Not surprisingly, the wake of the approval of California’s Proposition 8, which put a stop to gay and lesbian marriage in the state, has produced outrage. While the result catapulted the ubiquitous, and useless, web petition emails, over the last several days frustrated people have channeled the very spirit that visited this loss upon them by doing the dumbest thing possible- taking to the streets in protest. There is no more certain way to alienate people than to parade your self-righteousness by blocking their freeway access during their already difficult commute. Self defeating stupidity in glorious full flower. The fault for this regrettable result lay not with folks trying to get on the freeways, but with the crew who worked against this measure, and their face, the ever smug, professional gay cockteaser, known as Gavin Newsom.
Proposition 8 was without doubt one of the worst measures in California’s history and its passage is a humiliation for the people of this state. It was worse even than the infamous Proposition 187, which sought deny undocumented immigrants access to public education and social services. What Proposition 8 did was, for the first time, to write the withdrawal of rights into the state’s constitution. It will likely be overturned in the courts as was 187 but that will only open a new round of “activist judges” blather. But sadly, either way, that will probably not teach those who opposed this measure any lessons. As we all must now tool up for a lengthy court battle and those marriages performed over the last few months are now also in peril. And it all could have been so easily avoided.
Political campaigns and results in democracies are theoretically testing grounds for ideas put before the citizens. The reality is that bad ideas and dumb people can prevail if they have smart people running their campaigns, in the same way that good advertising makes so many people opt for garbage that makes them obese instead of food. Bad idea campaigns have an even easier time if dumb people are running the opposition. Such was the case with Proposition 8.
The case against Proposition 8 was a very simple one to make- constitutions give rights they don’t take them away. Denial of rights- one’s freedom or the sanction of fines- is the exclusive domain of the courts in response to violations of law. What Proposition 8 makes law, boiled down to its central nugget, is the denial of rights based upon behavior that is not illegal and without due process. What it makes law is the very dangerous concept of the denial of legal rights simply for offending the religious or cultural sensibilities of others. It’s akin to denying equal protection under the law for atheists or denying the right to bear arms to people who wear camouflage pants. Instead of laying out this case, however, the message that came from the opponents of Proposition 8 was “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” That is as guaranteed a political loser as is imaginable and while the ever witless Gavin Newsom was the posterboy for this mess, the opponents of Proposition 8 never stopped the bleeding he created. Instead of focusing on the core concept of the denial of rights- especially in “communities of color” where that central message would have resonated, they never mounted a defense at all. No more telling fact to this failure exists than 7 out of 10 African Americans who voted for Obama also voted for Proposition 8.
Fortunately for all of us, across the entire country, the legal standing of this measure is untenable. It is quite possible that a proposition to prohibit the marriage of those whose skin tone didn’t match would have passed in Virginia in 1967. Fortunately, the issue went instead to the courts and we got the Loving vs. Virgina result which overturned that state’s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924.” While there is no similar statute in California crimanilizing gay and lesbian relationships to overturn, hopefully the courts will see that the notion of denial of constitutional rights for acts that are not illegal is cast in the same dismal light of ignorance. But the arrogance and stupidity of the forces against this measure will have handed cultural conservatives a plum example of the will of the good, God-fearing “real” American people being overturned by liberal judges- no doubt just in time for President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominations. Thanks for that.
Courage is a rare commodity, and its presence naturally becomes more scarce as the stakes rise. This is why those who demonstrate it at crucial moments, and at great personal risk, are considered heroes. “Hero,” to put it mildly, however, is not at term that should ever be associated with Colin Powell. There are few Americans indeed who have been presented the single handed opportunity to stave off national disaster and Colin Powell is one of those rare people and had one of those rare chances that are the stuff of legend. By standing up for what he knew was right, he could have almost certainly prevented not only the boneheaded invasion of Iraq that has wreaked such havoc upon our nation, to say nothing of the Iraqis, but our national humiliation and the degradation of our image and standing around the globe. But when his moment of truth came, Powell not only choked, but he instead grabbed an oar on the boat he knew was heading towards shame. He, literally, did not only watch from the sidelines in silence as the building burned, he helped pour more gas on the fire.
