With the primary race finally wrapped up, we asked a few friends of the magazine to consider the type of campaign Barack Obama should run against John McCain. Up here is Lakshmi Chaudhry, a contributing writer for The Nation, whose work has also appeared in Wired, In These Times, the Village Voice, and Salon.
Since Barack Obama has been so audacious in his hopes for his political destiny, let me be just as bold in mine. What I really, really want to see in the months to come is something that would constitute a miracle in present-day Democratic politics: a post-triangulation presidential campaign. Can we please be spared the sight of a yet another Democratic nominee struggling to play Budweiser Man, even as he channels his inner Dr. Strangelove and smacks around convenient parts of his base to demonstrate his political manhood.
In other words, just say no to Sistah Souljah moments, duck-hunting trips, or promises to obliterate various parts of the world. That Obama will also be under tremendous pressure to pander to the Oprah constituency (the potential photo-ops are infinite and nausea-inducing) and carefully modulate his race (just the right shade of black for you, dear Latino/white/African American voter) offers the potential of a candidacy more cringe-inducing than even the stellar John Kerry effort in 2004.
It's as inevitable as spring, the drumbeat in the media pushing the Democratic nominee to "prove " his centrist cred, Clinton-style: move right while you hold your base. And it's no different in 2008 with all the sturm und drang over the "hard-working" white men that simply won't vote for Obama because he's too soft, too unpatriotic, too liberal, too different, too intellectual, too much of a Democrat, and a black one at that. It passes for political savvy, when in fact triangulation is a measure of our political weakness, since it is only the Democrat who has to prove every election season that he is American enough to be the president of the United States. Now that it's his turn, I'd like Obama to decline to take this spurious test of his viability
The one person who thinks I may get exactly what I want is--oddly enough--National Review's Rich Lowry. "Obama represents a rejection of triangulating Clintonism," he writes, "He had no Sister Souljah moment. ... Nor did Obama make any creative policy departures, like Clinton's advocacy of welfare reform in 1992. Obama is the fullest flowering of liberal orthodoxy since George McGovern." Ouch! But here's the good news: Obama may still win, giving us Democrats, "the delicious prospect of having [our] purity and victory, too."
Nice try, Rich, but Obama is in fact a post-Boomer candidate, less invested in liberal creed than in "what works." It's why the standard Democratic operating procedure of moving right in the general simply doesn't make sense for Obama--at least, not if he wants to remain true to his political instincts. All campaigns require a certain degree of dishonesty, but I hope Obama will remain for the most part true to himself--even if it requires disappointing both true-blue liberals and the "triangulate now!" crowd.
And I'd like him to start with his choice of running mate. The pressure exerted by the constant media chatter will be huge. Pick a woman to make it up to us gals who got robbed. Alternatively, pick a woman and you'll dis the Hillary supporters who got robbed. Pick a bona fide white male to show you're down with the working class boys. Pick a military man to show you too can get your patriotism on.
What I hope is that Barack Obama will do none of the above, but instead fulfill the initial promise of his candidacy and make a choice that is every bit as audacious as his decision to run for president. Leave the pretzel politics to John McCain, who now faces the mirror-image of the Democratic problem: to hold the center while he moves right. Let Mr. Maverick figure out how to woo Hispanics while he appeases the immigrant-hating Lou Dobbs fan--and lose every shred of political integrity doing so. Then maybe, just maybe, Obama will win in November, a victory that will be every bit as "delicious" as Lowry predicts.