Frank Rich thinks Obama is a pretty smart politician, but not that smart. Timing has a lot to do with it.
Mr. Obama hardly created this moment, with its potent brew of Bush loathing and sweeping generational change. He simply had the vision to tap into it. Running in 2008 rather than waiting four more years was the single smartest political decision he’s made (and, yes, he’s made dumb ones too). The second smartest was to understand and emphasize that subterranean, nearly universal anticipation of change rather than settle for the narrower band of partisan, dyspeptic Bush-bashing. We don’t know yet if he’s the man who can make the moment — and won’t know unless he gets to the White House — but there’s no question that the moment has helped make the man.
Well, okay. His timing has been damn good. And he can spot a political trend a mile off, use it to his (and our) advantage.
For five years boomers have been asking, “Why are the kids not in the streets screaming about the war the way we were?” The simple answer: no draft. But as Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais show in “Millennial Makeover,” their book about the post-1982 American generation, that energy has been plowed into quieter social activism and grand-scale social networking, often linked on the same Web page. The millennials’ bottom-up digital superstructure was there to be mined, for an amalgam of political organizing, fund-raising and fun, and Mr. Obama’s camp knew how to work it. The part of the press that can’t tell the difference between Facebook and, say, AOL, was too busy salivating over the Clintons’ vintage 1990s roster of fat-cat donors to hear the major earthquake rumbling underground.
Obama has the good fortune to be running against a group of moribund rightwingers who are convinced the old swift-boat tactics are good for another round.
...Tt’s even better news that so many pundits and Republicans bitterly cling to the delusion that the Karl Rove playbook of Swift-boating and race-baiting can work as it did four and eight years ago. You can’t surf to a right-wing blog or Fox News without someone beating up on Mr. Wright or the other predictable conservative piñata, Michelle Obama.
This may help rally the anti-Obama vote. But that contingent will be more than offset in November by mobilized young voters, blacks and women, among them many Clinton-supporting Democrats (and independents and Republicans) unlikely to entertain a G.O.P. candidate with a perfect record of voting against abortion rights. Even a safe Republican Congressional seat in Louisiana fell to a Democrat last weekend, despite a campaign by his opponent that invoked Mr. Obama as a bogeyman.
A few conservatives do realize the game has changed. George Will wrote last week that Mr. Obama was Reaganesque in the stylistic sense that “his manner lulls his adversaries into underestimating his sheer toughness — the tempered steel beneath the sleek suits.” John and Cindy McCain get it too, which is why both last week made a point (he on “The Daily Show,” she on “Today”) of condemning negative campaigning. But even if Mr. McCain keeps his word and stops trying to portray Mr. Obama as the man from Hamas, he can’t disown the Limbaugh axis of right-wing race-mongering. That’s what’s left of his party’s base.
Face it. Obama is the first candidate in years -- maybe decades -- who is listening. He knows how to use what he learns. Like the most skilled politician, he knows timing and the underlying appeal of e pluribus unum.
That's something no presidential candidate has caught onto in more the four decades. The Republicans, desperate for power and respectability after the Nixon debacle, thought the way to power was through division. Their support came from a shrinking demographic, their power fueled by the largest portion of the nation's wealth. Their leadership has been imperious, paranoid, and secretive. McCain, an old-timer, is stuck in a time-warp with "the Limbaugh axis of right-wing race-mongering. That’s what’s left of his party’s base."
The Democrats have moved away from right and the divisiveness. Their energy comes increasingly from progressives, younger voters, disenchanted moderate Republicans, the educated, the technocrats, the social activists, and the old left.
... As long as the likely Democratic nominee keeps partying like it’s 2008 while everyone else refights the battles of yesteryear, he will continue to be underestimated every step of the way.