What makes Powell so tragic is that he had been one of the very few people on the national stage who enjoyed virtually universal respect. He not only embodied the principle that the United States military was able to promote its best and brightest to the very top leadership positions, but was the first former general since Eisenhower to be bone fide presidential material. Powell displayed prudent judgment and intellect and an aura of reasonableness. He had that intangible quality of being the person you want in the room in a crisis, someone you feel you can trust to do the right thing, which makes his shame all the more bitter.
In the run-up to the war, Powell’s reluctance to engage in Iraq was well known. It was he who made the infamous and telling Pottery Barn warning- urging caution because “if we break it, we buy it.” His was, literally, the lone voice of warning about what would inevitably become a dismal quagmire of occupation and beyond. Like so many people at the time, and as a direct result of his previous experience in that country, he could see that this would be a disastrous move.
On January 13, 2003, Colin Powell’s moment of truth came. President Bush called him into the Oval Office and said that he had decided to ignore Powell’s advice and to invade Iraq anyway. “You understand the consequences?” Powell asked him, according to Bob Woodward. When Bush answered affirmatively, he followed by asking Powell “Are you with me on this?” And there it was, a lifetime of service and personal integrity distilled in a simple, six word question. But it was not a hard question. Having worked with George W. Bush up close and having clearly and nakedly witnessed the intellectual weakness and the breathtaking lack of curiousity that would have been required to have done the homework and research before making a decision of this import, the right answer was not only “no,” but the tender of resignation. But Powell didn’t do either.
By asking all the right questions, and offering all the precient warnings, it is clear that Powell knew full well what a disaster this was going to turn out to be. The threat of his resignation from office, however, would have given Bush’s crowd of chickenhawks more than considerable pause. Powell was, after all, not only the political jewel in Bush’s cabinet crown, but the one person who had actually served in the military, and had operational experience in Iraq. For him to walk, and to share with the nation not only his foreboding about the viability of a war in that country, but of his skepticism about the dubious evidence produced out of the vice president’s office- as a patriot and a person of conscience must- he would have spurred skeptics across the land. Though the war resolution had already passed the congress, Powell’s defection would have opened the door to and emboldened congressional opposition and public worry- and perhaps even jump-started the moribund press. Powell would have become the tacit leader of the “I told you so” crowd waiting in the wings should it turn out to be exactly the disaster he predicted. Knowing full well that they were deceitfully patching together bogus claims to justify their plan for an eternal American colonial footprint- and with a re-election campaign on the horizon- a public Powell resignation would have called their bluff. As James Baker observed during the Iraq Study Group, Powell “was the one person who could have prevented all of this.” But he didn’t. instead of standing up tall, Powell replied “I’m with you Mr. President,” showing us all that he was neither a hero nor a leader, but simply a lacky used to, and shamefully comfortable with, taking orders.
Now, today, with just a few weeks before the November election, Powell has finally decided to endorse Senator Barack Obama. Months ago, a Powell endorsement might have really helped Obama’s “commander in chief” credibility with many Americans and could been a real asset. But such a move would have taken some guts- a resource the shameful Mr. Powell clearly lacks.
While the American economy has become the only serious issue on the table for most Americans in the upcoming presidential election, the question of Barack Obama’s mixed heritage remains. In a country that has so infamously considered anyone with even a hint of the physical attributes common to people of African decent to be “black,” and actively prejudiced them, Obama certainly qualifies and his ascent remains a remarkable achievement. Even more remarkable, and encouraging for all of us, is the fact that his “race” will prove an electoral net gain for him. The simple fact of his unlikely triumph to become the Democratic presidential nominee has fundamentally changed the face of the American electorate, but while this will result in his becoming president, it will also have disturbing repercussions. There will be many Americans, like those angry faces at recent McCain rallies, who will indeed be bitter.
It goes without saying that there are people in this country who would never vote for a person that appeared “black” to them. Unlike a white candidate, Obama’s candidacy starts by writing off a sizable chunk of the electorate. This would be true enough were his name Leroy Jackson, but this group is enlarged by those additionally concerned by his name, especially his middle name Hussein. What is equally true, however, is that the majority of these votes would not have been available to any other Democrat either. Those who would not vote for someone who looked “black” not only require a white candidate, but one who also embraces values and ideas increasingly left behind in the wake of the realities of our multicultural country. Though the pool is no doubt enlarged by Obama’s skin and name, nevertheless, those are dyed-in-the-wool Republican votes.
