Magazine article The Spectator

Obama Is on Course for Victory. but He Isn't Ready for the White House

Magazine article The Spectator

Obama Is on Course for Victory. but He Isn't Ready for the White House

Article excerpt

Two Sundays ago, I was sitting in the café in the Borders on L Street in Washington, a table away from a couple of middleaged black men who were discussing politics over cups of coffee and great piles of books. One of them, wearing a black T-shirt with a Union logo on it and the kind of motley pillbox hat that was popular during the Afrocentric clothing fad of the early 1990s, raised his voice. 'If they steal it, ' he said, 'brothers is gonna riot.' The 'they' were Republicans. It was the presidential election and the diagnosis was unsurprising. The belief is widespread among Democrats of all hues, views and regions that Republicans never win elections legitimately. They must either lie to the public or manipulate the vote. My neighbour seemed to anticipate some tampering with the automatic tallying machines made by the Diebold company, a staple subject on left-wing talk radio.

Well, there's scant danger of that, I thought.

That evening's Hotline poll showed Barack Obama with a solid 5-point lead -- and Obama was beating John McCain in states without which no Republican can win. Since then, the signs of a landslide have multiplied.

Obama is up by 2:1 margins in New York and California. Twice as many Obama supporters nationwide claim to be very enthusiastic about their candidate. Eleven million people have voted early, thanks to liberalised absentee ballot rules, and they lean Obama's way.

In New Mexico, 69 per cent of the early voters are registered Democrats. In Georgia, blacks (who favour Obama 95 per cent to 5) account for more than a third of early ballots. A quarter of a million absentee ballots have been cast in Obamaphilic metropolitan Cleveland alone. And Obama is wiping McCain out in both fundraising and television ad buys.

Democrats have roughly an even chance of acquiring 60 seats in the Senate and hence a filibuster-proof majority that would allow them to work their will unimpeded.

But an unsettling thought occurred to me in that bookstore: What if the polls are totally wrong? What if the country is like a big New Hampshire, where the Democratic nomination race was expected to end last January, but didn't? Back then, polls showed Obama beating Hillary Clinton by roughly 10 points. She beat him by 3. Racism, though often adduced, needn't be the cause of such polling confusion. It could, on the contrary, be a deferential reluctance to rain on the parade announced for months in the nation's leading newspapers. Whatever the cause, it remains possible to imagine John McCain winning the election -- perhaps while losing the popular vote.

If it is now highly unlikely that enraged urban voters will set America's cities alight, we can thank the incompetence, confusion, and surprising unsuitability to the job of president that McCain has shown in recent weeks.

He looks past it. McCain's public meetings look like the reunions the second world war generation used to have in the 1970s. Oddly for a 73-year-old politician, McCain spends much of his time in the company of people older than himself. He declared victory in the Republican primaries with the 81-year-old Senator John Warner nodding behind him; he was introduced in Dayton, Ohio this week by the 73-year-old former housing secretary Jack Kemp. A thorn in his side is the 83-yearold Republican Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted on ethics charges this week.

And the financial crisis that erupted this autumn, bringing a trillion-dollar-plus bailout package in its train, seems to call for an infusion of new ideas. Suddenly, McCain's small-government rhetoric has become a penny stock. He has reached the top of his party's hierarchy at the moment when its principles have been discredited. When McCain's trusted ally Lindsey Graham describes him as a man who 'will keep your taxes low, and rein Washington spending in', who is he kidding? Dick Zimmer, the Republicans' doomed New Jersey senatorial candidate, makes similar noises: 'I start with the principle it's not my money or Congress's money to spend. …

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