Obama and the Paris Hilton factor

It’s the eve of the Democratic National Convention, and the Republican John McCain is suddenly catching up with Barack Obama in the polls, even coming out five points ahead in a Reuters/Zogby survey.

I am not sure we should make a lot of this, but can’t resist wondering what some acquaintances think of that Paris Hilton video now.

Just a short while ago, I was having lunch with these alert, interesting liberals who were all giggly about the way Paris had struck back after McCain used glimpses of her and Britney Spears in a TV commercial scoffing at Barack Obama’s celebrity status. She appeared on a video that received some 5 million hits on the Internet in little more than a week. It was a fairly clever piece in which she pooh-poohed McCain and made some halfway enlightened observations about energy policy. A victory for Obama?

That’s what my luncheon partners seemed to think, but who knows precisely who was looking at the video or what their reaction was? The video suggested a political bond between the sometimes misbehaving starlet and Obama, reminding us that Hollywood can’t help slobbering over him. Considering questions about his readiness for the presidency, you might doubt his cause was served by still more emphasis on the adoration expressed by this often vainglorious, superficial bunch.

I myself have been impressed by Obama — his obviously keen intelligence, his mastery of data, his eloquence and his sure-footedness. But then there’s the thin resume. The guy was a lawyer, a university teacher and a community organizer. He spent some time in the Illinois legislature, and then got elected to the U.S. Senate. A whopping portion of his three-plus years in that body has been spent running for president, and it’s hard to find experience or accomplishments that qualify him for the job he now seeks.

On top of his opposition to the war in Iraq, what seems to have shot him to primary and caucus victories was a charismatic, superstar quality that does not necessarily translate into wise governance even when combined with his striking talents. It was the notion of Obama as more bedazzling image than seasoned substance that McCain was getting at in the very brief TV spot that dragged Paris and Britney into the picture.

Some commentators then produced ponderously overwrought pieces about what a low blow he had delivered. They should lighten up. No commercial is a precise intellectual disquisition, and this one made a valid point.

There are all kinds of guesses about what caused Obama’s dip in the polls. Some would have you think that any slippage has to be due to anti-black sentiment, as if the very fact of Obama’s success to date did not testify that we are past the point where the racists among us are a key electoral factor. I think a big reason very well could be — not Paris per se — but a dawning recognition that his early talk about hope and change was blather and that his more specific policies of late are a mix of special-interest obligation, pandering, dodging and far-out leftism with the merest trace of common sense.

No secret ballots in union votes? Massive spending of European-welfare-state proportions? Promised vote-buying checks of $1,000 to American families? An attachment to biofuels that are driving up food prices?

Despite all of this, my guess is that Obama will get a bounce from the convention and, because of multiple, major factors in his favor, that he will secure the presidency. If polls a couple of months before voting could predict anything, we’d now be looking at a contest between Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani.

I also believe, however, that voters are beginning to examine Obama more closely than before, and that the last thing he should want are more words of praise from Paris Hilton. He also ought to pray that Britney keeps her lips zipped.


(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)