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No Week for Weak Candidates

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

There is perhaps one advantage worth noting in having a long, looong presidential campaign: You get to see the candidates react to a variety of circumstances. Though, from Barack Obama's angle, that's not precisely an advantage.

In one week's time, Obama:

1. finds himself deeply embarrassed by his pastor's racial rants and by his own inability to explain how he never heard any of these rants during 20 years of church attendance.

2. signals his economic ideas aren't quite up to the challenge of differentiating himself from the rest of the presidential field while proposing constructive solutions to the mess in which we're stunned to find ourselves.

As for No. 1, Obama demonstrates his probable ignorance of some folk adages: that a man is known by the company he keeps, and that when you lie down with dogs, you may cheerfully expect to arise with a flea infestation. Meaning he never realized, as the Rev. Jeremiah "God D--- America" Wright expounded before him, that this stuff could stir up a storm for a bright young presidential candidate?

Not many people suppose Obama believes the trash Wright heaps before his hearers. You get associated with that trash, nonetheless, by mutely staring as it piles up. What about the trouble George W. Bush got in for speaking at Bob Jones University, which banned interracial dating? Down came the fury of the Democrats and the media upon him. He had to apologize. Obama didn't notice? Thought perhaps a black man enjoyed exemption from the conversational standards imposed on white men? Not intuitive. Not what you'd call good judgment.

As for No. 2, while blood accumulates in the gutters of Wall Street, Obama flashes his economic credentials by spurning President Bush's plans for extension of the tax cuts due soon to expire. His party on Capitol Hill made the same noises last week in laying out their design for the next budget. At least, that was before the weekend drama that saw the Federal Reserve engineer the takeover of Bear Stearns by J. P. Morgan -- to avert the unknowable consequences of seeing so large an economic player simply fall apart.

The call to let "tax cuts for the wealthy" -- as liberals call them -- simply go away and rates rebound shows naivete of a highly beguiling sort. What Obama is saying, in a bid to be taken seriously as an economic thinker, is that the present victims haven't been kicked hard enough -- let's take more money from them as the penalty for having lost so much. Boy, if having their taxes hiked and their social usefulness questioned doesn't inspire them to work harder, what would?

Not that voters are precisely wagging their tails in empathy with the Big Rich who squandered so many big bucks on high living during the boom. Not that foreclosures and high gasoline prices, along with rising prices for groceries, don't assail the (relatively) poorer classes because I assure they do.

No, the point is that if a presidential candidate, at a moment of severe national stress, can't do better than propose the absurd for the of discomfiting the man whose job he wants -- well, what can he do?

Obamamania has always been about hope and change -- of which we certainly could use some, assuming they came in a form calculated to improve the way we live. From a Harvard man, one expects a little bit better than Obama has lately been delivering. True, he may yet find his footing and move forward again. It's a looong campaign. For now, the colt makes his equine competition look better without their having had really to exert themselves.

Obamamania is about salesmanship: the call to sink into the driver's seat (switching metaphors from one transportational mode to another) and careen off the dealership lot without asking too many questions. Such as: How much gas you got in the tank? And did someone inspect this thing?

The looong campaign is about inspecting this thing -- the Obama movement -- from top to bottom, looking for rents in the upholstery and listening for pings in the engine.

Well, guess what?

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