American Politics has always been rich in surprises, but surely none has been as great in recent decades as the sudden emergence of Barack Hussein Obama as the Democratic nominee for the presidency - and, if one is to believe the American media, the virtually consecrated victor in the November election.
Obama's stunningly rapid journey from extreme obscurity - until about four years ago he was a fairly junior state senator in the Illinois legislature - to worldwide prominence sheds considerable light on changes that have taken place in the nominating process over the past four decades, as well as the secret turmoil that has afflicted the Democratic party since Bill Clinton left the White House nearly eight years ago. It also brings to light the crucial role of the African-American electorate in selecting Democratic candidates, and forces almost to the surface some of its hitherto somewhat private ideological notions.
First, the selection process. Before the 1970s Democrats chose their candidates for president and vice-president at a national convention, where the delegates were largely elected officials who had already proven their vote-getting abilities. A handful of states did hold primary elections, but in those days their results were generally not regarded as necessarily significant indicators of broad party or public support. (The one exception was John F. Kennedy's victory in the primary in West Virginia, because, as a Catholic candidate, he was shown to be able to carry an overwhelmingly Protestant state. Even so, Kennedy's father's money, generously distributed among West Virginia's indigent, helped things along nicely.) Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was the last candidate to be selected by a convention - in 1968, and not without considerable resistance from the more militant "bases" of the party.
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