Work and Days

The Campaign Heats Up

Oh, how I miss them…

I watched the other night Shane and Hombre, and realized how much I missed Jack Palance and Richard Boone (both Stanford attendees at one time). They were renaissance veterans, multi-talented, and in some tragic sense not fully utilized by Hollywood. Add in a Lee Marvin as well. In all candor, I don’t think a Kevin Costner, Brad Pitt, or any of the younger Hollywood generation measures up. And how could they—given the generation that came of age in WWII and the sort of country this was at the time?

The voices of Boone, Palance, and Marvin seem lost in film these days, as well as the air of disdain and tragic nobility they projected as actors.

CNN Looks at the Candidates

I was watching a rerun of the Anderson Cooper biographical documentaries of McCain and Obama. In the McCain piece here’s what I think we got in the end: Cindy McCain’s a former drug addict, a stroke victim, and fought false rumors their adopted child was an illegitimate offspring of her husband’s liasons, and is the only-child of zillionaires; McCain was knee-deep in the Keating Five, took on and then caved to the Religious Right.

In contrast, in this National Enquirer-type approach, the Obamas were blessed from the beginning—no mention (as there should not have been) of Obama’s admitted drug use, his radical past, nothing about Michelle’s divisive speeches, Princeton thesis.

Result: here is the contrast, a 42 year old who lied about his age married a princess who lied about hers, then lived apart, and then she spiralled downward while he got caught in ethics problems and flip-flops; meanwhile the super couple were drug-free, hardly privileged, and have a true partnership based on their model parenting and meritocratic-based education excellence.

In short, not even the pretense of even-handedness.

Is the Thrill Gone?

Listening to the recent various Obama speeches, I was struck by his two or three now reoccurring themes: His world-view of America is an amalgam of various victimized groups or rival interests—racial minorities, gays, and women—rather than a united citizenry that transcends its particularly tribal differences. When he talks of the military, there is almost nothing about the courage, audacity, and, yes, competence, of the US military that has done the near impossible in Iraq.

Instead the military is framed in terms of a vast group of victims in need of more government help, those who were not given adequate equipment, those suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, those with wounds, those in need of more benefits. All that may be in part true, but it is not the whole story, and at some point it must be balanced by mention that our soldiers on the battlefield have largely defeated al Qaeda and the insurgents in Iraq, and have achieved an amazing victory that has altered the entire calculus in the Middle East and made us safer from the threat of radical Islam.

A second theme seems the self-referential Obama himself. All politicians exaggerate and frame events around themselves. But Obama’s references to his landmark legislation, whether supposed welfare reform or foreign-policy initiatives, are simply not entirely supported by his brief tenure and meager record in the US Senate. One can just now begin to notice the subdued applause and crowd unease when he showcases himself at the center of all great issues of the last two decades—when he was in fact a rookie Chicago legislator. That, of course, is the source of the Bill Clinton pique: although Obama now takes credit for what liberal nostrums emerged in the late 1990s, they in fact were due almost entirely to Clinton’s rhetorical skills and Dick Morris’s art of triangulation. Yet Obama not only gives Clinton’s eight-year tenure absolutely no deference at all, but insidiously seems to incorporate it into his own paltry legislative record.

Third is a sort of growing irrelevance of his boilerplate criticism in the vein of Bush doesn’t do diplomacy, and the result is a sort international anger at a “unilateral” cowboyish America. But then he is faced with a Korea that is beginning to be corralled by diplomatic efforts, a growing united front against Iran, and a return of the UN to Iraq, with sympathetic governments–and suddenly the rhetoric seems stale and dated. What exactly right now would Obama do differently with China, South America, Sarkozy, Merkle, the Italians or the Brits, India? Iraq? Iran? Nafta? Not much.

Flip-flopping Along
I wrote the following on the corner today about Obama’s flopitis:
Four of July Flopitis [Victor Davis Hanson]
The question is no longer on what has Obama backtracked, but rather on what has he not?

The political problems with Obama’s flopitis are twofold: one, it is coming late in the season. To defeat Hillary he went hard left in the void left by Edwards. But the primary dragged on so long, that when he just recently flipped and flopped to leave the hard left on NAFTA, Trinity Church, Rev. Wright, FISA, gun control, campaign financing, death penalty, Iran, Iraq, Jerusalem, etc. he did so in the near summer, not late winter. The result is that his formerly left positions were showcased longer than most go-to-the-center politicians and thus his abandonment of them more striking and fresh in our memories.

For each inoperative “I can no more disown Rev. Wright” statement, there comes another each day about not quite pulling out of Iraq or wire-taps sorta OK, or NOT meeting John McCain “anywhere, anytime.” Every opportunist knows that in presidential politics such shamelessness should be over and done with by March.

Second, to employ a well-known Obamism, Obama ‘raised the bar’ so high with his ‘hope and change’ sophistry about transcending lobbyists, tawdry campaign financing, et al. that he is now being hoisted by his own petard — flip-flopping is the normal sort of rank opportunism, but for a messiah it is tantamount to sacrilege and heresy.

Some of us have been ad nauseam suggesting Democratic buyer’s remorse soon, and still stand by that prediction. The problem is not that the Left will abandon him; they won’t, and will gladly put up with an Iraqi war-fighter, huge private cash raiser, wire-tapper, free-trader, and gun-rights/death penalty advocate if he brings them all back to power. (But watch their furor if Obama sinks below McCain in the polls.) Instead the rub is that Obama’s new legions of hopers and changers won’t register, work, and turn out in sufficient numbers if they feel that they’ve been had and made to look silly, and Obama is just another Jimmy Carter/Walter Mondale/John Kerry. Nor will all this triangulation necessarily win the “clingers” vote, even though the about-faces are done on their behalf.

What’s going on? Obama’s handlers knew that their candidate had boxed himself into orthodox left-wing positions during the primary, but they counted on his prophet-like charisma and landmark “new candidate” appeal charming almost anyone as he ‘evolved.’ We will see whether such brazenness will necessarily work with either tough-minded Ohio or Michigan working people or cynical you-tubers.

Usually the in-party gets blamed for all the bad news—in this case gas prices, wars, weak dollar, shaky stock market, financial instability, mortgage crisis—but if a magnetic candidate like Obama loses in a made-for-order year like this, Democrats will have to call in Bill Clinton to relearn the art of triangulation, and how to disguise the liberal agenda with a southern accent, bubba aw-shucks populism, and trivialities like school-uniforms and Sister-Souljah moments.

In his defense, we forget that Obama is trying to be the first liberal Northern Democratic candidate to make it since JFK—and I don’t think, for all his talents, he is quite a JFK.

Next flip? I expect he will soon “refine” his view of lifting the Social Security tax ceilings—once we start hearing about 60%-plus state and federal tax bites.

07/04 10:23 AM