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Why Obama won the nomination

That post title probably ought to have a question mark at the end.

It is ridiculous to suggest that there was a single reason why Obama won it — or why Clinton lost it — but I’m going to do it anyway. I really think that a lot of it came down to timing. Politicians tend, when they first arrive on the scene, to have a honeymoon period; few people have managed to have it quite so precisely when they need it as Obama. His moment as flavour of the month, when he was at his most shiny and new and exciting, seemed to just coincide with Super Tuesday. The news media has the attention span of a three-year-old and is always attracted to ‘news’; to newness.

Clinton had great difficulty competing for the spotlight at the crucial moment because however historic her candidacy was, it wasn’t news. She has been an international figure for nearly two decades; everyone has known she was going to run for president for years; she entered the race as the candidate to beat, with a huge campaign fund and a high public profile. She was expected to do well; any other narrative was always going to be more exciting and more newsworthy.

Obama as a mosaic of US state flags; used under a CC by-nc-nd licence

That’s not to say that newness was the only thing Obama had going for him; novelty value will only get you so far. Ask Mike Huckabee. There are lots of reasons why Obama excites people: he’s an excellent public speaker, if a slightly ponderous gravitas is your thang; he’s young, he’s intelligent, he looks good; and lots of people are excited by the idea of a black candidate. I just think if he had come into the race as a more familiar figure, perhaps from a failed run for president four years ago, or from a prominent job in national government — someone the public had already had a chance to form opinions about and get used to, in fact — he would have found the campaign noticeably heavier going.

I’m not suggesting that there’s some appalling skeleton in the Obama closet which would have come out in the meantime. And I’m not trying to make some kind of accusation or complaint; I don’t suppose anyone has ever made it to be a presidential candidate without a few slices of luck along the way. I just think it’s an observation worth making.

» ‘Barack Obama made out of US flags‘ posted to flickr by tsevis and used under a by-nc-nd licence.

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An observation

If there’s one lesson I hope everyone concerned has learnt from the current US election cycle: it’s a really stupid idea to disenfranchise a whole bunch of your constituents for any reason. I’m thinking of the debacle surrounding the Democratic primaries in Florida and Michigan.

Of course it has only become such a thorny issue because the race is so close; in a lot of years it wouldn’t have made any difference. But it’s one of those situations where, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems blindingly obvious that to disenfranchise whole states and millions of voters should not have been the solution to a matter of internal party discipline. I mean really, what were they thinking?

As I’ve said before, I think the US primary system is nuts anyway. But that’s not a reason to screw it up even further.

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Marginalia on the word ‘cunt’

In a generally interesting post about Obama, Hillary and all that stuff, Sherry says this:

I have to admit it’s true that Hillary Clinton has never been called a nigger but I suspect Barack Obama has never been called a cunt.

I think the difference in the way that word is used on each side of the Atlantic is quite telling. Because if he was British, it would be quite likely that sooner or lately someone would have called him a cunt: I know it has happened to me. Not usually in earnest, but at least once, in a pub in Bristol when I was a student and one of the locals took offence at my green hair.

And that is the norm, I think, in British English: although it is still a coarse slang term for the female genitalia, it’s mainly used to insult men. Not out of any kind of profound sensitivity to gender relations, but just because that’s the way it is. And as a result, although it is regarded as a very offensive word—you can’t exactly use it on daytime telly—it doesn’t have the same kind of edge it clearly has in America. The parallel with ‘nigger’ is interesting: the word ‘cunt’ is taboo in Britain, but I don’t think anyone thinks of it as hate speech.

I guess if you call a woman a cunt you’re attacking her for being a woman, whereas if you call a man a cunt you are… well, doing something different, anyway.

» ABC, posted to Flickr by monkeyc.net. An amusing sidenote: my computer’s spellcheck flags up the word cunt as a possible spelling mistake, even though it’s in the built-in dictionary. I guess they think it’s important to warn all those people who were trying to write ‘count’ or ‘aunt’. It would be more useful if, every time I typed ‘form’, it asked me whether I really meant ‘from’.