In order to temper the giddiness of Obama fans who may assume that victory in November is assured, I wish to discuss the candidate's greatest obstacle:
It's not easy to raise this topic. It seems to be OK in this country to malign educated people, to dismiss them as "eggheads" and "latte-sippers," probably because there is a sizeable anti-intellectual strain in our culture. But I would suggest that stupid people should also be ripe for open discussion - if only because millions of willfully clueless voters may well function as the swing decision-makers in a close '08 presidential election.
And since we're finally talking about ignorance, I offer Exhibit A - the report of a focus group, featuring 12 independent voters, that was conducted earlier this week in swing-state Virginia by the noted Democratic pollster, Peter Hart.
Hart yesterday circulated this report to folks like me. He took pains to point out, in his summary, that his 12 focus-group participants are not close followers of politics. None of them voted in Virginia's Democratic or Republican primaries. All of them feel like "the election has been going on forever," but none of them have bothered to learn anything about it. All they know is what they have heard - or, more significantly, misheard. And these independents are potentially pivotal in November; in Hart's words, they "represent 20 percent of the electorate."
Kind of a big decision, don't you think? Choosing the next president? Yet, as Hart put it, much of what they know, or think they know, is "truly chilling."
For instance, here's Dorita, opining about Obama: "I'm a little concerned. I don't know enough about his Muslim background and their beliefs and how he views everything. I'm a little concerned. I need to check his background."
You do that, Dorita.
Here's Josh on Obama: "He's representing a minority in more than one case. He is African American and he is Muslim. And in light of that...it does feel like we're being judged or pounded down on because we want to carry a gun or we want to wear the American flag pin."
Here's Melinda, clearly the GOP's dream voter: "I just really feel like he's...not a people pleaser as in the Americans, but the other people who don't necessarily need to be pleased, the other, the enemies if you will, I don't know. I'm just not real positive on that."
Hart reports that whenever somebody volunteered that Obama is a Muslim (which he isn't), nobody in the room protested or sought to correct the inaccuracy. Hart writes: "When asked to raise their hands if they think that Obama is a Muslim, seven of the 12 do, including two voters who currently support him over McCain. One person mentions that she has heard something about him and the Pledge of Allegiance" - this would be the lie that he doesn't place his hand over his heart while reciting it - "and another believes that he was sworn in to the Senate with his hand on the Koran," whereas, in factual-reality world, this Christian was sworn in on a Bible.
Hart continues: "The importance is not that they are misinformed, but that there is such a gross lack of awareness about a presidential candidate who has written so fully and completely on his background and his childhood." But Hart is being too kind. These people - and millions like them, by his estimate - are willfully ignorant because they won't take five minutes to educate themselves on the basics.
Granted, they surely lead busy lives, they have every right to assign politics a low priority, and there is no reason to assume that they would like Obama any better if they armed themselves with accurate information. Fine. But at least they would not be so oblivious. All it takes to raise one's political IQ, in this era of instant communications, is a few clicks on the mouse or a few readings of a decent newspaper.
All told, Hart concludes: "For Barack Obama, who is on the verge of becoming the Democratic nominee, this must feel a little bit like the children's game of Chutes and Ladders, where as one climbs the ladder to a new plateau there is a new chute awaiting that sends the player back to the beginning." In other words, "it is time (for Obama) to start all over again in his introduction" to the electorate.
Fortunately for Obama, however, "he has an ample opportunity to tell his story," because these voters are so fed up with the Bush administration that they will strongly entertain a Democratic alternative.
Perhaps...as long as they can learn to distinguish between Obama from McCain on the issues. Because here's Danny, one of your fellow citizens:
"(The race) has gone on so long....They all kind of say the same thing. They're all saying the same thing, so what's to get excited about?"