Political Hay

Blocking Barack

The superdelegates play their role.

By 3.19.08

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When I was in grade school, a man from Egypt visited our church in Minneapolis. He got on stage in the parish hall and showed slides and talked about his country. He had skin of that nut brown shade common to the Mideast.

"That's the color Jesus probably was," my mother said to me. Such innocence. Such common sense.

In his March 17 column on National Review Online, John Derbyshire wrote that the recently publicized sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of the church Barack Obama has attended with his family for some 20 years "will kill Barack Obama's prospects of becoming our 44th President stone dead."

Among many other things, Wright says that "the Romans were Italians, so they were white, they were Europeans...and they ruled over Jesus's country. Jesus was black." And, "This just came to me in the last couple of weeks, y'all."

The Rev.'s sermons, put out as an advertisement for the Trinity United Church of Christ, a kind of "greatest hits" album, as it were, have suddenly appeared in all kinds of news media.

Just the other morning, I saw the "No, no, not God bless America, God damn America" clip on New England Cable News in the waiting room of a dentist's office. You can't get any more down market than NECN. If the Rev. Wright is there, he's everywhere. .

Importantly, Derbyshire did not say Obama would now lose a general election. In fact, the Rev. Wright's inflammatory anti-American, anti-white sermons will persuade a marginal number of important voters not to support Obama, and that will be enough.

Who are these voters?

A COUPLE OF weeks back, when the whole superdelegate issue was first being jousted about, we visited my favorite Republican, Wendy Wakeman, and her husband Brad. Wendy served as our town's chair of its board of selectmen, and has worked as a Republican consultant on campaigns.

We started talking almost right away about the Obama-Clinton race. I said I thought it likely that Sen. Clinton would find a way to manipulate the superdelegate vote in her favor, no matter what the outcome of the primaries.

"See, what nobody says is, that's what superdelegates are for," Wendy said.

American politics and government are chock-a-block with such mechanisms, various slow-downs, take-a-second-looks. In Wendy's view, the superdelegates are supposed to vote for the party's mainstream, for its establishment. That prevents a party from being run away with by a candidate of some momentary enthusiasm.

Like it or not, the Democratic Party has been under Clinton control since 1992. And they have not shied away from using that control.

ALL THIS PUTS Barack Obama sharply on the spot. Shelby Steele described Obama as "a bargainer" -- a black man who makes an implicit bargain not to challenge white people.

Now, as a 20-year parishioner of Rev. Wright's, Obama doesn't look like a bargainer any more. He looks like a dissembler.

Jeremiah Wright's sermons rightly rouse suspicion, if not hostility, in the very group of Democrats Obama must win first -- the superdelegates to the Democratic national convention.

The mechanism has always been in place to deny Obama the nomination after a close finish in the primaries and the caucuses. Now there's a reason to do it.

Dark whispers warn of riots like 1968 in Chicago if such a pass comes to be. But, if it does -- here's Obama, stuck again -- it simply proves what he's trying so desperately to get away from: That a lot of African-Americans apparently believe a whole lot of pernicious nonsense. The worry is that Obama does, too.

IT'S GOING TO take all of Barack Obama's fancy footwork -- and fast -- to avoid defeat. Not in November, but in August. His speech Tuesday was a pip. Charles Murray wrote that he found it "just plain flat out brilliant -- rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we're used to from our pols."

It comes back, however, to a very small group of voters, those superdelegates. And to what the elite media does in the next four months. This morning, for example, NPR's hourly newscast did not mention -- did not mention! -- that Obama would be making a major speech on race, and on Wright's statements.

Let's see if the stonewall works. Among political insiders, I'm betting it will not.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.