling and skepticism of Americans who knock Obama for not being Electable – Americans whose premise of Electability invariably hinges on perspectives of race [see “Barack Obama and the E-Word”}.

For them there’s a cheap safe harbor in that 64-Cent Question: “Is America ready for a black president?”

The prospect of Obama joining a Clinton ticket doesn’t eliminate the question; it shifts that reflexive skepticism to the top of the ticket; many of the same Americans uncomfortable with the idea of Obama as president are asking “Is America ready for a woman president?”

So the combination of the two could mean an unstoppable election juggernaut, not one animated by the conclusions of focus groups and professional pols, but one powered by its own status as The American Constituency. Women and minorities are in themselves a formidable percentage of the electorate; a Clinton-Obama ticket solidifies that potential, gives voters an impressive vision of the possible to get their minds around.

One matter up for discussion, though, is: Why not the other way around? With Obama’s record-setting fundraising (much of it done online) a proven ability to connect viscerally with his audience, and a relative absence of political baggage, why not Obama-Clinton in 2008?

This is the hurdle a lot of Americans would rather not be asked to get over: the idea of unambiguously supporting a black man in his quest for the most powerful job in the world. American history is littered with the agonies of our peculiar racial relationship; the idea of being confronted with the prospect of (at least) political equality as a consequence of national events is something many Americans can’t endorse. Yet, anyway.

The arithmetic of all this has yet to play itself out in this front-loaded campaign. With at least a dozen states set to have their primaries over and done with by the spring of 2008, we may have an answer sooner than later. But as Americans’ frustration with the Republican leadership gets worse, as the national complexion gets darker and more multicultural and more estrogen-rich, that 64-Cent Question yields a better one:

A black or a woman president – Is America really ready for anything else?

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