From week to week the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls can be lifesavers for that wholesome mass of Americans who don't want Barack Obama to be president. When the Jeremiah Wright videos were god-DAMN-ing their way across TV screens, the polls showed a big Obama dip, leading head Hillary Clinton saboteur (to her campaign, mostly) Mark Penn to gloating:
A look at the polls shows that Sen. Obama's lead nationally with Democrats has been evaporating. The Gallup daily tracking poll shows Hillary leading Sen. Obama among Democrats by 7 points, and the latest Zogby/Reuters poll has Sen. Obama's lead down from 14 points last month to just 3 points now. This suggests a strong swing in momentum in the race to Hillary since the Texas and Ohio primaries earlier this month.
That was a week and a half ago. This weekend's polls show Obama driving out front again. Gallup shows Obama leading Clinton 52 to 42 percent. Rasmussen shows Obama up 47 to 42 percent, and his positive-negative numbers (which Rasmussen has always clocked higher than most pollsters, and which had ducked into negative territory), are narrowly positive. Clinton's are heavily negative. Obama's rebound against John McCain isn't happening so quickly, but he's doing better than Clinton once again. Did the Wright story have no effect?
Well, it did—as much as it could have without some cultural underpinnings. Stanley Kurtz stumbled across something profound here.
Conservatives may think the revelations of Obama's formative radicalism and his relationship with Wright are sure to sink him. While they may ultimately have that effect, the outcome is by no means certain. Contrary to liberal denials, Obama has been damaged by the Wright affair. Yet it's also true that association with leftist and academic radicalism is no longer disturbing to large segments of the country.
Kurtz allows that "the culture is changing," and he thinks the media is pushing it. I agree, and the scope of that cultural change is what's saving Obama. I've been reading Rick Perlstein's upcoming Nixonland this week, and it makes sense to me why Obama's radical black connection isn't hurting him like the Victor Davis Hansons or Mark Steyns would expect. People just aren't that afraid of black radicalism anymore. Forty years ago white voters were literally, keep-your-gun-next-to-your-bed worried about an armed black revolt. When Stokley Carmichael would rant about what was coming to the white man, their minds would light up with images of Watts, Newark, Harlem. Perlstein quotes one hapless Iowa Democrat, who lost his seat in 1966, talking about a town hall meeting where constituents informed him that vicious blacks were going to attack Des Moines when they arrived from Chicago "on motorcyles."
I'm sure the Wright story damaged Obama with some white ethnic voters. But ripped out of a context where the sermons could have actually threatened whites, as opposed to making them feel uncomfortable, they were never going to sink him if he handled them well. And he did handle them well.