It was fun while it lasted, but now the Democratic primary seems like one of those parties that should have ended a few hours (and gin n’ tonics) earlier.
The suns coming up on a general election, and the Democrat’s house is in tatters.
There’s bottles all over the place and some woman is passed out on the couch, looking a whole lot less appealing than she did at the beginning of the party.
OK, OK, it isn’t quite that bad. But it isn’t good.
The Democrats have their nominee in Barack Obama and he has managed to win every fathomable formula for picking the winner.
But to get here, he had to expend a lot of energy, time and money. And along the way, the iconic Clinton name, the only Democrat to hold the White House in living memory for many Americans, has been sullied and damaged.
Meanwhile, the GOP and its candidate, John McCain have been test driving strategies, polling voters and telling anyone who will listen about McCain’s war hero status.
They have also been trying to shape the debate to come by painting America as a nation at war that cannot afford to elect an inexperienced president.
All of which gets us back to Obama, the wrecked house and the collective hangover.
In a more traditional election year, the Democrats would have months to heal and to reposition their party for the broader American voters and issues. But this year, the extended primary has compressed the schedule and made Obama’s next two months the key to his chances.
He must — MUST — find a way to get Hillary out the door gracefully. Doing that will improve his chances immensely, because the party workers and donors will be able to work together without being worried about divided loyalties.
Of course, he must find a vice-presidential candidate to run with him over the next few months and begin to refashion his message.
But none of that is new. What’s new is that he must do it, while shedding the lingering damage from the primary AND redefining what kind of American can be president.
Those two drags on his presidential aspirations could end his campaign before it begins.
What lingering damage, you ask?
Well, let’s start with Reverend Wright’s comments.
You can bet that “God Damn America” hasn’t been forgotten. It’s just been relegated to the GOP editing room, to be revised in million dollar ad buys all summer long.
Then, there’s the question of his wife’s comments about this primary being the first time she’s ever been proud of her country. And oh yeah, that unsavory business dealer in Chicago who is currently on trial in federal court.
That’s the lingering damage and the GOP are masters at manipulating it. (Whether any of it matters or is “true” doesn’t really count.)
Then there’s the larger issue — the long-held perceptions about what kind of American can be president.
This challenge is often swept aside by commentators as a generational shift that no longer matters.
Many folks happily chirp about the changing of the guard in America and the new potential of having black man as president.
But it isn’t that simple.
The deep racial divisions in America are not going away in a rush of euphoria.
There are societal fears and prejudices that lie at the heart of what’s wrong in the country today, and as the Appalachian primaries have shown, Obama still faces some uphill battles on this front.
And the first issue — lingering damage — feeds the second issue — race.
In elections like this one, the GOP will run ads that talk about Rev. Wright and Michelle Obama and the Chicago developer. But the undercurrent will be about “not a real Christian”, “not a patriotic American” and “criminal.”
In short, they will play on racial stereotypes, and unfortunately, Americans will have trouble resisting.
Voters will watch the ads and let the “issues” raised lead them away from a candidate who, on some deeper level, they simply don’t trust for racial reasons.
It will be ugly and uncomfortable, but that’s what is coming down the pipe for Obama.
He is like no candidate I have ever seen and I think he can win, despite these issues.
But to do that, the party must ditch the hangover.
It must clean up that woman sleeping on the couch and make her presentable again.
And the mess in the room needs to be whipped into a clean, spotless, humming party apparatus.
If Obama and his party can do that, then the White House might once again be home to a Democrat.
If not, the hangover from the primary will be nothing compared to the hangover after the general election.
Michael Hale is a former journalist and political hack who believes that John McCain is tougher than folks think.
You can read his blog at north60hale.blogspot.com