Anticipating Super Tuesday

As candidates drop out of this season's reality television hit "The Primaries," only one real question remains with regard to Super Tuesday: Will the crescendo of support for the surging campaign of Barack Obama give him enough votes to catch and surpass the established and resilient Hillary Clinton? In the Republican race, John McCain is poised to win and pull away from Mitt Romney. In part this is due to the fact that evangelicals support the third GOP candidate, Mike Huckabee, who takes votes away from Romney more than he does McCain.

What's clear in both parties is that voter turnout is rising to record levels this year. It's an "indicator" we've followed closely in our past reports on sustainability. We do so on the premise that voter turnout reflects the extent to which a community is civically engaged. And the corollary is that a community's quality of life improves as more citizens engage themselves in self-governing activities like voting.

As we anticipate the events of Super Tuesday, our expectation is that voter turnout will be high across the country as well as in Massachusetts and on Cape Cod. Historically, turnout has been correlated to perceptions about the economy. As individuals grow more concerned about their economic well-being, they vote in an effort to effect changes in the practices of their government that they hope will allay their concerns.

To be sure, other factors also affect turnout such as favorite son candidacies like those of Mike Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004 when each ran for President as the nominee of the Democratic Party. Interestingly, and tellingly, turnout this year for Mitt Romney in his home state will not likely be as high. It's quite possible that he will barely win the Republican primary if he wins it at all.

Apart from turnout and whether or not Obama catches Clinton, there isn't much that the result of the primaries will reveal about the attitudes of voters on matters of policy. In both parties, the differences between the candidates are subtle and couched in terms of political minutiae such as Congressional votes or state policies implemented. More effectively than any other candidate, Obama expresses broad hopes and ambitions. His critics counter that his vision is in effect empty rhetoric, not proven results.

All of the candidates bombard us with ads, phone calls, and mailings in the effort to direct our attention to the points on which they wish to be evaluated. We all know that John McCain was a war hero, that Hillary Clinton has been an agent of change for 35 years, that Mitt Romney has achieved great business success and that he also saved the Olympics single-handedly, and that Barack Obama chose to commit himself to community organizing in Chicago after graduating from Harvard Law School, thereby choosing not to cash in and become a well-compensated corporate lawyer.

We're left to debate whether or not Hillary Clinton will be ready from day 1, whether Barack Obama will be right from day 1, whether John McCain is truly committed to sustaining the tax cuts imposed by President Bush, and whether Mitt Romney can effect a turn-around of our federal government.

These arguments are the essence of political campaigning. And it's not possible to guarantee in advance what action any individual will take as President within the circumstances that arise in the future. This is the reason why we focus more on a measurable, quantifiable indicator like voter turnout as a way to assess the state of affairs that exists in our community and attaches to a particular election.

This year, there is little debate that the oratory and attractiveness of Barack Obama are propelling the larger turnout evident in the Democratic primaries. The increase on the Republican side is seen less as something that the candidates are driving and more as something that is attributable to the growing concerns of voters about the economy, the war, and other issues of the day that the media cover such as universal health care, border security, and immigration reform.

With regard to Super Tuesday, Caroline Kennedy's recent endorsement of Obama served as the booster rocket launching his campaign. It was an endorsement striking in its simplicity and grace. And it was followed soon after by the endorsement of Senator Kennedy who asserted that Barack Obama was ready to become President. The time is now to pass the torch.

At this point, the 800-pound donkey that sits in the room has been studiously avoided for the most part. The subject of race has been tiptoed around by the candidates and journalists. Candidate Clinton's surrogate, former President Bill Clinton, poked and prodded about racial concerns but not in a way that was seen either as substantive or forthright. Reportedly, his insinuations were not well received by other party leaders such as Senator Kennedy, and the two had a spirited or heated discussion about President Clinton's approach that may well have pushed Senator Kennedy to endorse Barack Obama in advance of Super Tuesday's primaries.

Perhaps now is a point in time when we can begin to talk about race in more constructive ways. We need to if we are to continue to reduce and perhaps resolve the destructive actions and practices that have been the deficiency of our democracy since its inception more than two hundred years ago. Only Barack Obama is ready on day 1 to challenge entrenched attitudes about this topic.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, another Reverend King, Dr. Charles King, was a prominent leader on matters of civil rights and race relations. He worked with communities and large corporations to diffuse racial tensions in neighborhoods and the workplace. One of his key points was the idea that with regard to race and racism, conversations need to take place among the members of a race before they can take place between races. If someone of one race is acting in a way that a person of another race considers to be racist or demeaning, a challenge to that belief or that action will be more effective and more likely accepted if made by someone of the same race. Only after a person has gained an awareness from a peer's challenge regarding the inappropriateness of his or her action and the demeaning way in which it may have been perceived can a change take place.

As well educated and as well meaning as Hillary Clinton may be, there is no way on day 1 or day 100 that she can initiate and engage black leaders in the way that Barack Obama might. Why journalists and debate moderators have not explored in any depth each candidate's positions on matters of affirmative action and race is an interesting question to ponder.

Similarly, as the son of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother, Barack Obama has a depth of understanding and experience unrivaled on matters relating to immigration. His personal story resonates with groups in other countries, and it's why his measured delivery and flourishes of oratory would be constructively engaging. We cannot solve immigration problems without input expressed to us by leaders of these immigrant groups and by the officials of their home countries.

The thought hangs in the air that our country is not ready to discuss race-related questions openly and honestly. The question is whether voters say one thing outside the voting booth and do something else within it. This year's high voter turnout and changing poll results have yet to make clear whether this is the case in this election. Super Tuesday's results will shed more light on this. And primary wins by Barack Obama will show that the country has moved on, especially with the young generation to whom Senator Kennedy expressed his desire to pass the torch. I think it has. We'll see.