Barack Obama's campaign is currently in a bit of a funk right now, with the gamechanging event that occurred with the selection of Sarah Palin as the Republicans' VP nod. Obama can surely take some of his own advice when it comes to the Palin phenomenon: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. New things wear in the late summer and can tend to look dated by the fall. And no one looks more dated than John McSame. This too shall pass, but only if Obama gets a little help.
In a recent column, Stuart Rothenberg noted Obama ought to take on his own party, For Obama, McCain, Standing Pat May Be the Wrong Approach. Certainly there are issues that Obama could not compromise his own core beliefs and core Democratic beliefs without serious base electoral consequences, such as abortion, discrimination against race, sexual orientation, and gender, the environment, or Iraq policy.
But one such issue is large enough, directly addresses one of the voters' biggest hesitations in voting for Obama, and would indeed scramble the President race in a way Republicans could not defend. Barack Obama should consider coming out for the end of affirmative action and changing to an Income Based approach to preferences in hiring and college admissions. This would mean more need based scholarships and hiring preferences. Most people of color would invariably continue to benefit because minorities predominantly are a part of the lower and lower-middle classes. He would certainly encounter disagreements and outcry from his own party, with some even threatening to defect, but where would they go? Republicans have been trying to end affirmative action since it began which brought the Southern Strategy that persists to this day in electoral politics. But their reasons were politically motivated, whereas Obama's would point to the future and conciliation.
Although a touchy subject, breaking from his party on this issue would go a long way to show people that Obama is no run of the mill liberal Democrat. It would show a President Obama ready to preside over a national healing that has eluded us since the Civil War. Further, it would address the concerns of working class white men and women, a crucial part of any Obama victory. Working class white men and women's worries about racial preferences have swung them to the Republicans for years.
This was never more obvious then in 1990 when Jesse Helms ran a despicable ad that showed a white man losing his job and blaming it on affirmative action. Changing to an Incomes Based preference would give working class whites a reason to believe in an Obama candidacy because it would bridge racial and social gaps at the same time. Both Bob Dole and Robert Reich have argued for a similar approach in 1997 and 2008, respectively.
Bill Clinton took on his party with the infamous Sister Souljah moment and ended welfare "as we know it," with "a hand up and not a hand-out." By taking on his party on a key issue that Democrats would still vote for him anyway, Bill Clinton showed himself to be the great triangulator and a leader of third way politics.
It has become a cliché today that "only Nixon could go to China," due to his notorious red baiting past, notably grandstanding during the Alger Hiss controversy and calling his female Senate opponent "pink down to her underwear." Only Richard Nixon could bridge the gap between Maoist China and the United States in the middle of the Cold War. Perhaps it will be said that only an Obama could inaugurate a national racial and class healing. Now that points to a better future.
Update: Ta-Nehisi Coates, the original Afro Samurai has a compelling counter argument. If you've never read Coates, you are in for a treat. He's always thought provoking and has what the kids call a "fresh writing style."