Time is Running Out
Obama’s constant deference to McCain as in “John is right…”; the worried side-looks over at McCain, who, in contrast, addressed the audience; and the desire for false intimacy (employing “John” instead of “Sen. McCain”) reflected the relative lack of gravitas on Obama’s part—something that transcends education, eloquence, and youthful vigor.
Did the McCain debate victory matter? Yes, it helped, but time is running out and the economy is trumping the campaign battlefield. It matters little that Chris Dodd in disgraceful fashion took $165,000 from the miscreants at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, or that Barney Frank’s vehement opposition to reform of those institutions empowered their near-criminal leveraging.
Instead, the incumbent administration and its party in general get blamed or credited for the current economy. Moreover Wall Street as right-wing free-market sewer is a far better known talking point than the more complex corruption of hyper-liberal legislators legitimizing their own dishonesty and graft through calls to help the poor and minorities get loans and be relieved of their debts.
In the next two debates, McCain has to hit Obama harder on his past and rattle him. Or barring that, the proposed settlement will have to improve markets and stop talks of the Great Depression. The voters want to tilt McCain, but the last 10 days have been framed (in part accurately) as hyper-capitalism, greed, and wildly unregulated free markets hurt Middle America--and that narrative has cost (unfairly) McCain, who wanted to regulate Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac more than did any Senate Democrat, in aggregate about six points in the polls.
The irony is that the basics of the US economy--demography, productivity, innovation, infrastructure, legal structures, and higher education--are, as McCain said, sound. They are in far better shape than anywhere abroad (look at a shrinking Europe, or disgraced industries in China, or Indian fervor and unrest, or Russian criminality.) In that regard, if I had capital (I don't, so easy to speculate), I would buy houses in good locations, and the stocks of well-run companies since they are at historic lows, will rebound, and their value won't tank since the US won't tank.
I think the bail-out will end up making rather than losing money, and by 2009 the economy will be back to near normal. Indicators as diverse as GDP, inflation, unemployment, and deficits as a percentage of GDP are not as disturbing as in our recent past.
The Obama Two Step
The truth is that we have an election between a moderate Republican whose centrist positions worry conservatives, who is pitted against a fringe-hyper-liberal candidate who must somehow assure the voters he is merely liberal. Never in recent history, have Republicans nominated one so moderate, never Democrats one so hard left. Yet we are not getting from a proud and unapologetic Obama "My left-wing views have at last proven prescient and arrived, and McCain's namby-pamby moderation is not what these crisis times call for."
Instead, it is dissumaltion all the time, as Obama (for now) essentially has refuted most of his prior positions on the major issues. Even his tax-and-spend plans are now on hold, pending the Wall Street uncertainty. We know nothing really of his background between Columbia and Harvard Law School. Few can figure out exactly what he and Ayers were trying to do with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge other than to give someone else’s millions to further the hard-left agendas of a number of cronies whose efforts did not result in any marginal improvement in the Chicago schools.
In other words, the most liberal presidential candidate in our memory is suddenly posing as a moderate centrist not much different from McCain (e.g., "I agree with John..." ad nauseam). And McCain thus far has not been able to scratch the thin veneer. Had Palin once worked in community organizing with a Timothy McVeigh, or had McCain been the member of a white supremacist church for 20 years, or had McCain been judged the most conservative member of the Senate, the McCain-Palin ticket would have long ago imploded.
How did Obama so successfully metamorphosize?
The Strategy of Preemption
Note what’s behind the recent efforts of St. Obama to threaten to go to the courts after the NRA ads, to swarm Milt Rosenberg’s radio station in Chicago to badger guest Stanley Kurtz, or to unleash Missouri law-enforcement on McCain’s campaign ads.
Partly this hardball is a sort of determination not to play Democratic softie again, since a liberal myth has arisen that Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, et al. lost elections only because of unfair hit ads rather than their own hard-left agendas. In that regard, Obama has prepped the battlefield well.
First, by playing the race card, all criticism can be couched in advance as racist in origin, and much of it has.
