Recently, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama has taken a hit for comments made at a closed fundraiser in San Francisco, where he characterized the people of Pennsylvania's belief in God and guns as an inevitable consequence of despair. This proves he is unqualified to be sociologist-in-chief, but it also brings into question his ability to unite the country. Obama is supposed to be a transcendent figure who rises above politics, but his comment seems entrenched in the worst stereotypes of a Democratic Party that revolves around elitism and experiences a disconnect with average Americans.
In an election that was supposed to be the Democrats' to lose, this is the kind of verbal diarrhea that will turn off the voters who were supposed to guarantee a big year for the Democrats - the same voters that responded positively nationwide to the Blue Dog Democrats that ran for Congress in 2006. The voters are not party stalwarts, but Americans fed up with the Bush administration and ready to give the other party a chance.
There is a reason that in the last 40 years the only Democrats to occupy the White House were Southern centrists with populist support: Because the alternative is a sharp contrast that is unappealing to a majority of Americans, and prone to the same gaffes that Obama perpetrated in San Francisco.
Yet even when recent Democratic presidential candidates aren't belittling the values of Americans, they still struggle to connect with the general population. Michael Dukakis alienated voters in 1988 with his Patton impersonation; in 2000 Al Gore evoked memories of the boring teacher that everyone hated in school; and in 2004 John Kerry turned off Americans with what appeared to be a disingenuous hunting trip, his fondness for windsurfing and a face like Herman Munster with the demeanor of Thurston Howell III.
While these characterizations unfairly label three intelligent, diverse and dedicated men, they capture the characteristics of their candidacies that turned away voters. But perception is a two-way street, and can be utilized to overcome traits that would otherwise be a hindrance.
On the surface Robert Kennedy would not have seemed like the champion of the underclass, but he shed his silver spoon upbringing and created a persona that appealed across social boundaries. He was so successful at crafting an image that even 40 years after his death, some college juniors still babble on and on about the lost promise of Kennedy when talking to a beautiful girl at 3 a.m.
Obama has tried to cast himself as the heir apparent to the Kennedy dynasty, but he has yet to prove himself worthy of the throne. Robert didn't philosophize about the black community from Hyannis Port, he went out and connected with the people. Obama's campaign started as a grassroots movement, but since he reached rock-star status his campaign has lost its intimate setting, and he has lost touch with the people.
This incident could serve as an opportunity for Obama the same way the Rev. Wright scandal allowed him to address the problem of race in the country. Now he has opened the door for a frank discussion on guns and God, so that he can let the people get to know him, and he can hear what the people have to say.
Dave Lombardo is a junior political science major. His perfect date would consist of dinner and a movie, followed by a rousing political debate and cuddling.