Barack and Bobby

They'd been punching Barack Obama with everything they had for weeks, starting with the nutty sayings of his former pastor.      They said Obama was an elitist, that he couldn't relate to white working-class voters. Now that he'd been bloodied, the excitement was fading, they said. The inspired were becoming disillusioned. "They," of course, were the media talking heads. Some clearly wanted him to fail. The 24-hour news cycle means a constant need for new twists in the plot. The young challenger had arisen, made a splash, shocked the establishment.

Well, now it was time for him to fall. He'd lost in Ohio; lost in Pennsylvania. They were saying he didn't have it anymore. Hillary Clinton was suddenly a woman of the people, drinking shots with the working class. Never mind that Obama grew up on food stamps. Never mind that the Clintons, impoverished Ivy League lawyers that they are, made $109 million in the last eight years.

Now she was the populist. Last week they were setting us up for the return of Hillary Clinton as the comeback 60-year-old. She was pulling away in Indiana! She had closed to single digits in North Carolina, and might even have a chance of an upset there! 

Frankly, I was worried. I had forgotten that most people have lives, and do not listen to the chattering class as much as I do. Many even have common sense. Then the votes came in last Tuesday night. And it was effectively over.

Not only did Obama win North Carolina by a landslide, he came within one point in Indiana. (The final vote was 644,544 to 630,399). In fact, he may have won a majority of Democrats; Rush Limbaugh's call to dittoheads to run and vote for Hillary may have put her across.

But that wasn't the really startling thing. Primary elections never draw anywhere near as many voters as general elections. Until now. Four years ago, John Kerry got 969,011 votes in Indiana — in November. Some 300,000 more people voted in the Democratic primary last week. I watched Obama speak afterward. He wasn't gloating; he was moving on to November. Hillary was whirling and spitting and deceiving, mainly herself, and talking about white voters.

Obama was way too smart to respond. She was spiraling down now, and he needed to proceed on toward the target, and leave her campaign to die with whatever dignity it can muster.

How smart is he? Last week, fresh from the embalmers, McCain tried a little smearing of his own by charging that the terrorist group Hamas wanted Barack Obama to be elected president. That was a baffling and cheap shot, unworthy of McCain. But realize that — despite whatever disinformation the GOP is spreading — McCain really wanted to run against Clinton. They think they know how to beat her. Now, he knows that isn't going to happen. Frustrated, he lashed out. Obama smashed it over the net, saying it was an example of McCain "losing his bearings."

Then the McCainiacs really blew it. "How dare he!" they squawked! "How dare he raise the question of our man's age!" said an outraged McCain functionary — thereby reminding everyone that John McCain would be the oldest man ever elected president.

Meanwhile, the cameras showed pictures of a tired- and frail-looking, white-haired McCain, who, it was noted, will be 72 well before the general election. (And a cancer survivor who still has failed to release his complete medical records.)

Soon, nobody was talking about the terrorists "favoring" Obama. Instead, it was all about whether we should be worried whether McCain really was losing his bearings.

Yes, Obama can give just as good as he gets.

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" she asked me, with a note of awe. This was a woman in her 30s, with enough perspective to be stunned that America is on the verge of very possibly electing an African-American president.

Well, no, of course not. But there has been one — only one — candidate in my lifetime who was a lot like him. Someone who could have changed the country and the world for the better. He too was a young first-term senator and everyone said he wasn't ready to run for president yet. But he ran anyway. He didn't want to, but he knew he had to.

The country was being torn apart by a stupid and impossible war we had been lied into. People were hungry for change, for someone who didn't think in the old ways, with the old hardened attitudes. Some said he wasn't tough enough. They didn't know him. He challenged people to be better than they were. He appealed to constituencies nobody else bothered with. He attracted voting groups who loathed each other, but who adored him.

He surprised them with how well he did in Indiana, and in other states Democrats never won. According to Thurston Clarke's new book, the famous columnist Jimmy Breslin once asked a guy from Newsweek if Kennedy had the right stuff.

"Yes, of course," the guy said. "But he's not going to go all the way. The reason is that somebody is going to shoot him ... and I don't think we'll have a country after that."

That was Bobby Kennedy, of course, who still matters. (If you don't know why, you owe it to yourself to find out.) I was pleasantly surprised to see his face on the cover of Vanity Fair.

We're getting another chance this year, after 40 years in the wilderness. One of the very few things I feel sure about is that RFK would have been absolutely delighted by what's happening. He once said this: "But suppose God is black? What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up, and He is not white?"

You just know Bobby would be loving all this. 

Oakland County smackdown: Brenda Lawrence, the sensible and progressive mayor of Southfield, is going to take on L. Brooks Patterson, who has been Oakland County executive, and before that county prosecutor, since about 1875. You could hear the sneering from the corners of conventional wisdom. The audacity of the girl! How dare she!

True, this will be Patterson's first real challenge since first elected in 1992, when the plucky Betty Howe, a former member of Gov. Jim Blanchard's cabinet, held him to 57 percent of the vote.

True, the county is changing, demographically and otherwise. Once solidly Republican, it voted for Al Gore and John Kerry. And sure, Patterson worships urban sprawl, and appears not to know that gas is no longer 29.9 cents a gallon. Sure, he is almost 70, and there have been drinking problems, and that car he ruined by driving it on the railroad tracks. Yet how could anyone even think Oakland voters would ever elect someone else? He has the money and the name recognition. What a fool Brenda Lawrence is!

Why, what she is doing is as crazy as if Obama had challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]
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