The other side of the coin, however, carries far more weight. African American participation in the electoral process has been very low, far lower proportionally than any other group. While we did initially see luke warm support for Obama among African American voters, he now enjoys almost unanimous backing, in the 90% range. But most importantly, a huge chunk of that are essentially new voters. In North Carolina alone, new registrants more than double the 150,000 margin that defeated John Kerry four years ago. Now it is certainly true that African American voters face unique challenges, and many will find themselves facing ballot shortages, and being blatantly turned away from the polls on election day, the simple math is that more will come out to vote than the number of Republicans that any Democrat (other than Bill Clinton) would have persuaded to cross the street.
But the benefit to Obama is not limited to an increase in African American participation. We are on the verge of being a minority majority country, and Obama symbolizes the ascent of “people of color” writ large. Hispanics in particular, increasingly seem to see the Illinois senator apart from the traditional struggles, primarily over resources, that have characterized black/Latino relations. Put bluntly, Latinos see more commonality with a man of color than they do with yet another old, golf cart riding, white guy from the establishment. That sentiment is increasingly shared by other people of color who see Obama’s candidacy, rightly, as nothing short of the changing of the American guard. Barack Obama not only opens the door to Americans from the Middle East, the Sub-Asian Continent and elsewhere, but the ever expanding population of those of mixed ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Lastly, there are those white voters who will feel their vote for Obama to be nothing short of cathartic. It is no secret to anyone who has lived in America that the experience of those whose ancestors came from Africa has been nothing short of tragic. While the last generation of those who openly and actively participated in the discrimination of black people is nearing its end, nevertheless “white guilt” does exist at varying levels. While neither Barack Obama nor his father ever had to drink from a “blacks only” water fountain or had to use a rear entrance, for many white Americans as they enter the voting booth, there will be an innate sense that a vote for Obama is their opportunity to help right a long and dismal history of wrongs. That vote will prove to themselves that they are not “that guy” who used water cannons and dogs or who swung the truncheons on the marchers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. We can only hope that they are right because in the wake of an Obama win we will most certainly face the anger and the despairing, tortured voices of white and Christian supremacy who will find themselves increasingly cornered- and some of whom will undoubtedly prove dangerous. A major challenge for this new America will be, once again, dealing with a confederacy of those who resent the end of “their way of life.”
For the most part, viewers and pundits look for gaffes and comments that prove to be turning points in presidential debates such as Gerald Ford’s blunder about Eastern Europe or Reagan’s one liner about age. But what is equally, if not more, important are the more subtle and cumulative effects of posture, timing, and demeanor that form an overall impression in the hearts and minds of voters, so many of whom are looking with serious interest for the first time. It’s really our first date and it’s important to leave a good impression.
The problem for John McCain was that he didn’t do that. While he has tried to ape his hero Ronald Reagan over his career, McCain has always been wound too tight to pull it off and that was evident last night. Where Reagan could be tough and even menacing, he could also tell a joke in relaxed good humor, something the Arizona senator has never been able to do. McCain has always followed his scripted jokes with disturbing facial twitches and a nervous little cackle. He never been able to exude any sort of charm at all, and last night he was uptight, sanctimonious and downright contemptuous. He never even looked Senator Obama in the eye one time. He fidgeted and grimaced through a face tighter than Joan Rivers’ and people don’t like that. People viscerally don’t like to be around those who are uncomfortable in their own skin.
The big problem for McCain’s snarky first date was it’s effect on the most important constituency in this election- women. McCain enjoys the customary Republican lead among men, particularly white men, and Obama leads among the young and “people of color.” It is women voters who will decide the battleground states where this election will be won or lost. Where McCain’s performance no doubt resonated with white, Republican leaning, men, it very likely widened his gap with women. The initial CNN/Opinion Research polling found that while men slightly preferred McCain, 46% to 43% to Obama, women preferred Obama by a whopping 28 points, 59% to 31%. You can bet these numbers have sent new anguish through the McCain camp.
The problem for McCain is that women are usually more patient than men and usually take the longer view. They tend to be the savers in the family and they don’t generally get into fights over a spilled drink or a traffic incident- and often have to talk their men down for their own good. McCain came across as exactly that guy last night- the guy who just pops off and wants to kick some ass without a thought to the long term consequences. The same, of course, is true of George W. Bush and that hasn’t exactly served us all too well.
