Obama, in his by now familiar ham-handed way, is attacking McCain for being too old, for being out of touch, for not being computer literate. Set aside the appalling ignorance of the last point–McCain’s injuries under torture do not permit him to type, thereby reprising Biden’s gaffe of a couple of days before, when he called upon a man in a wheelchair to stand up for a round of applause–and we’re left with a campaign that says ‘vote for me because i’m the young guy.’
Paradoxically, Obama is in some ways more a victim of age than McCain, although of a different sort. Obama is an advocate of ideas that have aged to the point of dementia. He’s an old-fashioned radical, and the leftist ideas that inspire him are no longer relevant to our world. As Hegel used to say, the world changes, and the ideas that once described reality, and could be used to effectively change it when necessary, no longer apply to the changed world. Obama’s political ideas have aged, which is why they have no policy saliency. They’re just words, fossilized remnants of a civilization that no longer exists.
Once upon a time, Obama’s vision of “change”–which is based on class structure and top-down collective enterprises–was not only contemporary but exciting. It inspired a generation of Americans to create the welfare state. But then the welfare state aged, and now, in the wild-west world of globalization, instant communication, the blogosphere and so forth, it is very old hat. The ideas are still hanging around, however.
Bill Clinton understood that, and since he wasn’t really committed to any particular political agenda aside from his own success, he was able to grab many of his opponents’ ideas and use them. I remember poor Bob Dole complaining that Clinton was stealing his ideas, and he was right.
Obama doesn’t get that, I suspect because he really believes those old, now-failed ideas. He can’t bring himself to say that the collectivist projects of the sort he promoted in Chicago are bad for the poor, although when pressed he ootches toward more sensible positions (as when, in Saddleback, he confessed that he had probably been a bit too negative about welfare reform). We’ve all noticed that Obama keeps moving toward McCain’s positions on many issues, even on the basic one: the war.
If you hold ideas that no longer work (and indeed don’t even explain anything contemporary), it’s hard to conduct an inspirational political campaign, and Obama, like almost all the other Democrats, is stuck with the knowledge that he’s going to lose most of the policy debates. But he still wants to win. And the only way he CAN win is to destroy his opponents, which is the strategy the left is pursuing, ever more frantically.
In the past few days, the polls have suggested that the Democrats may not only fail to gain the glorious victory they’ve been confidently anticipating for the past two years, but things may actually go against them in November. It would not surprise me. They have become the ultimate reactionaries, they cannot explain the world or suggest sensible ways to improve it. If the voters recognize this, they will take their chances with the mavericks. Holding their noses, to be sure, but they’ll do it.