For the past several months, Mr. Peepers, the old hand at my office, has acquired the obnoxious habit of lapsing into what I call "the Barack Obama song." It's a very simple tune: he saunters through a room and sings, "Ba-rack O-ba-ma, da dee dee-dee, dee-dee." He does the same thing with radio show jingles and random songs he hears. For a while he could be heard singing, "suicidal, suicidal," derived from who knows what. Or he might do, "Radio-oh, Glen Beck show-oh."
Mr. Peepers listens to the right-wing talkers, as I suspect many liberals do, because they enjoy being annoyed. Conservatives don't have a similar compulsion, despite some appearances, so liberal talk radio hasn't really flourished. In any event, I knew that his singing a song didn't mean he endorsed its sentiments. Despite that knowledge, I'd convinced myself that he had been caught up in the Obama wave.
He surprised me this afternoon when he asked if I had read today's "Sound Off" column in our paper. He called my attention to one comment that a reader had phoned in:
This is to all the Election Day pollsters. I'm telling you right now, don't waste your time calling my house asking me how I'm going to vote, because if Hillary Clinton doesn't get the Democratic nomination for president, I am not voting for anybody.
The surprise came when Mr. Peepers said, "That's my opinion, too."
"I thought you were an Obama fan," I protested.
"No, he's just words, words," Peepers muttered, "He's never done anything. Words don't put food on my table."
So he was a Clinton supporter, right down to parroting the party line. I had to ask him, "What has Clinton done for you? What makes you think she's qualified to be President?"
"She's destined," he answered, "It was decided a year and a half ago."
Mr. Peepers appears to believe that Senator Clinton was sure to win ever since Michael Savage, a radio talker, predicted her victory in a typical fit of pique. Peepers is impressed by right-wing pessimism. Whenver one of them laments that their worst nightmare, a second Clinton presidency, looks likely to happen, he grows more certain of her inevitability.
In that respect, Mr. P. differs from the typical Clinton cultist, but it's probably no great exaggeration to note that most Clinton supporters believe the Senator to be "destined." The Clintonites are united by a blinding sense of entitlement, a conviction that 2008 is the Senator's turn, or her reward for standing by her man. There is as great an irrational element, and arguably more irrationality, in the Clinton movement than there is in the Obama camp.
Clintonites make much of embarrassing moments when unqualified people end up on television to be grilled about Senator Obama's legislative accomplishments. I saw a Fox News focus group of Democrats draw a blank on the subject, one of them opining that being the only black Senator was achievement enough. Last night I saw a clueless Texan, chosen for the purpose who knows how, left speechless by Chris Matthews's query on Obama's record, while a Clintonite gloated about her candidate's "accomplidgements." But for some reason Matthews didn't see fit to ask the woman to list Clinton's senatorial accomplishments. Clintonites take it on faith that, by virtue of her four extra years of service, she has to have done more than Obama. I don't know if they can prove it.
It irks me to hear Clintonites say all through the campaign that Hillary was the most qualified candidate. It seems obvious to me that nearly every candidate who has dropped out since the new year was more qualified than she is; about Biden and Dodd I feel pretty certain. I refuse to recognize First Lady time as a qualification for the Presidency. I struggle not to laugh every time Clinton cites that pathetic speech she gave in China as proof of her foreign policy expertise.
It also irks me to hear Mr. Right sneer that the Democratic campaign is all about "identity politics," as if Clinton vs. Obama boiled down to the women vs. the blacks. Unfortunately for the country, however, he is half right. The Clinton campaign is all about identity politics. No sensible person would say that Senator Clinton was the most qualified candidate if the Senator were a man. But Clinton is privileged in her acolytes' minds because of her feminist credentials and her personal history. This is a cult of personality driven not only by the desire to elect the first female President but also by some almost religious reverence toward Hillary Rodham Clinton as an individual that remains inexplicable to me.
But isn't the Obama campaign the cult of personality? Isn't it all about words and no substance? Well, what if it is? I've had my own reservations about Obama. When he was being touted throughout 2007, I worried that he was some sort of Stepford candidate, an innocuous mannequin if not a puppet of hidden powers. I remain concerned that he may ultimately prove an empty vessel. But at this moment in history I see the American people filling that empty vessel with their own long-simmering frustration with twenty years of Bushes and Clintons and talk-radio meanness and increasingly pointless partisanship. At this time Barack Obama is a protest candidate whether he wants to be or not. He has become more than the possible first black President. In the maddening absence of a viable third or fourth party, voters are poised to draft him for a real campaign to end a contemptible generation of politics that has embarrassed this nation.
It's increasingly apparent to me that for most Democrats, and many independents, and perhaps eventually the majority of all voters, a vote for Obama is a vote against an entire era that is past due for consignment to the musty basement of history. Under those circumstances, Obama's qualifications are virtually irrelevant. What matters more is the people's right to cast that negative vote and cast out twenty years of demons, and if they can do that only by voting for Obama, who are we to deny them?
* * *But if you demand specifics, and you can find a candidate who will do specifically what you think necessary, who am I to deny you? I add this as a reminder that the above was not an endorsement of Barack Obama for the presidency by myself or the Think 3 Institute. If anything, I'm more inclined to endorse what I see as a spontaneous mass movement in which Obama is to some extent an unwitting running mate. I'd like to see that movement attach itself to a more substantial candidate, but at the same time I don't want it to go away if it can't find such a person.