Women also do not like to be patronized, and McCain’s sneering barbs about “what Senator Obama doesn’t understand…” were just this side of “don’t worry your pretty little head.” And, as viewers could plainly see, Senator Obama was clearly never at a loss of understanding. And equally important, McCain’s arrogant bombast never ruffled him. Obama came across as the guy who, instead of confronting the belligerent drunk, is the man who knows it would not be good for his family for him to wake up with a broken jaw or in a jail cell. It was telling that McCain’s most outrageous line of the night, trying to compare Obama with George W. Bush, simply brought a laugh and a big smile from the Illinois senator.
Coming out of this debate, the core and indelible problem for John McCain is that women, generally speaking, though Cindy McCain apparently excluded, don’t like assholes. And that is exactly what he is and it showed.
Democrats all over America are scratching their heads at the poll numbers. You see blog after email after rant laying out how much smarter Barack Obama is, how dim and gaffe prone John McCain is, and even comparisons of the marital virtues of the two men. For so many Obama supporters this seems to be such a “no-brainer” they can’t understand what’s going on- or in the most clueless cases, to blame it on “race.” The reality is that those who wonder why this race remains so tight fundamentally do not understand this country and it’s people, and why smart Democrats keep losing presidential elections to the dismal likes of George Bush.
What Democrats keep failing to understand is that in democracies, elections are won by relating to the rural, working folks, that some call the “lowest common denominator.” No candidates for president or prime minister do photo ops with university faculty or captains of industry. They go out of their way to be seen with people in overalls with cows, with line workers in safety goggles, and police. It is always in places like that where you find national identity- the Ford ad sort of stuff. But if you are not genuinely from that experience, you cannot win nationally without pandering to it and smart, well educated Democrats from Adlai Stevenson to Barack Obama have had real trouble doing that. When they go to county fairs or factories it’s inauthentic and they feel self-conscious doing it and it shows. Democrats can’t do diners so the folks who eat in them don’t vote for them.
Republicans win because they speak “diner.” They simplify complex issues into “right and wrong” ideas that closely follow identifiable guidelines- “values”- that most Americans understand. It’s why they do proportionally well in places where life strives for simplicity and not very well in urban, diverse and complex areas. Primary among these “values” is the notion of “us” verses “them” which is the currency of any national identity. Republicans know how to be “us” better than Democrats, who they successfully paint, over and over, as “them” which is why Democrats lose nationally over and over- and is why Barack Obama, despite the naked and breathtaking wreckage of the Bush era, can’t crack 50% in the polls.
People want candidates to be like them, just as they need to relate to characters in books or movies for them to be successful. They relate to people in whom they see similarities even if they don’t fully understand their policies and ideas. A lot of people voted for Ronald Reagan because his campaign team was so successful in making him “American” in that iconic, John Wayne, way even though most voters didn’t understand “trickle down economics” or what his administration was really doing. The same was true of George W. Bush.
Americans who do actually vote do so on their guts and assume whoever wins will do the right thing because they can’t approach it emotionally any other way. Those who believe politicians are all liars and thieves- a third or more of the country- don’t bother to vote at all but those Americans who do vote do so in this broad sense. They don’t really understand the complexities of the issues of the day and they don’t really try to second guess policy. They just get a feeling about a candidate, and the promises or positions they seem to take, and go with it. For so many Americans, particularly those between California and New York, the candidate who connects with their gut is the one who looks and talks like someone they’d see around town.
There is hope, however. The mess on Wall Street, and the vivid reminder of Bush/Republican overreach should upset enough people, and Obama’s impressive ground game of offices and paid organizers in battleground states should be enough to squeak this through- if and ONLY if- 18 to 30 year olds make it to the polls. There is no doubt that Obama is the future of America- diverse, complex and ready to dramatically change the way we have done business and intellectually reformat how America does business. The only question will be whether Americans are finally fed up enough to elect someone who is not “one of us” to step in and fix this mess or whether they will continue to live in denial about the “greatest country on Earth” and turn once again to the grandpa they know and the values they share who tells them what they want to hear- that it ain’t so bad.
The political world is abuzz with the seemingly bizarre selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice Presidential pick, but it actually makes perfect sense. Imagine being a party insider who has been in this game a long time and imagine what the spectacle of Mile High Stadium would have meant to you. Barack Obama had people lined up for six miles to get into the park and you can’t fill 10,000 seats for McCain’s VP rollout. The state by state polling in the key states looks daunting. So what do you do? You punt.
