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With Hillary Clinton’s stirring endorsement, Barack Obama now turns to the general election. John McCain is already taking potshots at Obama. The pundits are speculating on what states are in play, what constituencies are in reach. This stunning triumph—Barack Obama winning the nomination of his party for the presidency of the United States - is beginning to get the traditional press coverage.
But this is not a traditional election. It is not simply a change election. It is a sea-change election. Americans are looking for a dramatic change. And the country is desperately in the need of bold leadership.
Pundits chatter about whether Obama can win back Hillary’s supporters—women, working families, seniors, Latinos. But McCain has little to offer them. He’s anti-choice and pro-war; he supports Bush’s trade policies and top-end tax cuts that have so failed most Americans. He’s for privatization of Social Security, unraveling employer-based health care and means testing Medicare. These aren’t positions that will endear him to seniors, who also have a better sense of what it means to be 71 years old. And Republican insults have repulsed Latino voters. McCain wasn’t part of that, but he walked away from his support of comprehensive immigration reform in his pursuit of the nomination.
Moreover this campaign takes place against a stark backdrop. The endless Iraq occupation is in its fifth year and counting. President Bush and Senator McCain hail the great progress being made under the “surge,” but that progress isn’t enough to bring our troops home or to stop squandering lives and $12 billion a month in a bloody occupation in the midst of a complicated civil war. After five years, an estimated $2 trillion already in direct and indirect costs, over 4000 lives lost and tens of thousands wounded or permanently scarred, Senator McCain warns that the government isn’t strong enough to order the country if we were to withdraw. Meanwhile Iran grows in influence, particularly with the Iraqi government itself.
News at home reports on rising unemployment, $4.00 a gallon gasoline, rising food prices, soaring health care costs, declining home values. Credit card debt is up; Americans are raiding their retirement accounts, simply to stay even. Jobs are down for the fifth straight month. Housing prices are down 14 percent in the first quarter, costing homeowners an estimated $2.5 trillion in equity. Estimates now are that as many as one in four homes will
be “underwater”—worth less than the mortgage—by next year. And this has only begun to get bad. Employment has been held up by rising state and local government employment, but beginning in July, states will be laying off teachers and police and others as they struggle to meet balanced budget mandates with declining income.
John McCain can’t win an election on these issues. So he’ll run one on character, experience, patriotism and race. He’ll try to frighten people about voting for Obama. His first ad touted him as “the American president America has been waiting for,” as opposed presumably, to the alien that Democrats have nominated. His first salvos at Obama have been less about issues than starkly personal, calling Obama naïve, uninformed, even questioning his patriotism.
Obama is the reverse. He wants an issues debate with McCain. He’s happy to debate McCain on Iraq and on foreign policy, where he believes McCain simply doesn’t understand the world we live in. He sees McCain as trapped in an outmoded Cold War mindset, now turning the stateless terrorists of al Qaeda into a global threat the likes of the Soviet Union and global communism.
But Obama and his campaign have been underestimated strategically all along. So his first tour of events with the nomination secured will be in new swing states (Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri and others) with a focus on the economy. And on the economy, the choice is clear. McCain would continue Bush’s policies; Obama would change them. McCain wants tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations; Obama wants a middle class tax cut, higher taxes on the rich to invest in America.
On the issues— from the war, to the economy, to basic social concerns—Obama has the wind at his back and the majority of Americans at his side. So McCain has little choice but to turn to fear and to division. 20 percent of Americans admit they’d have a hard time voting for an African American to be president. No matter what McCain vows now, Obama will face an ugly attack on his character, on his past, on his patriotism, on his family—all designed to sow fear about electing him as president. Get ready for a bruising campaign.
Reverend Jackson n can be contacted by e-mail at