August 11, 2004


It is accurate to say that Barack Obama is no Jesse Jackson. It also is accurate to say that Obama, the 2004 Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, is no Carol Moseley Braun.

In other words, he doesn't subscribe to the blame-the-whites, blacks-are-a-victim mentality of the black establishment, as personified by Jackson. And he's not personally or professionally flawed, as was Braun. As a result, he will be elected by an overwhelming margin in November.

At the Democratic National Convention, which he keynoted, Obama acknowledged that he "worship(s) an awesome God," that it is time that we had "one America," not a "black, white, Latino or Asian America," and that it is time for black parents to turn off their kids' TV sets and remember that "a black with a book is not acting white."

Such rhetoric would never have emanated from the prolific tongue of Jackson, the self-professed champion of multi-culturalism. For Jackson, every American is hyphenated. Jackson believes that venerating one's ancestry, language and culture is more important than assimilating, that there is not one America, but many Americas, and that it is the function of government, through affirmative action and minority preferences, to ensure minority advancement and placement by quota, not by competence.

Obama grew up in Hawaii, the child of a dysfunctional family, in which his black father, from Kenya, abandoned his white mother, who was born in Kansas. But Obama didn't allow himself to become a "victim." He studied hard, got exemplary grades, and was admitted to Columbia University and to Harvard Law School. In his keynote address, Obama said that America is a land of great opportunity and that "in no country on Earth is my story possible." To some, Obama's success demonstrates that anyone, regardless of race or nationality, can succeed if they have talent, discipline and determination.. This contradicts the "victimization" excuses put forth by Jackson and many other black spokesmen.

And, unlike Braun, Obama is not bedeviled by moral ambiguities. Braun apparently subscribed to the notion that she need not adhere to the same moral strictures as others.

Braun, for example, saw no moral dilemma when she split among herself and her siblings a $28,750 timber royalty inheritance owed to her mother, a nursing home resident then on Public Aid; the money should have been paid to the state as reimbursement for Medicaid. In her 1992 Senate campaign, Braun raised and spent $6.7 million, but 138 contributors exceeded the $1,000 limit, and $249,000 in expenditures was unaccounted for. And, after criticizing the Nigeria government's human rights "violations," she and her former fiance, Kgosie Matthews, who was a paid agent of the Nigerian regime, in 1996 visited the country and met with its dictator, Sani Abacha. She thereafter declared the government to be "on the road" to democracy.

Braun then probably was appalled when voters were hesitant to support her for a second term. She lost in 1998 by 98,545 votes to Republican Peter Fitzgerald.

Contrast this with the fact that Braun won her first Senate term in 1992 by a plurality of 504,396 votes, getting 53.3 percent of the total. Democrat Dick Durbin won his first Senate term in 1996 by 655,204 votes (56.1 percent) and his second term in 2002 by 778,063 votes (60.3 percent). The last Illinois Republican to win a Senate election before 1998 was Chuck Percy in 1978. Clearly, unless the Democrat is horrendously flawed, Republicans do not win Illinois Senate seats.

Given Obama's novelty/celebrity status, his flaw-free background, his articulateness, and the fact that he would be the nation's only black senator if victorious, his election has been foreordained since the primary. Erstwhile Republican nominee Jack Ryan, who has since withdrawn, would not have beaten Obama even had there been no allegations that he visited "sex clubs."

The replacement Republican nominee, Alan Keyes, who is a black conservative, resides in Maryland. He lost Senate races in Maryland in 1988 (getting 38 percent of the vote) and 1992 (getting 29 percent), and he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000, getting plenty of publicity but few votes. Keyes is a rarity among black politicians: He is pro-gun rights, anti-abortion (even in cases of rape and incest), anti-affirmative action, anti-gay rights and pro-military. He also favors tort reform and restricting welfare.

In 2000 Keyes roundly criticized Hillary Rodham Clinton, an Illinois native and an Arkansas voter, for running for U.S. senator in New York. Now, hypocritically, Keyes, who has no personal tie to Illinois, is running for senator here.

Keyes' role is to engage Obama, not to beat him. If a white Republican takes conservative positions, that is predictable, and it is generally ignored by the news media. In 1992 Republican Rich Williamson tried to paint Braun as a liberal and failed dismally. Her celebrity drowned out his message, and he lost by 504,396 votes. But Keyes in this first Senate race between two black candidates in history, Keyes will get monumental publicity -- both as a black conservative and as a Maryland carpetbagger.

Keyes is for everything that Obama is against, and vice versa. Therefore, just by running, Keyes can highlight Obama's liberalism. Every news story that emphasizes Keyes' views also must note Obama's contrary positions. For example, Obama, while a state senator, opposed a cloning ban, supported taxpayer-funded abortions and voted "present" on a partial-birth abortion ban. He also voted against a bill to protect babies born alive after a failed abortion procedure, and he voted "present" on a bill to require parental notification prior to a minor's abortions. Expect Keyes to make abortion a major issue.

Obama also opposed a bill to put Internet pornography filters on school computers, opposed a bill to forbid the early release of criminal sex offenders, and supported a measure to allow sex education in kindergarten through fifth grade. On two bills of particular interest to gun-control enthusiasts, Obama voted "present" on both a bill to prohibit the carrying of concealed firearms and a bill reducing from a felony to a misdemeanor a first arrest for the illegal carrying of a handgun. Does that mean he's for or against gun control? Expect Keyes to make that an issue. Obama, however, did support Governor Jim Edgar's 1997 welfare reform.

While George Ryan was governor, Obama voted to support his "Illinois FIRST" capital development spending projects and his tax hikes. In the last 2 years he voted to increase the corporate tax on insurance premiums and the tax on casino visitors, and also to impose new sales taxes on businesses and to preserve the state inheritance tax. Expect Keyes to attack Obama as a tax hiker and a big spender.

In his primary campaign, Obama raised and spent $4.2 million, and his campaign disclosure of June 30 reports $3.4 million on hand; he raised $4.1 million since April 1. Keyes starts the campaign at ground zero financially, but while he will have virtually no paid media, he will get reams of earned media coverage. His outlandish -- some will call them extreme -- issue stances will get him gobs of publicity.

So why did the Republicans, who are trying to build their party's appeal to moderate voters, pick somebody so repugnant to the majority of Illinois' voters? The answer is simple: Keyes is the anti-Obama. By being an extreme right winger on every key issue, Keyes can contrast himself with Obama and thereby paint the Democrat as an extreme left winger on those issues.

Therefore, the November election, instead of being a personality contest, with the celebrated Obama running against some nondescript white Republican (as in the 1992 contest), will be transformed into an issues referendum. A vote for Keyes will not be a vote to elect him, but instead a vote to register discontent with Obama's liberalism.

And, according to Republican insiders, that will help them in certain Downstate areas, where the party needs a huge outpouring of social conservatives to elect their legislative candidates. Of course, the opposite will occur in Cook County and the Collar Counties, where Keyes' candidacy will swell Obama's vote to astronomical levels.

My prediction: The only question about the outcome of the race is whether Obama will win the Senate seat by a record margin. The current vote-getting champion is Percy, who won re-election in 1972 over Roman Pucinski by 1,146,047 votes. Democrat Alan Dixon was re-elected in 1986 by 980,049 votes, and Democrat Paul Simon was re-elected in 1990 by 979,749 votes. Durbin's 778,063-vote margin in 2002 (which exceeded his 655,204 in 1996) puts him next highest, and Democrat Adlai Stevenson won in 1974 by 726,612 votes.

Right now, 10 weeks from the election, Obama is on track to bury Keyes by more than 1.2 million votes.