Well, it's happened, and it's no surprise.
Barack Obama, the prospective Democratic presidential candidate, has managed to turn a 5-8 point lead over prospective Republican opponent John McCain into a 5-point deficit -- a double-digit slide -- in just two and a half months following a campaign that had voters really excited over his candidacy.
How did he manage this feat (which is documented in the latest Reuters/Zogby poll)? Simple: he followed the tried-and-true strategy of Democratic centrist advisers who have increasingly dominated his campaign since the end of the primaries, and who have a proven track record of producing Democratic electoral disasters now for several decades.
Like John Kerry and Al Gore before him, Obama, who ran his primary campaign as a liberal, staking out an anti-war position, has morphed over recent weeks into a Republican-lite candidate, calling for a hard line against Palestinian rights, threatening to attack Iran, calling for an expansion of the disastrous war in Afghanistan, and backing away from genuine health care reform and other important progressive goals here at home.
One might think that after watching Democratic candidates lose the last two presidential elections by following exactly this kind of "strategy," if it can be called that, Obama and his campaign managers would have decided to try something different, but it appears that the Democratic Party at the top is hopelessly in the grip of corporate interests that favor war, free-market nostrums and corporate welfare. (Okay, I know Gore really won the 2000 election, but he should have won it so convincingly -- for example taking New Hampshire and his home state of Tennessee -- that the election couldn't have been stolen. And Kerry, similarly, should not have had his race determined by a close vote in economically distressed Ohio, which should have been his by a blowout.)
Obama got where he is -- the first African-American major party nominee and the first black candidate with a real shot at winning the White House -- by appealing to the Democratic Party's liberal base. Now Zogby reports that Obama's support among liberals has plunged 12 percent. That's liberals folks!
I count myself among those on the left who have turned away from this fast-talking eel of a candidate.
It's not a matter of turning to McCain, who is if anything more dangerous than President Bush because of his fondness for war and his evident lack of any kind of principles, not to mention his personal greed.
But how can I or any progressive vote for a presidential candidate who goes from opposing a war to saying he not only supports the idea of keeping troops in Iraq for another five years -- the length of the entire WWII! -- but who further says he won't rule out attacking Iran, even if that country poses no imminent threat to the US, simply because it develops nuclear weapons -- the same weapons that our putative friends, Pakistan and India, have? How can I vote for a candidate who wants to expand the military (by 65,000 troops) instead of shrinking this huge, bloodsucking parasite of an organization which is costing as much as the rest of the world spends on its armies?
How can I or any progressive vote for a presidential candidate who cannot state categorically that he will defend the Constitution by reversing all of President Bush's abuses of power and who will not promise to prosecute the president and members of his administration for any crimes committed while in office?
If you look at Obama's vaunted website, and check out his positions on the big issues of healthcare, education, the economy, labor, social security, etc., you can see he's pretty good on most things (okay, his health care "reform" is a loser and will never fly. He should be calling for a nationally-run insurance system modeled on Medicare and paid for by the government). The problem is that there has been a deliberate effort to soft-pedal all of it, while backpedaling on his position on the Iraq War. It's almost as if he and his campaign think the "smart" progressives will go to his website and be satisfied with his online positions, while the "dumb" unaffiliated voters will not go there and will just base their votes on his gauzy image TV ads. (More importantly, if he can go from anti-war to pro-war, what's to say he won't backpedal in office on the rest of his positions, especially if he won't highlight and defend them vigorously on the campaign trail?)
There has clearly been a decision made in the Obama campaign to soft-pedal liberal positions and to make Obama appear "safe" and uncontroversial.
The result has been his precipitous slide in the polls.
That's not the worst of it, either. Obama is not just losing liberals in droves. Many liberals, after all, will in the end return and vote for grudgingly for Obama, though they probably won't volunteer to do any of the critical campaign work registering voters, promoting his candidacy or getting people to the polls. The worst part is that by becoming just another middle-of-the-road, namby-pamby, Republican-lite clone of Kerry circa 2004 and Gore circa 2000, Obama is losing the young and also the disaffected, unaffiliated voters who were flocking to his campaign during the primaries. This group of erstwhile enthusiasts is down 12 percent, too. And it's those people -- particularly the unaffiliated voters -- who are raising McCain's numbers. The Zogby poll reports that McCain's support among younger voters has reached 40 percent -- not that much below Obama's 52 percent.
There is probably still time to turn this electoral debacle in the making around. Obama needs to come out unambiguously for a quick end to the war in Iraq. He needs to do an about face on his call for an expansion of the war in Afghanistan. He needs to flatly rule out preemptive war as a policy for the United States of America, unless the country is in danger of imminent attack. He needs to scotch plans for expanding the military, and instead to start talking about how to reduce military spending, so that those funds can be shifted to domestic priorities like improving education and dramatically increasing research into carbon-free energy production. He needs to call for a national healthcare system that will provide quality, affordable medical care for all, and he needs to call for an aggressive campaign to combat joblessness and to reduce income disparity within the US.
Do that, and we will see an Obama presidency and a Democratic sweep of both houses of Congress.
Continue with the present losing strategy, and we will see John McCain as president, and the continuation of a weak, compromised, sell-out Democratic Congress for at least the next four years.
Now as sympathetic as I am to the politics espoused by Ralph Nader and by the Green Party, I'm well aware of the futility of Third Party campaigns. I'm not one of those who expect or demand leftist perfection from a candidate. That said, I do expect any candidate I support to demonstrate some commitment to basic progressive principles, and to have at least some guts to get out and articulate a vision of a more humane, just and peaceful America. I am not seeing this from Obama (a slick website is not a campaign). My disappointment is all the greater because here's a guy who has shown he can deliver a spell-binding speech, and who could, if he wanted to, use that talent to sway minds towards a higher plane, but who is choosing not to use his talents do so. So count me as one progressive who at this point has stopped supporting the man.