The New York Times was deep in the throes of Obamamania this weekend, with four separate articles discussing Barack's candidacy, from Oprah's endorsement to his chances against the dynamic duo of Bill and Hillary. The most interesting of the bunch describes Obama's feminist pitch, i.e., how he plans on stealing some of the pro-female vote away from Hillary Clinton. While heralding the historic nature of Hillary's run, the article suggests that Obama is simultaneously trying to show female voters that he's the more "feminist" candidate because of his personal history. "I know what it's like to be raised by a single mom who's trying to work and go to school and raise two kids at the same time, doesn't have any support from the father," the Illinois senator has said. "These are issues I'm passionate about." All the same, recent polls show that more black women support Clinton than Obama by a margin of 15 points, largely because they loved Bill, the man novelist Toni Morrison called "Our first black president."
Another of this weekend's Times pieces — this one by op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd — reinforces Michelle Obama's assertion that Hillary polls better than Barack amongst African Americans because blacks have been systematically oppressed and therefore believe that "somehow, someone is better" than they are. Dowd likens Obama to "a child prodigy" in a completely condescending piece that both infantalizes him and ignores Obama's agency. Ms. Dowd goes onto claim that what Americans want is a father figure as President, but with Obama they're getting a petulant kid, and that those " enraptured with his gifts urge him on, like anxious parents, trying to pull that sustained, dazzling performance out of him that they believe he's capable of."
The question is whether Oprah, with her rhetoric of positivity and inclusion can help Obama pull out that "sustained, dazzling performance" and encourage "oppressed" African Americans to vote for him. Political scientist Ross K. Baker, in the paper's Sunday Styles section says: "Obama is a post-polarization candidate and Oprah is a post-polarization celebrity...Whereas people like Barbra Streisand and Jane Fonda make you think of taking to the barricades, with Oprah it's conciliation and brotherhood." (Obama claims that "I'm not somebody who believes that her endorsement, or anybody's endorsement, actually secures me votes." But honestly? The woman got millions of people to pay for the hardcover copy of a book about hiding vegetables in brownies. We're pretty sure her endorsement will wrangle at least a few thousand votes from suggestible couch surfers.)
Lastly, Frank Rich gets in on the Obama act, saying that Hillary's candidacy is nowhere near a forgone conclusion, and that Obama is an equally formidable Democratic opponent to any possible Republican candidate. Hillary's Achilles heel is no doubt her flip-flopping on Iraq, and that makes her an easy target for anti-Dem rhetoric. Meanwhile, according to Rich, Obama signifies a "mainstream multiracial and multicultural America," and if he were matched against either Guiliani "who was forged in the racial crucible of New York's police brutality nightmares of the 1990s, or...Mitt Romney, who was shaped by a religion that didn't give blacks equal membership until 1978, [the bid for Presidency] would be less a clash of races than of centuries."
So can Obama pull it off? Will Oprah's support push him over the edge? Will African Americans ever stop loving Bill Clinton?
Feminist Pitch by a Democrat Named Obama [NY Times]
O Brother, Where Art Thou?[NY Times]
Who's Afraid of Barack Obama? [NY Times]
The Oprah Party Wants You [NY Times]
Why Black Women Prefer Clinton To Obama [CBS News]