Friday, September 26, 2008

How's Our Side Faring Now?

A good friend asks: Seriously, how do you think our side is faring now?

In the Presidential level, we’re faring really quite well, especially in light of the fact that about half of all Americans are dumb or ignorant or both and – dammit! – proud of it!

Barack Obama is the real deal. I don’t mean he is some messianic, once-in-a-lifetime fount of charisma and wisdom (although he surely has his moments.) When I say he’s the real deal I mean that the intelligence and wisdom, the compassion and empathy, the pragmatism and effectiveness, the competence and confidence that we see are not fake. Unlike say, Mr. “Reformer With Results” Bush or Mr. “Deregulator? Me? No Way” McCain, who don public personas that have very little to do with their actual personas.

Obama is running a close to flawless campaign for President. If he does not succeed and become President, there’s very little to look back on and wish for a do-over. (Though one does wish the Hillary Clinton supporters would have understood how primary elections work and that the idea of her running to the very last moment did not serve the party well.)

I first saw Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he made a speech that simply took my breath away. At the end of it, I could only say, “That man’s gonna be President one day – one day soon, if we’re lucky.” I have not wavered in my conviction since – to this day.

Barack is slowly reassuring undecided voters (and likely some who had thought of themselves as McCain supporters) that he is someone who can be trusted. Undecideds and likely McCain voters believe that McCain is someone who has been vetted by 25+ years of service of on the national stage. This belief supports many of their ideas about McCain – he’s “experienced,” he’s “a known quantity,” he’s “steady and reliable.” Simply by dint of his love of appearing on Meet the Press (he is one of the, if not the most, frequent guests in the venerable history of that program), and the cooperation of a majority of Arizona voters, he has become someone most Americans can imagine in the Presidency. Barack Obama is working hard to earn the same level of comfort, and has accomplished much, in a much shorter time period. And unlike McCain who has had an uniquely valuable activist base in the form of national political reporters and pundits, Obama has achieved much over this same base’s strong objections.

If the Republicans were running in a united fashion behind a traditional Republican – someone like Mitt Romney or Bob Dole, Barack Obama would have a fairly steep hill to climb, and if successful would like squeak by. But the Republicans are doing no such thing. Instead, they have chosen an outsider who has made a career of publicly bashing Republicans to burnish her image as a “maverick.” Of course, when it comes time to vote he votes the party line – his 2008 voting record (the shortest of any Senator), is 100% consistent with the Bush administration. This would include his vote IN FAVOR OF torture – a vote most reporters seem either unaware of or unable to understand.

John McCain is a deeply unserious person. I first heard him speak during his many appearances on the old Don Imus show on WFAN in New York. John would call in, the boys would fall all over themselves beating up on various liberal targets, John would tell a story about his glory days making Viet Nam safe from Communists, and finally the talk would turn to current events. McCain was (and is) an expert Senator. He is able to talk about current events in a way that makes it seem that he supports all reasonable sides, understands everyone’s legitimate concerns, and knows that we have to get the right outcome. Which is every case was the Republican Party position. His Senate record shows him to be what he in fact is: a deeply conservative Senator from what has been a fairly conservative state, pretending to be something else because it gets him invited on Meet the Press.

Sadly, I believe McCain has entered a new phase in his life. I think there are undeniable signs that he is struggling with either ordinary old-age dementia, early Alzheimers, or some other condition. He is never without a handler. He goes on The Tonight Show with his wife. He cancels on Dave Letterman and promises to return with Sarah Palin. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham take turns being attached to his side. (Even yesterday morning when McCain arrived at the Capitol for his, um, whatever it was he did (is it too strong to call it “killing the deal that would have staved off The Second Great Depression? Probably…), there was Joe Lieberman waiting at the curb to meet McCain’s limo and escort him up the stairs.

So we have a contest between youth and old age, vigor and decline, intelligence and ignorance, grass-roots enthusiasm and top-down party discipline, dedication and power-grabbing. The financial sector meltdown is clearly a wildcard in this process, and certainly has the potential to change to game in either direction. McCain could yet somehow yank victory from what looks by all indications to be defeat.

But in his long career, McCain has not shown the shrewdness or intelligence to do so, while his opponent has repeatedly shown that hard-work and talent can be used with discipline to accomplish great things. So I remain quite bullish on our chances, and can even imagine that this will yet become the landslide that has seemed pre-ordained for two years.

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