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From A Democrat

Economic Crisis Smashing Through the Racial Barrier in Race for President

October 21, 2008

By Raphael J. Sonenshein

Raphael J. Sonenshein

I’m not used to this.

If you had told me that in October of a presidential election year, the Democratic candidate would have opened up a big lead with a cool, controlled campaign and that the Republicans would be taking to the airwaves and the op-ed columns to castigate the Republican campaign and that the Republican attack machine would be firing blanks, I would have called you a liar.

And that is without the Democratic candidate being the first African-American ever nominated by a major American political party.

Over here in Paris everybody wants to know about the Bradley effect, the theory that white voters will not be truthful to a pollster about their willingness to vote for a black candidate. I was there the night Tom Bradley lost the 1982 governor’s race and I know the feeling of having the rug pulled out from under a great candidate. And, I believe that if the race is very close, race will somehow emerge as a serious problem.

But, it is possible that the battle will not be close enough for that to matter. The economic crisis is simply smashing through the racial barrier to take a very close race and turn it one-sided.

So, here is what I am seeing from my perch in Paris. The Obama organization is the new Democratic party. This is no longer the Clintons’ party. Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy has now been carried out. The Obama team took forever to learn to communicate a message as well as they organize, but they finally have it down. The economic crisis was like a hanging curve ball to a Democrat and Obama has hit it out. A candidate who could not deliver an economic message a month ago is now pounding it.

Potholes for Obama down the road? Somehow I think that Bill Clinton will say something to undermine Obama but I don’t know what yet. I imagine Osama Bin Laden will try to help McCain by saying good things about Obama so that he can have an enemy to feed his grandiose self-esteem (as he did to help Bush in late 2004) and make it harder for the U.S.A. to mobilize world public opinion. But, I am stretching a bit to find things like this because I have a hard time dealing with such a good political situation!

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign has gotten worse and worse to the point of being an embarrassment. Losing campaigns always look bad, but this one is really remarkable. Republicans are in a panic as they see Senate and House races going badly as McCain falters. Who knows what new stories are going to come out about Sarah Palin?

I have a few serious concerns. One is that the situation of the country really is pretty bad, beyond just who wins the election. I would rather have the Democrats in charge to clean things up but, I do not think it will be easy.

My other concern is the Republican Party. Starting with the Gingrich revolution in 1994 and continuing with the Bush-Rove plan for a one-party state, the party has become a militant and angry group. You can see it in the McCain Palin rallies. Yet, the Republicans I know are reasonable and thoughtful people with whom I may disagree but who show none of these qualities. I guess the inward and angry Republican Party is good for Democrats in the short term because Democrats can become the center-left party, but if the moderate Republicans don’t fight to reclaim their party, is that really good for the country?

Raphael J. Sonenshein, a Cal State Fullerton professor of political science, currently is in Paris as a Fulbright Scholar.

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