Al Gore was a tough debater until he met George W. Bush and got an attack of the sighs. He famously bested Dan Quayle and Ross Perot in early 1990’s debates. One debate I remember particularly was between Gore and Bill Bradley. It took place in New York City…perhaps at the Apollo. Regardless, it took place in front of a black audience. Bradley pointed out that his more progressive policies were a better fit for the black community. Gore responded by noting the overwhelming support he and Clinton had from the black community. Bradley said that the polls were the result of a lack of awareness of the differences. Gore then accused Bradley of calling black people stupid. BLAM!! Ten points to Gore.

That episode came to my mind while I was reading Al Hunt’s latest piece.

The focus group was moderated by an expert on such forums, Democratic pollster Peter Hart. The participants were informed and enthusiastic about their party’s prospects, had no interest in the Republicans or third-party candidates, and were about equally balanced between front-runners Clinton and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

When Hart pushed the group during a two-hour conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates, a different picture emerged.

Obama, they worried, can’t win the nomination; voters aren’t ready for an African-American president (a point expressed most directly by the two black women participants), and he may not be sufficiently experienced.

It’s something I have noticed anecdotally…blacks are more likely than whites to say that Obama is unelectable because of his race. I’ve also noticed that women are more likely than men to say that Clinton is unelectable, and Jews are more likely than gentiles to say that Feingold or Lieberman are unelectable.

And I don’t know whether their status as targets of discrimination and prejudice makes them more savvy judges of the American electorate…or less. I have no doubt that blacks, women, Jews, Mormons, atheists, and gays all lose votes just for being who they are. But unelectable? That’s a different matter. I don’t think Barack Obama is unelectable at all. I don’t think Hillary Clinton is unelectable. But I’m not a woman and I’m not black. And I tend to be somewhat deferential when people that have suffered discrimination tell me about their experiences.

On the other hand, victims of crime aren’t the most objective observers. Perhaps years of suffering indignities has clouded the minds of people and made them too quick to assume the worst about the electorate?

Yet, isn’t that like Bill Bradley calling black people stupid?

Oh wait!! That wasn’t what Bradley said at all.

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