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To allow me to include comment on Tuesday’s election results, this week we are making my column available Friday instead of each Wednesday, a schedule to which we will return next week.
A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
And, if you haven’t already done so, let us know your e-mail address so that we can send you a weekly reminder when a new column is available.
March 7, 2008
It was 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, and I was still jotting down notes reflecting my reaction to Tuesday’s presidential primary election results which I was watching on CNN. I decided to go to bed (with the results of those ridiculous Texas post-election caucuses still to be reported) with this thought uppermost in my mind:
Don’t the British have a considerably better system of choosing, from time to time, who will lead their national government? After all, we are still eight months away from presidential election day in the United States, and even a political junkie like me is getting tired of listening to and reading about, day in and day out, what Barack said about Hillary and Hillary said about Barack and who will win the most convention votes from the Democratic Party’s ridiculous system of anointing several hundred party pooh bahs as “super delegates.”
In Great Britain, elections to determine which party will control the national government must be held at least every five years. The Prime Minister is traditionally the head of the party which wins the largest number of votes in those national elections. The party in power, through the Prime Minister, can call a national election when the party feels the time is appropriate and must call a national election when the party loses a major vote in parliament. And, I enviously point out, traditionally the nationwide election is held within a matter of anywhere from 30 to 90 days after the election is called.
But since we are dealing with the American system, let’s talk about what, in my opinion, that system produced last Tuesday.
It has become increasingly clear that a major if not decisive part of Sen. Barack Obama’s political support is based on the fact that he is looked on as the first black candidate with a reasonable chance of being elected president rather than the fact that he is a thoroughly qualified candidate who happens to be black.
All through the reporting of the way election, results were coming in from various areas in Texas and Ohio, CNN commentators repeatedly cautioned viewers to be aware of this fact: While Sen. Hillary Clinton was running well ahead in earlier returns in Ohio and Texas, there were few returns in yet from cities with large African-American populations such as Cincinnati and Cleveland in Ohio and Houston and Dallas in Texas.
Such references to Obama’s overwhelming support among black voters must have been made at least a dozen times throughout the evening and early morning hours. And viewers were told that in polling-place exit interviews, 89% of Texas blacks said they had voted for Obama while a majority of whites and a majority of men voted for Clinton.
My opinion: Obama would be the easier of the Democratic candidates for Republican nominee John McCain to oppose and possibly defeat. My reasoning: Continuing exposure of the reality that Obama’s strongest support comes from a relatively narrow base of blacks and liberals would harm him in a head-to-head confrontation with McCain.
Do I make too much of Obama’s popularity as “one of us” among black voters? Consider:
Do you think Oprah Winfrey would be on the campaign trail for Obama (instead of fellow female Hillary Clinton) if Obama were white?
Further evidence of what I’m suggesting: K. A. Dilday, a black columnist for the on-line magazine Open Democracy, recently wrote that he thinks the description “Afro-American” should be dropped and replaced by “black.” His point was that “Afro-American” tends to exclude Obama, whose father was born in Kenya and whose white mother was born in Kansas. Obama thus has no common cultural history with the great mass of Afro-Americans whose cultural roots go back to Africa but also include generations of slavery and racial discrimination in America.
Columnist Dilday goes on to emphasize the “he’s one of us” racial appeal of Obama with these words:
“On Mr. Obama’s behalf, American blacks have set aside their exclusive label. Polls showed that about 80% of blacks who have voted in the Democratic primaries have chosen him.
“And all of the black people in the mountains of Morocco, the poor suburbs of Paris, the little villages in Kenya and the streets of London are cheering Mr. Obama’s victories because they see him as one of their own.”
A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal offered additional evidence of the possible problem Obama would encounter to the extent that he is seen primarily as a black candidate rather than a talented candidate who happens to be black. The WSJ article observed:
“Working class white men make up nearly one-quarter of the electorate, outnumbering African-American and Hispanic voters combined. As the Democratic primary race intensifies, some of these white men are finding it hard to identify with” either Obama or Clinton.
The indication here, of course, is that whether the Democratic nominee is Obama or Clinton, Republican nominee McCain might attract support among working class white men who are Democrts.
There was significant good news for Republicans also in the fact that Obama and Clinton must continue to slug it out, in what has become an increasingly bitter fight, until at least Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary.
The more rancor created in Democratic ranks—and the more zillions of dollars the Obama and Clinton forces will spend continuing their battle—seem to be to be good news for the Republican Party and John McCain. McCain can conserve both his stamina and his campaign dollars, while organizing for the fall campaign and observing what chinks might be exposed in Obama’s and Clinton’s political armor.
