Thoughts on the instinct of self-preservation or, Why I still, even now, believe John McCain will be moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20
[UPDATE: Alas, the story about Michelle Obama's taste in champagne and caviar turns out not to be true: see here. I regret the mistake. I also take this occasion to correct a couple of typos readers have graciously called my attention to.]
I know, I know: Michelle Obama has placed a large order for Bolly, Iranian caviar, and lobster to be delivered to the servants' entrance on January 20, but she'll have plenty of time to redirect the order. Will she need to? Not if you ask Nancy Pelosi, most pollsters, anyone remotely affiliated with The New York Times, MSNBC, CNN, etc., etc. It's not just the conventional wisdom, it's the weight of the Zeitgeist: Obama must win, indeed, if you read the script, he already has won. The whole tedious election thing is really just a formality, a public ratification of a reality that has already been achieved by acclamation.
Maybe so, maybe so. Obamamania is a more powerful hallucinogen than I'd reckoned on. I once compared it to Beatlemania, but it affects middle-aged men (witness Chris Matthews and his leg) as well as pubescent females. A few months ago, Mark Steyn admitted that whenever he heard an Obama speech, he startedto giggle. I know how he felt. The combination of earnest presentation and utter vacuousness is amusing, like an precocious eight-year-old dressed in a suit and tie pretending to give a speech. ("Obama," Thomas Sowell recently observed, "has the kind of cocksure confidence that can only be achieved by not achieving anything else.")
I stopped giggling some time ago, not because I think Obama is any less preposterous, but because I saw that this was a case in which--history is full of melancholy examples--the preposterous was colluding with the the rough currents of naked political power. The Chicago machine politics out of which Obama rose to prominence. The radical, violence-saturated ideas of Obama's colleague Bill "the bomber" Ayers. The equally radical racialist ideas of Rev. Jeremiah "God-damn America" Wright, in which Obama and his wife were steeped for more than 20 years. The influence of organizations like ACORN, which notoriously specializes in voter fraud and yet still enjoys public funding.
Such things made me realize that Obama's preposterousness was nevertheless a worrisomely effective political force. Will he prevail tomorrow? Against the odds, I continue to have my doubts. Why? Various commentators have enumerated some reasons. John Podhoretz, for example, provided ten plausible reasons for thinking McCain might win. And there are all the little hints, cracks, adumbrations, and anomalies in the polls. Team Obama is braying publicly. Privately, I suspect, they are concerned.
They should be. Yes, they might win. Having vastly outspent McCain--in some key states the ratio was reported to be something like 20-1 in television ads--and (let us acknowledge) having also smoothly outcampaigned McCain, Obama has reason to feel confident.
Nevertheless, I continue to think McCain can pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Why? Not because of any complex statistical alchemy but for the simple old fashioned reason that I do not believe the instinct for self-preservation has been entirely bred out of the American electorate.
I understand that larger and larger swaths of America are turning purple if not blue as affluence coupled with tertiary education and cultural relativism transform more and more people into latte-drinking, NPR-listening, global-warming hysterics who regard Karl Rove as an evil genius and Sarah Palin as an anencephalic breeding machine on skis.
I understand that. Even so, the current financial meltdown (and whose fault was that, Barney Frank?), like the prospect of hanging in a fortnight, has done wonders to concentrate the mind. The world, many people are beginning to realize once again, is a dangerous and unpredictable place. Bad things can happen. And in the great existential lottery that assigns everyone his chit, to be born an American--black or white, rich or poor--is to have pulled a very enviable number indeed.
I think a lot of people understand that, even though they may not wish to mention it at their Obama rally or while signing a "U.S.-Out-of-Guantanamo" petition. A lot of them get a little thrill proclaiming their solidarity with Obama--"Hey, I'm voting against the awful legacy of slavery by helping to elect the first black candidate in history!" Never mind that Obama, the child of a Kenyan father an a white American woman, has no more to do with the "legacy of slavery" than does Barbra Streisand--it's the symbol of the thing! Obama looks the part, and he does so (as Joe Biden observed before he became the pick for VP) in a way that is "clean and articulate," i.e. not scary.
Of course, there are many, many people who are die-hard Obama supporters. But on the other side are not just knuckle-dragging right-wing throwbacks like me. There are also, I suspect, many, many people who worry about Obama's offhand comment to Joe the Plumber about "spreading the wealth around." When the shouts of Change! Yes We Can! Change! are not ringing in their ears, they wonder about politicians setting an arbitrary limit to individuals' prosperity and then using the awesome mechanism of state power to prevent them from rising higher.
Despite Obama's reassurances about a tax-cut for the little guy, they worry when a 2001 interview surfaces and Obama can be heard criticizing the "essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers and the Constitution" regarding things like "the redistribution of wealth." If Obama wants to remove such "essential constraints," can he in good faith place his hand on the Bible and swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States"?
Judges must swear to administer the law "without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich." But Obama is on record saying he thinks judges should empathize with and give preference to the disadvantaged. In an Obama administration, we'll have to start chipping off the blindfolds from the figure of Justice that adorns so many court houses. I think that will give many people pause.
Americans who worry as much about energy costs as they do about their carbon foot-print will also be given pause by Obama's promise--recorded in an interview last January, but only recently released--to "bankrupt" the coal industry with greenhouse gas taxes if they dare to build any more coal-fired plants. How is that playing, I wonder, in Pennsylvania?
Many Americans, I say, look around at the world at large and they worry. They cast an anxious eye on a newly rampant, nuclear-armed but also imploding Russia. When Russian invaded Georgia this summer, John McCain instantly condemned the act. Obama--what did he do? He began by saying there was fault on both sides and they recommended turning the problem over to the U.N.
But Russia isn't the only international problem. There is Venezuela, for example. Hugo Chavez has made no secret of his ambition to topple "the American empire". There is Iran, with its nuclear ambitions and wild anti-Israel rhetoric, there is Islamic terrorism. There is a long and growing list.
Many Americans will be thinking about such contingencies and asking themselves: Whom would I pick in a crisis? In the privacy of the voting booth, I suspect many people--even, perhaps, some who sport an Obama button--will ponder such questions and conclude that Obama makes a great celebrity but is just too big a gamble to entrust with the future of our country.
The instinct for self-preservation is a simple, primitive force, difficult to eradicate or even blunt. We'll see tomorrow to what extent ACORN, moveon.org, and their allies have been able to supplant it with the lemming instinct.