The Republicans had two choices, they could have selected Willard Romney, who would have put Nevada, Colorado and Michigan in serious play, and made a serious run for November- or they punt this one and put the VP spotlight on a new face to freshen up a very, very tired party. Consider the dismal presidential crop they had this year- McCain crashes and burns, but triumphs because, amazingly, his was the only beating heart left in the wreckage. If you are a Republican insider you can’t be thrilled with the prospect of anyone from that field trying it on again in 2012.
There are a few prospects on the Republican team, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and South Dakota senator John Thune among them, but both are blow dried white guys who are on their way to the top in the party anyway. But when the Democrats have run such serious and diverse candidates in an increasingly diverse country- with more in the bullpen, the Republicans have to come up with someone besides another Ken doll. And so, enter Sarah Palin, the party’s statement that “we are more than white guys.” Forget any blather about trying to get disgruntled Hillary voters, no one serious is counting on that. This is about the next generation of the Republican party.
Last night was a milestone in the storied life of William Jefferson Clinton. There had been a concern in the Clinton camp that the former president might be met with a luke warm response from the convention floor, and might even hear some boo’s. It had, afterall, been a bruising primary, far more heated and contentious than any before it by virtue of the historic nature of both candidates, and Clinton himself had many unfortunate moments that did indeed damage his relationship with many Democrats. Most notable, of course, was his observation that Jesse Jackson had won the South Carolina primary, and the unfortunate implications that were drawn, and nakedly exploited by the Obama campaign, from it.
Clinton’s real problem throughout the primary season was not simply that his wife was a candidate, but that he truly believed in his bones that should her opponent prevail he would not be able to win the general election in November. To his eye, Barack Obama was a supercharged ego with a messianic complex whose routine played well in certain venues but could never make it on the big stage. Clinton found himself in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to unleash the hard stuff that he could see coming on a fellow Democrat or wait and watch the Republicans do it. And as a former president he had an exalted position in the party that would make such a foray into political hardball all the more unseemly and even threaten that position. Clinton answered the dilemma true to form, and out came the scrappy campaigner, but it did not take long before the howls began. When he described Obama’s campaign as “a fairy tale” it suddenly turned ugly. The “first black President” was faced with charges of racism, charges that not only shocked him but sliced painfully into what he perceived to be the core of his being. As those charges reverberated in the media, he watched as his wife’s campaign unraveled under the weight of breathtaking mismanagement (her staff, for example, were reportedly not even aware that Texas also held a caucus alongside their primary until it was way too late to get organized). And so, with each passing day, Bill Clinton watched his wife sink and the network he’s so painstakingly built over decades collapse while, in his view, an ill-equipped new party leader had taken over and was poised to squander a golden political opportunity and instead steer the party boat towards the rocks of presidential defeat. To his horror, Bill Clinton became Sonny Liston to Obama’s Cassius Clay.
No one likes defeat, but for Bill Clinton it’s sheer torture. With the convention looming his choice was to either distance himself from the Obama campaign that he felt tarnished his name and was doomed to failure, positioning himself and his wife for 2012, or could do his duty. In the end, duty was the only realistic option. In what was probably the hardest pill of all to swallow, Clinton had to stand before the convention and surrender the mantle of party leadership of the party he ruled over for almost two decades. But, in doing so, regardless of what happens in November, he regained some of his lost stature, and looked again…well…presidential.
The Obama campaign had two choices in picking their vice presidential nominee. They could have doubled down on Obama and taken a cohort who was also young, new, bright and ready to take over for the new generation- or, take an experienced Washington hand to temper the newness in a way that says “we’re pragmatic.” The Rove Squad was ready no matter who they took, ready to blather on about lack of experience and readiness with someone new or to squeal that Obama was abandoning his “change” message and admitting his weakness by taking an old timer. Given the dearth of other options for the Rove Squad, the Obama folks had to figure this would become the main thrust of the campaign against them.
