Heroes and Heels: The Best and Worst of Campaign 2008 -- So far!

A campaign hall of fame and infamy -- a look at who's been good and who's been bad through the primaries.

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The Bronze: This one is easy and it belongs to members of the fourth estate: the media. The low moment is easy enough to pin-point: ABC News' handling of the Clinton-Obama debate in Philadelphia. The behavior of Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos remains the single most disappointing performance by the major news media of the 2008 election season, and earns them the political bone-head Bronze Medal award of primary season 2008. No cheers for you fellas, or for Bill Ayres, just cheap dime-store flag lapel pins!

We are now down to two figures on the political stage, John McCain and Barack Obama. Sixteen months ago, however, there were many others and not all of those who mattered were candidates. Does anyone now remember Duncan Hunter or Dennis Kucinich? But many players beyond the two presumptive nominees did things that commanded our attention. Samantha Power departed the Obama campaign after referring to Hillary Clinton as a "monster." Former campaign manager Mark Penn had to leave the Clinton fold after lobbying-related conflicts. John McCain, for his part, has recently seen a phalanx of lobbyists depart his campaign; his hope is that that will result in a less compromised image.

There were many low moments across the ideological spectrum. From Rush Limbaugh and the ditto heads effort to distort Democratic primary outcomes to the Reverend Michael Pfleger's Clinton mimcry, we've seen some mindbogglingly ridiculous players on the campaign trail. The heels in this group are many. Among the most disappointing performances this year was that of one-time vice presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro. A more polarizing and counterproductive voice would be hard to find. She was rivaled, of course, by the prime-time implosion of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a man who should have remained below national media radar.

The Silver: But, for me, the winner of the Silver Medal for political bonehead of primary season 2008 is political consultant and commentator James Carville. His denunciation of Bill Richardson was one of the cheapest and most pathetic political acts I've ever seen. That he went so far as to unswervingly defend his use of the words "Judas" in print on the editorial pages of the Washington Post only solidified his grasp on this most lowly form of recognition.

With the primaries now behind us, both political party's and their standard bearers have set about the task uniting divided constituencies. McCain clearly will wrestle with distancing himself from Bush, while somehow claiming the conservative Republican base and reaching out to independents. Good luck with that one!

Obama must put the Democratic family back together after a fractious contest. Clinton's very gracious speech will go a long way to bring into his camp many of the women and white working class voters he clearly struggled to reach in the final stages of the campaign. In this case, values, interests, and the tide of times bode well for the Obama candidacy.

The Gold: Yet, Obama's race is far from being a non-issue in the campaign ahead. As we wrap-up the primary season, therefore, it is only fitting that the Gold Medal of political boneheads award go to the 1-in-5 Kentuckians who told exit pollsters that race really mattered for them. This is a sad but real snapshot of one segment of the American voting public. Thanks to the good folks of places like Iowa, Wisconsin, Montana and many other states, we have reasons to hope that this says more about America's political past than about it's future.

A great political contest and debate lie before us. As we look forward to the summer conventions and the fall general election, I keep a very warm place in my heart for the heroes, medalists all, of primary campaign '08: CNN, Bill Richardson, and Iowa voters. And, befitting the often messy, complicated world of politics, I've already started to delete the political boneheads from memory. This is our moment and, to quote Senator Clinton, "We will make history together, as we write the next chapter in America's story."

 

Lawrence Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Harvard University.