Are you planning a July 4th BBQ? A real BBQ or a fake one? Until I worked in Little Rock, Arkansas, I thought a BBQ was about burgers and hot dogs, when in fact that is grilling, not BBQ. BBQ is about tough cuts of meat – ribs or brisket – being slow-cooked for ten hours or more, then served with cole slaw, baked beans and Wonder bread. It’s good. It was also in Little Rock that I first heard the BBQ theory of presidential politics which states that the winner is always the person whom most Americans would rather have over for a BBQ. Allowing for some measure of idiosyncratic sociability standards, most people would have rather had George W. Bush than John Kerry or Al Gore for a BBQ: whatever his faults, Bush knows how to party. Bill Clinton would be a great BBQ guest, so long as you got to the food first. George H. W. Bush would be a terrible BBQ guest unless the alternative was Michael Dukakis. And so on. Me? I would have rather had Hubert Humphrey over for ribs than Richard Nixon, but you get the idea. Adlai Stevenson would not be a barrel of laughs as you start on your third margarita. So, the good folk at Associated Press decided to poll on the question: whom would you rather invite to your July 4th BBQ, Barack Obama or John McCain? And the winner, by a margin of 52 percent to 45 percent, was Obama. This bodes well for him in November and not just for his social schedule this holiday weekend. The breakdown of the numbers confirmed broad demographic trends. Older voters prefer McCain and younger voters prefer Obama. Men were about tied, but Obama had an 11 point margin among women. Whites narrowly broke for McCain while minorities backed Obama overwhelmingly. In short, 52 percent of the American people feel comfortable with Obama, feel some connection with him at a personal level. Why does this matter, and matter especially for Obama? Because while many older, white Americans have become accustomed to cheering for black sports stars, or watching Oprah Winfrey or listening to Mariah Carey, they still are reluctant to have a black neighbor or a black son-in-law. At the level of celebrity, race doesn’t matter. At the neighborhood level, it still can. The presidency lives at both levels. He is a celebrity, of course, but he is also going to be in your living room for the next four years on the television. If Americans have grown comfortable with the prospect of Obama coming over for a BBQ, they are not going to resist the idea of having him on the television every night. The other personal challenge facing Obama, the non-BBQ hurdle, is his lack of experience and relative youth. But, virtually everything he does between now and election day will add to his stature on that score. He will accept the nomination in Denver at the end of August, filling a role we all know. Meeting with heads of state on his foreign travels will make him look presidential. And, he will stand next to John McCain on the debate stage. The Obama campaign has other concerns. The contentless nouns – "change" and "hope" – that have been at the heart of his campaign need to receive some content. He needs to fight back the cosmopolitan, elitist charge that is the most dangerous threat he faces. Like all candidates, he needs not to make a major gaffe. But, the BBQ numbers look great for his chances. America really may be moving into the happy acceptance of the post-racial future that has characterized Obama’s bi-racial life. Michael Sean Winters
BBQ with Obama?