No one who’s watched Barack Obama over the last year is likely to think he felt himself lacking in any political arena or that he would make a vice presidential choice in order to get help in matters of substance or policy- or anything else for that matter. The question became one of perception rather than reality, and you can be sure the vast Democratic party establishment was in favor of seeing one of it’s own on the ticket for self-serving reasons as well as electoral ones. They are no more keen than the Republicans to be left behind. Regardless, while Obama surely wished to reinforce his own candidacy and message the way Bill Clinton did with Al Gore, there simply was no Gore out there. Obama had no “partner in crime” as it were.
The reality is that Barack Obama’s movement is entirely about him and no one else. It’s great strength, and it’s potentially lethal liability, is that it is almost exclusively a cult of personality. It is not just about Iraq or health care, it is an article of faith about Obama’s ability to “change Washington” across the board. One potential choice on the “change” front, despite being a 2004 retread, would have been the born-again John Edwards, but Mr. Edwards screwed himself out of contention. The list pretty much ended after that. Virginia governor Tim Kaine was also much mentioned as a new face of change, but could never have been considered very seriously. Important though Virginia is, and as popular and smart as Kaine is, his total lack of charisma couldn’t overcome his thin resume as mayor of Richmond, Lt. Governor and a couple years as governor. Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius could never have been “the other woman.” New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is too sweaty and uncomfortable in his own skin to be viable, and like Sebelius, would have been a direct assault on the Clintons. Other blowdried mid-westerners like Evan Bayh or Ted Strickland, despite being relatively unknown faces on the national stage, embody the boring status-quo Obama’s message is counter to with no upside.
So, with the field of compatible, “change” options whittled down to nothing, Obama had no choice but to look to the establishment. Hillary Clinton, of course, was never a serious thought. Even if Bill’s murky finances had somehow passed muster, which was highly unlikely to put it mildly, Obama could never have tolerated a shadow presidency in his own White House. While the names of a few House members were bandied about, none had the profile needed. So, subtract the governors and the house members, and there is Joe Biden staring you in the face. Where you could easily imagine Tim Kaine, Chris Dodd, Jack Reed, et al in jumpsuits with elevator repair logos on the back, Biden has the height and look of a president. Biden can also give a speech with conviction, and will most certainly provide a formidable test for any of McCain’s VP options.
And so, the Obama campaign will now work to employ Biden’s strengths- his aggressive style and working class roots- and hope he can chew the ass off McCain’s VP, look good in flannel in Pennsylvania and Ohio and go seventy days without another of his infamous blathers.
One of the classic American political anecdotes goes that coming off a plane during his 1952 presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Adlai Stephenson saw a man holding a sign proclaiming that he was the “Candidate of the Thinking American,” to which Stevenson famously replied, “Oh god, now I know I’ve lost.” Another version of the story has a woman reciting the same line to him, and he replying “too bad there aren’t enough of them.” However it might have happened, the story survives like all great anecdotes because it illustrates, accurately or not, a much bigger story. In this case, it is indeed accurate. The Illinois governor was considered a thoughtful intellectual, and was famously labeled an “egghead.” Despite being a great public speaker, he won only nine states and lost the Electoral College vote 442 to 89.
In the over half a century since that election, the Democratic Party has essentially re-nominated Mr. Stephenson every four years and has won the White House, really, only three times. The first was in 1960, when John F. Kennedy barely squeaked by, and twice with Bill Clinton. Lyndon Johnson’s win in 1964 was in memory of the slain Kennedy, Carter in 1976 was a reaction to Watergate. Neither man could have come even close less to winning the White House were it not for those tumultuous events (and neither, of course, was re-elected). While Al Gore won in 2000 it never should have been close enough to be stolen. As Clinton accurately, if indelicately, observed, Gore should never have “lost three debates to a retard.”
What Clinton and Kennedy shared, besides an infamous appetite for risky and casual sex with strangers, is the quality lacking in the others in the roll call of Democratic presidential nominees since Adlai- ruthlessness. Politics in the Kennedy and Clinton clans has always been a blood sport and ruthlessness resonates with the American people. The simple truth that so many Democrats and high brown intellectuals seem to avoid getting is this: Americans love winners and we excuse those who do underhanded things to win. Winning is the thing.
Consider these examples. George W. Bush was nothing short of disgusting in his robophone attacks in South Carolina on John McCain’s adopted daughter. Even worse were the attacks upon Max Cleland in his bid for re-election to the United States Senate. Cleland, a decorated veteran who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam was portrayed as lacking in love for America. Or, of course, the Swift Boat episode. In all three examples, among many others, lies and sleaze were freely exercised and most Americans know it full well. But we don’t really care. The winners won and there it is. Whining is for losers.
