The "I Can't Put My Finger On It" Problem For Obama

The woman's name is Maria VanderMolen. She is 86 years old, and she lives in Spring Lake, Michigan. She is "a lifelong Democrat." But she's undecided in the presidential race. Why?

"He's just come out of nowhere," she said. She worries, she said, "about the way things are coming out about his life. I haven't got one thing specific. I just don't know."

The political cognoscenti might call this the Hart Problem, after the Democratic pollster, Peter Hart, whose focus groups of Pennsylvania voters showed that many just didn't identify with Obama; they didn't know what to make of him; their life was not his life; they could not hang their experiences on any of his. Now -- race may certainly be a major reason for this lack of projective identification, particularly among older whites. But it is also true that Obama's life is a 21st century American life; one of different countries, an unusual name, two races, a meteoric rise, a life of the mind (and a talented, incredible gift of a mind) and devoted to the ideals of expression. Obama did not grow up in poverty, but he was, we are reminded, not at all rich and just comfortable enough. He worked hard and paid off his student loan debts. Those facts aren't enough. Ms. VanderMolen won't tell us what new and unsettling information she's learned about Obama's life. Again, maybe this is her way of admitting to a racial bias. But absent a way for her connect to Obama, it stands to reason that she will be more likely to believe just about anything.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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