Monday, August 11, 2008

Like Al Smith, eh?

Joe Klein, who has been rhapsodizing ad nauseum about Barack Obama for months, has a column in this week's Time in which he engages in a little wishful thinking about how similar Barack Obama's situation is to Ronald Reagan's in 1980: a celebrity with not a lot of political experience going into the conventions with smaller lead than the party feels comfortable with, but (Klein envisions) both winning landslide victories after demolishing their opponents in head-to-head debates. We'll see...

But, anyway, the beginning of Klein's concluding paragraph struck me as a little odd:
"It may be that Obama is not Reagan. It may be that he is more like Al Smith, whose Roman Catholicism was too much for a Protestant nation to handle in 1928."

Now, this is pretty outrageous on a couple of fronts. First, comparing Obama to Al Smith is being pretty ignorant about history. Smith had double the years of elected office Obama has had, including having been governor of New York for eight years, and he was running against Herbert Hoover--a media darling who had never held any elected office. In that sense, maybe John McCain has more in common with Smith than Obama does.

Second, Al Smith was the victim of deep-down, visceral, widely-accepted anti-Catholicism. If you ever see some of the campaign materials used against JFK about 30 years after Smith, you can imagine what he must have gone through. For Klein to use this analogy, which by extension reads, "...whose African-Americanism is too much for a white nation to handle in 2008," is playing the race-card pre-emptively and without provocation, much as Obama has been doing himself since he won the Democratic nomination.

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