Herein lies the biggest potential landmine for Barack Obama. His brand of new, hopeful, sleaze-free politics that believes in the smarts and the wisdom of the American people is tailor made for the sleaze merchants. While he’s nobly praising “John McCain’s service to our country” they are busy trying to turn him- literally- into the Anti-Christ. If he wants to win, Obama had better break the Adlai mold and embrace the words of the sage American philosopher W.C. Fields, “anything worth having is worth cheating for.”
If you think there is turmoil on television as pundits exasperate themselves, and us, trying to scoop the vice presidential picks, it’s nothing compared to what is going on in the campaigns. Oars are splashing wildly in both the Obama and McCain camps as party hacks blather tirelessly not only to promote their opinions, but names that will benefit their own careers as well. The longer it goes on the more divisive it gets. The candidates themselves, however, are engaged in a stare down of their own, and Obama has the upper hand and can put some serious distance between himself and McCain with a brilliant move. In the short term, McCain can only hope not to make things worse for his own chances- but for the rest of his party the stakes for the longer term are much higher. The Republican party is going to get an overhaul, and whoever gets on McCain’s ticket will be in pole position to lead it.
The core problem for McCain, and for the wing of the Republican party that has ruled for the last eight years, is that he has to choose the oily and distasteful former Massachusetts’s governor Willard “Mitt” Romney. To do otherwise would be seen by the rest of the party, and rightly so, as flushing away his best chance of victory in November. Not only does Romney boast what many claim to be economic bona fides from his days at Bain Capital- bona fides the bumbling McCain clearly lacks- but he also brings hard electoral vote numbers. Owing to his Mormon faith, with Romney, McCain has a strong shot at two key battleground states- Nevada and Colorado, and he would be poised to get decisive bonus points in hotly contested Michigan as well. All blather aside, there is no one else in the field who can bring anything close to what Romney brings to the table (no one can really help McCain with Evangelicals at this point, for example). It’s literally a no-brainer. The problem for McCain is two fold, however. First, by taking Romney he not only de facto admits weakness on the economy, but also that he is not “enough” by himself and has to form a coalition to have a viable chance- the same reason Obama never entertained Clinton as a serious choice. He literally resigns what small claim he had to leadership of the party. The second problem, of course, is that McCain would rather lick the north end of a southbound pig than even stand next to Romney on a platform- and even worse, put Romney in the undermining position of being the heir apparent. Even should he win in November, with Romney on the ticket, McCain would look more like a steward expected not to seek a second term.
Obama does not have this problem. Unlike McCain, he is clearly in command of his party and no one is even thinking about, let alone looking around, for a successor. Those who pushed for Clinton have long since given up and there is no one on the horizon, Clinton included, who can bring to Obama what Romney brings to McCain- raw electoral votes. The worst pick Obama could make would be Delaware senator Joe Biden. To do so would admit that he needs the advice of a daddy figure and would only make him look young and wanting and open the door for an endless avenue of attack ads. It would also, needless to say, derail any “change” message he wanted to pursue. No one is more of a Washington insider than Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. Just slightly less bad would be a selection from the moth eaten pack of senatorial colleagues- Dodd, Reed or the mind-bendingly boring Evan Bayh who could cut in a ticket line for a Led Zeppelin reunion concert without being noticed. Obama’s choice is much easier because, as anyone who’s seriously watched him over the last year, he doesn’t feel that any part of his game is lacking. As he did in the gym in Afghanistan, he’s clearly ready to take the three point shot himself. Look for him to surprise us by passing on the establishment and going with someone much like himself, a new face who can reinforce his brand and authentically sign on to the Obama movement. As we have seen already, where Obama is concerned, on the basketball court and off, balls are never in short supply.
McCain too might decide to live or die on his own terms and go with someone he likes and who actually shares his vision- someone who he could actually eat in the presence of, like Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. Doing so, however, would be a last act of defiance and would require a display of courage he’s not shown since he crashed and burned in 2000. With his face still reeking of Jerry Falwell’s backside, and in desperate need of party cash to make a serious run, look for McCain to knuckle under and become Romney’s mule to 2012.