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Obama: the boating crowd's verdict

By Michael J. Smith on Monday October 13, 2008 11:02 AM

During my recent Maine to New York sailing odyssey, I experienced a small political epiphany. I had brought my boat in to a yard in Pocasset, Massachusetts, a pleasant little place more or less in the armpit of Cape Cod, and at the very cul of the sac that is Buzzards Bay:

As I fussed and fretted trying to replace a broken navigation light, I overheard a conversation, conducted in the characteristic Massachusetts nasal dialect, between two leathery old boater gents hanging out on the dock. They were discussing the presidential election.

Now boaters, though they are usually quite amiable, are seldom Pwogwessives. And increasing age doesn't usually turn them in that direction. So the conversation took some fairly predictable turns -- bitching about taxes, waste, incompetence, and so on. The current incumbent was roundly abused, the Democrats deplored in turn. Finally one of the old boys came right out and asked: "So -- who yah gonna vote fooah?

His friend paused a moment, sighed, then replied, "Ah hell, the niggah, I guess."

Up to this point in my trip, I had been starting to wonder -- after the marvelous initial Palin moment, and Barack's rather lackluster performance as nominee -- whether the Illinois wunderkind might actually snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and put the sacrificial goat McCain improbably into the White House. I was starting to get the sense that Barack's charm really didn't travel well beyond his core demographic.

I still think that's true. My dockside philosopher in Pocasset hadn't caught the Beatlemania, and wasn't likely to. "Change" and "hope" and "belief" and all that misty feelgood Obablather left him, clearly, as cold as a mackerel. But it was also clearly his sense that the current gang had thoroughly screwed the pooch, to the extent that he was willing to vote, not just for a Democrat, but for a "niggah."

My grandmother used to say, of a certain type of pre-Nixon Southerner, that they'd vote for a hound dog if he was a Democrat. It really does seem that much of the public is in the same mood this year. It wouldn't have taken an individual with Barack's undoubtedly exceptional personal gifts to inherit the truckload of sewage that the Republicans are -- gleefully, I'm sure -- going to unload on the Hunger Chancellors next month.

I daresay Barack will be a disappointment. He's taking on a Roosevelt-sized mess. It's possible that he'll want to, and try to, and perhaps be able to, come up with a Roosevelt-sized response. But I'm sure not holding my breath.

Well, look on the bright side. At least we'll have set a gratifying benchmark when the "niggah" takes the oath of office. It's purely symbolic, but symbols have their value.

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