I thought one of the more pertinent implications of the CNN commentary was this: As the campaign heated up in the run-up to the Texas and Ohio primaries, there were indications that, if I may express it in prizefighting terms, Obama might not be able to take a hard punch.
The commentators agreed that Obama looked bad indeed in his response to this charge: While taking a public position in opposition to the NAFTA treaty which is designed to remove or lower barriers to trade between the United States and Mexico and Canada (a public position which won Obama favor from such interests as the Teamsters Union, whose members don’t want Mexican trucks hauling produce into the United States), an Obama aide had privately assured a Canadian government official that Obama’s expressed opposition to NAFTA was for campaign purposes only.
The consensus of commentators’ opinion was that Obama’s response to disclosure of his two-faced stand on NAFTA was confused and ineffective.
As a lawyer might put it, further affiant sayeth not on the subject of politics (for today, that is).
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If you’re not a dog lover, I’m tempted to say you have my sympathy. You don’t know what you’re missing.
But in any case, you have fair warning. The following item is about dogs. Feel free to move along to the next item. It is about cats.
Just kidding, just kidding. Next item is about drouth.
A few months ago, I told my readers about a delightful book of dog cartoons drawn by Charles Barsotti and published in The New Yorker magazine over the years.
It has occurred to me that it might be fun for you dog lovers out there to share with me and other readers a brief report of something that makes your dog or dogs special to you, perhaps through a report of some special habit of your dog or some incident involving your dog’s performance which you found especially amusing or touching.
In short, anything about your dog or dogs and your relationship with him or her or them that you think other readers might find interesting.
For example—an example which I have shared with you before—one of our three cocker spaniels, Claire, for some reason started—and continues—to come to me every time she hears me sneeze. She puts her paws on my knees, and I, of course, welcome her with a vigorous backrub.
Marian says—about half seriously, I believe, Marian tending sometimes to attribute near-human characteristics to our lovable cockers—that Claire is concerned about me when she hears me sneeze. My explanation—considerably more logical, I believe—is that my sneeze simply reminds Claire that I am close at hand, available for a vigorous backrub and other signs of affection.
If any of you submit stories about your dogs which I decide to share with other readers, I will send your way a copy of that delightful collection of dog cartoons. Incidentally, the book is entitled “They Moved My Bowl,” which is the explanation offered by one of the cartooned dogs for his presence on a psychiatrist’s coach.
Herewith a reproduction of another of the delightful cartoons which fill the book.
Our choice of this cartoon seemed appropriate at this time. I’d trust a canine candidate’s promises (Don’t press me for further comment.)
I venture to take up this subject in a column of generally more serious content because so many readers over the years have said they love my reports about our dogs and Marian’s love affair with Sarah, Claire and Charlotte. (I love them, too.) A love affair which leads to, among other things, brief birthday parties—brief because the dogs consume their birthday cakes so quickly.
My assistant, Jackie Wrieth, also a dog lover, and I will hope to be hearing from at least a few of you with stories about why your dogs are so special to you. Send your entries to me through the comment section on my webpage, or mail to me, with accompanying pictures if you choose, to P. O. Box 27347, Omaha, NE, 68127.
* * *
Journalists don’t really enjoy concentrating on bad news stories (at least not all journalists do). So here’s a positive thought for Nebraskans to ponder:
While drouth in Nebraska can have a devastating effect on crops and pasture, a matter of serious statewide concern, it customarily does not seriously threaten municipal water supplies as it does in some other states.
I was reminded of our relative good fortune in this regard when I read recently in the Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer that North Carolina is suffering the worst drouth in the state’s recorded history—a drouth that seriously threatens municipal water supplies.
A map of the state indicated that no fewer than 14 cities—including Raleigh and Durham—have a “troubled water system,” which means they are “in crisis mode, have less than 100 days of water or are likely to be in crisis if conditions persist.” (I’ve read a more recent account which indicates that drouth conditions have indeed persisted. And waster-use restrictions are in place, with possibly more to come this summer.)
One statement from a municipal official might better not have been offered as an example of reaction to the water crisis. The regulatory superintendent for Durham’s water management department said at home he has urged his wife to run the washing machine with one rinse cycle instead of two and he set a timer to limit his son’s showers to five minutes.
A five-minute limitation on showers? How tough can a father be? But North Carolina is, after all, suffering its worst drouth in recorded history.
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