Campaign Watch

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Writing books about a fast-moving presidential campaign can be risky. Some may be pronounced WOA (wrong on arrival). -- Alan Cooperman

A BOUND MAN Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win By Shelby Steele | Free Press. 143 pp. $22

When blacks "seek success and power in the American mainstream," Shelby Steele says, they generally adopt one of two approaches: "Challengers" presume whites to be racist until proven otherwise, while "bargainers" extend to whites a presumption of innocence.

The reason for all the excitement about Barack Obama, in Steele's view, is not that he's the first black to run for president, but that he's the first black bargainer to do so. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were challengers; they made whites feel guilty. Obama leaves whites feeling "grateful" and "proud of themselves."

Yet Steele, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, maintains that Obama is in a bind. If, to please blacks, Obama does more challenging, he will lose white votes; if, to please whites, he does more bargaining, he will lose black support.

This analysis might have seemed smarter a few months ago, when there was talk about whether Obama was "black enough." Since then, the bind hasn't materialized; Obama does not seem to be paying any penalty among black voters for his rhetoric of unity.

FREE RIDE John McCain And the Media By David Brock and Paul Waldman. Anchor. 218 pp. Paperback, $13.95

Late last year the folks who run the Media Research Center, an outfit dedicated to unmasking liberal bias, came out with Whitewash, a book about how the mainstream media have shamelessly "shilled" for Hillary Clinton.

Now the people who run Media Matters for America, which is dedicated to unmasking conservative misinformation, are offering Free Ride, a book about how the mainstream media give John McCain "a positive spin for nearly everything he does."

Oops. Bad timing. Just a few weeks before Free Ride's publication, along came the New York Times and The Washington Post with hard-hitting, front-page stories on McCain's ties to lobbyists. The Times story, in particular, sparked outrage in the McCain camp by suggesting that the leading Republican presidential candidate may have had an affair in the late 1990s with telecommunications lobbyist Vicki Iseman.

At least, the Clinton and McCain campaigns can see eye-to-eye on one thing: The mainstream media are far too favorable to Barack Obama. A book about that cannot be far off.

DECLARING INDEPENDENCE The Beginning of the End Of the Two-Party System By Douglas E. Schoen | Random House. 240 pp. $24

Third-party bids for the White House have always ended the same way: in failure. Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, John Anderson, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond -- losers all. "Yet today, for the first time in my three decades in electoral politics," says campaign consultant Douglas Schoen, "I see something absolutely new: a real opportunity for an independent presidential candidate to emerge and win."

Schoen cites Internet fundraising and organizing, rising numbers of independent voters and lower barriers to getting on the ballot as reasons why the two-party system may crack this year. And he drops plenty of hints about who could crack it: his past client New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In page after page of charts and graphs, Schoen makes the case that Bloomberg, running as an independent and spending his own millions, could win a three-way race with Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. There's just one teensy problem: That's not the way the race has shaken out, and as of last week Bloomberg was still saying he won't run.

MILLENNIAL MAKEOVER MySpace, YouTube, And the Future Of American Politics By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais | Rutgers Univ. 309 pp. $24.95

This year will see a major political realignment as a new generation, dubbed the Millennials, comes of age in unprecedented numbers, according to Morley Winograd, a former adviser to Vice President Al Gore, and Michael Hais, who studies trends in communications.

Born between 1982 and 2003, this Millennial Generation is larger and more ethnically diverse than any before it. Raised with peer-to-peer communications (such as MySpace) and weaned on "Barney" re-runs, Millennials are civic-minded and optimistic. Unlike the "generally conservative" Gen-Xers who preceded them, or the "harshly divided" and ideological Baby Boomers, they are "united across gender and race in their desire to find 'win-win' solutions to America's problems," the authors say.

It seems a tad early to predict how children born as recently as 2003 will vote, but the authors contend that "the Democrats have a clear leg up" among Millennials and that "the party that captures the White House in 2008" will "have a historic opportunity to become the majority party for at least four more decades."

We'll have to check back on that prediction in a few dozen years.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company