The institution, rooted in the original slavery compromise, may be a barrier too great to overcome.
The priority for Obama supporters has to be mobilization of new, undecided, and independent voters in up-for-grabs states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, while expanding the Electoral College delegates in places like New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and possibly Virginia.
There are many outside the Obama movement who assert that the candidate is "not progressive enough," that Obama will be co-opted as a new face for American interventionism, that in any event real change cannot be achieved from the top down. These criticisms are correct. But in the end, they miss the larger point.
Most of us want President Obama to withdraw troops from Iraq more rapidly than the 16 months promised by his campaign. But it is important that Obama's position is shared by Iraq's prime minister and the vast majority of both our peoples. The Iraqi regime, pressured by its own people, has rejected the White House and McCain's refusal to adopt a timetable.
The real problem with Obama's position on Iraq is his adherence to the outmoded Baker-Hamilton proposal to leave thousands of American troops behind for training, advising and ill-defined "counterterrorism" operations. Obama should be pressured to reconsider this recipe for a low visibility counterinsurgency quagmire.
On Iran, Obama has usefully emphasized diplomacy as the only path to manage the bilateral crisis and assure the possibility of orderly withdrawal from Iraq. He should be pressed to resist any escalation.
On Afghanistan, Obama has proposed transferring 10,000 American combat troops from Iraq, which means out of the frying pan, into the fire. On Pakistan, and the possibility of a ground invasion by Afghan and US troops, this could be Obama's Bay of Pigs, a debacle.
On Israel-Palestine, he will pursue diplomacy more aggressively, but little more. Altogether, the counterinsurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are likely to become a spreading global quagmire and a human-rights nightmare, nullifying the funding prospects for health care reform or other domestic initiatives.
In Latin America, Obama has been out of step and out of touch with the winds of democratic change sweeping the continent. His commitment to fulfilling the United Nations anti-poverty goals, or to eradicating sweatshops through a global living wage, is underwhelming and given his anti-terrorism wars will be underfinanced.
And so on. The man will disappoint as well as inspire.
Once again, then, why support him by knocking on doors, sending money, monitoring polling places, and getting our hopes up? There are three reasons that stand out in my mind. First, American progressives, radicals, and populists need to be part of the vast Obama coalition, not perceived as negative do-nothings in the minds of the young people and African Americans at the center of the organized campaign.
It is not a "lesser evil" for anyone of my generation's background to send an African American Democrat to the White House. Pressure from Obama supporters is more effective than pressure from critics who don't care much if he wins and won't lift a finger to help him. Second, his court appointments will keep us from a right-wing lock on social, economic, and civil liberties issues during our lifetime. Third, it should be no problem to vote for Obama and picket his White House when justified.
Obama himself says he has solid progressive roots but that he intends to campaign and govern from the center.