The Democrats appear to be quickly moving to unity after a delayed but, in the end, very powerful concession speech from Senator Hillary Clinton. She endorsed Obama with stentorian clarity. She also pledged a committed fight to secure victory for the Democratic ticket in the fall. Bravo!
One cannot have watched this prolonged primary season without thinking a lot about the media, politicians and us, the voters. How these players interact will ultimately determine the outcome of this election and the future of the nation. While there is no point in dwelling on the past and carrying political grudges, it is wise, all the same, to be mindful of who did right and who did wrong over the past 16 months. And in that spirit, I'd like to identify some of my heroes and my heels of primary season 2008.
Even the media deserves some recognition. To be sure, at times, like most people, I felt buried in a seemingly endless, repetitive, and uninformative stream of so-called "news" coverage. However, in the main, I was impressed. I have lots of individual heroes, like Keith Olberman who has proven that there is a progressive antidote to Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs, and like Jeffrey Toobin, who coined the phrase "deranged narcissism."
The Bronze : High honors, and in this Olympic season, my bronze medal, goes to CNN. The depth and range of the coverage they provided has been without peer. At times Soledad O'Brien seemed overwhelmed by exit polling data, but otherwise the whole team has been extraordinary. And the diversity of commentators and views they put on the stage is unprecedented. With Donna Brazile, Amy Holmes, Roland Martin, Toobin, and so many others, CNN has altered the face of presidential election analysis. That face is no longer all male and no longer all white. Bravo!
The long primary season featured many great moments for politicians, pundits, and political spinmeisters. Indeed, I think we witnessed more than a few moments of shinning political courage this primary season. In particular, I think of congressman and superdelegate John Lewis' early switch from Clinton to Obama, and Caroline Kennedy's unexpected endorsement of Obama prior to the California primary. Likewise, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius' endorsement of Obama prior to the Super Tuesday primaries looms large as one of those politically courageous moments: As a white woman and an elected official, for Sebelius to step out so boldly and endorse the first serious African-American presidential contender at such a critical moment, when his main opponent was the first serious female contender for the presidency, counts for quite a lot and should not be forgotten.
The Silver: Yet my Silver Medal for the most courageous act by a politico this primary season goes to Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. At a point when Obama was still struggling to gain votes among Latinos, when race had been injected into the campaign in poisonous fashion by the various Jeremiah Wight sermon videos, Richardson cut against the heavy-handed pressure from the Clintons, his one-time political sponsors, and stood up for a new voice and a new approach in our national politics. Congratulations and thank you Bill Richardson for showing us what political courage is all about.
This entire process has been about us, the voters, and who we want to lead us over the next four years. Obama's eleven wins following Super Tuesday certainly stand as important milestones. We could also look back to North Carolina and especially Indiana as the primaries that truly signaled the end of any real challenge to Obama's ultimate success in securing the nomination. Particularly since these primaries happened immediately after the most unexpected re-eruption of the Reverend Wright problem.
The Gold: So for me, the Gold Medal for courageous political acts goes to the voters, specifically to the people of Iowa. Never has the message of choosing "hope over fear" been more loudly delivered than by the voters of Iowa on January 3rd, 2008. The echo of that primary victory still reverberates not just on the campaign trail but through the annals of history. Thank you Iowa!
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.