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If polls show that Barack Obama has trouble winning over working-class, less-educated whites, that’s science. But if Hillary Clinton mentions it, that’s playing the race card.

I managed to convince myself at one point that the dragging Democratic primary wouldn’t be harmful. Now I’m not so sure, but don’t blame Clinton. As was pointed out last weekend, the Democratic party is an odd mishmash. Republicans are, too, I suppose. That’s what happens when you try to cram tens of millions of political views into two opposing camps.

The continuing battle seems worse for Obama, in that it diminishes his ability to attract swing voters if he’s defined as the candidate of young people, African Americans and the college-educated (who, contrary to their own self-image, are a minority).

Sure, Obama is popular online, the Web somehow predicted his victory and he has won more votes in the Democratic primaries. But anyone who thinks the Democratic primary process — or the Internet — is the best way to pick a general-election winner should think again. The Internet may simply be replicating the losing touch of the primary electorate itself.

At any rate, it’s no accident that the only Democrat to win a presidential election since 1968 is Bill Clinton, and he was anything but a front-runner in the beginning. He lost Iowa in ’92, if anyone cares to remember. And he probably wouldn’t have been too popular among the netroots, what with all his compromises, political and otherwise. OK, Gore won in 2000 — but he was vice president to a popular two-term candidate who couldn’t run again and probably would have been disowned by the party even if he had been able. (A friendly reader reminded me I left out Jimmy Carter, but pointed out that he was a long shot, too.)

The chief talking point against McCain is that he represents a third Bush term. Given Bush’s poor standing, that line of attack makes sense. But I don’t see it sticking. It just doesn’t ring true, certainly not as true as Obama’s supposed elitism. That bowling score (37, but in seven frames. So be fair: he could have rolled a 127 if every other ball were a strike) — and this picture — is going to come back to haunt him. Couldn’t he at least have unbuttoned his collar and loosened the tie? He must have been pretty uncomfortable with all that fabric tugging at his neck.

Plus, the far right will be contradicting the Dem’s attack on McCain’s behalf. Could it be the ultimate sucker punch? Conservatives hound McCain from the right knowing it will help him with independents and thereby paving his way to the White House? But let’s face it. Bush and McCain are very different men, have lived very different lives and have occasionally disagreed. Bush also won TWO TERMS. Let me go out on a limb and suggest that the polls showing low approval ratings have less to do with Bush and more to do with the way we expect people to perceive him, and the answers people believe they should be giving to the pollsters.

It’s also a tidy way to sweep him off the stage so the cameras can focus on the sequel rather than the pressing issues facing this country. Who wouldn’t want to watch a beauty contest — however ugly it gets — rather than a food shortage or a housing crisis?

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A friend of mine in a state that voted before PA warned me that I’d be burned out on the presidential race after the primary. He was right. It’s not worth following right now. It’s all about the horse race and the strategery, and I guess it will be for the next six months. Barack Obama has failed, in some respects, to move the media conversation off its sinking foundation in poll numbers, public gaffes and explosive preachers. Oh well.

I can’t complain too much, since I engaged in a little horse-racery myself. But we seem to have suffused the entire presidential process in a cynical brew. When John McCain denounces a negative ad, he’s seen as employing a backhanded trick to keep the ad in the news while keeping his own distance from it.

It’s probably ever been thus. Politicians are human and humans aren’t exactly the noblest of breeds, though we fight pretty hard sometimes to do good things. However, the crises do seem to be piling up pretty thick at the moment, from high fuel prices to food shortages to global warming to an unfinished war to nuclear terrorism (this site graciously lets you imagine the consequences of a bomb in your own hometown!).

Maybe it would be too much to ask people to pay significant attention to the bad stuff. Still, it’s no accident that the stories dominating headlines before 9/11 were about shark attacks and Gary Condit. We want to hear about a disaster only as long as it’s happening to other people, not to ourselves. The major media, safe in their NY/DC bubbles, are as insulated as our politicians, but not any more prone to seeking insulation than the rest of us.

I doubt that people whose homes have been hit by a tornado turn on the TV news to watch the aftermath — at least for now.

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