Second, by playing the no-more-swift-boat card, all campaign ads (compare the Limbaugh smears, or the third-party [cf. the role of Howard Dean’s brother] attacks on McCain’s health) are always to be seen as retaliatory and contextualized as defensive.
Third, Obama wants to “get in their face” and show that he’s “tough” and not another wilted-flower Dukakis. So he preens that he will bring a gun to a knife fight, and is going to “go after” John McCain. Because we are so prepped that this is not Obama’s natural inclination, we are to show forbearance that he is “forced” to go negative.
Fourth, we are seeing a traditional ‘noble ends, justify crude means’ campaign of the left, in which the annointed often excuse transitory street tactics for the sake of the greater good. Threatening to sue, or to intimidate guests, or to “get in their faces” are legitimate tactics because we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to obtain the “change we are waiting for,” in a “vero possumus” messianic figure who will stop the seas from rising, and the planet from heating—if we just accept his divinity.
In such a context, worry about the past of Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, or Jeremiah Wright, or concern about flops on campaign finance, town hall debating, FISA, NAFTA, guns, abortion, capital punishment, drilling, Iran, the surge, or Jerusalem, or fear of a high-tax more entitlements agenda, consistent with Obama’s most liberal Senate voting record, and lavish distribution of grant funds when working as a Chicago organizer and Ayers sidekick on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge—yes, all that legitimate worry must instead be seen as racist, or Rovian, or more of Bush/Cheney polarization.
Race, race again everywhere
The most brilliant prepping has been an anticipatory demonization of the white working class in an effort through shame, fear, or pity to sway them to vote Obama. The narrative advanced is that if McCain wins, the real reason is because working-class Democrats—once they collectively get into the privacy of the voting booth—sighed and voted against Obama because he is of half-African ancestry, despite telling pollsters they would not.
In the last two weeks I think I have read at least 20 op-eds with one of the following three premises: (1) warning: Many Americans are racists, and the election will thus hinge on race, so you have one last chance to get it right; (2) shame: The world is watching, and will either like or dislike us, depending on our support for Obama; (3) fear: If Obama loses, expect furor or even near riots.
So will the white working class take into consideration race? I don’t think so if one defines race as skin color, or larger cultural issues of black versus white. After all, Americans have never voiced an iota of racism about eight years of African-American Secretaries of State, who were the most visible representations of US foreign policy.
Most conservative Democrats’ worries about Obama have nothing to do with race per se, but center solely around five other issues:
(1) his judgment and the degree to which he felt comfortable with an array of disreputable figures, whether Chicago racketeers like Tony Rezko, radicals like Ayers, or racists like Pfleger and Wright;
(2) perceived elitism that transcends arugula riffs, such as his Pennsylvania clingers speech; his oceans rise/planet cools egomania; ‘we are the change . . .’ hubris; his silly new presidential seal; the Berlin second coming and Greek temple backdrops; Michelle’s rants about being suddenly proud of the US; and the worship from the hip and smug elite like a Barbara Streisand, Woody Allen, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, etc. The net result of this is a certain “I can save you all from your natural Neanderthal tendencies of voting for those who really don’t know how to help you like I do.”
(3) his ultra-liberal Senate voting record, especially on matters of defense, abortion on demand, education, and taxes, and subsequent flops and flips to disguise this record; most voters don't want higher taxes, don't think government has all the answers to our current problems, are tired of identity politics, and think the world abroad and the UN are mostly unstable if not scary;
(4) his flippant, instinctual riffs that reveal occasional ignorance—confusion over how many states, the location of Kentucky, the liberation of Auschwitz, tire pressure over oil drilling, etc;
(5) the degree to which his supporters have resorted to thuggery: photo-shopping John McCain’s Atlantic Magazine picture; hacking into Palin’s email; swarming talk radio stations when guests question Obama’s integrity; media seen in the tank while posing as objective journalists; trafficking in rumors about her Down syndrome pregnancy; daily Hollywood moronic outbursts; threatened law-suits, etc.
Don’t Tread on Them
The white working class is tiring of the constant sermons on race, either chauvinism or veiled threats or overt insults. Obama’s supporters really need to cool it, and stop suggesting that at each dip in his polls, Americans are proving less than noble people. The only thing that will really lose them the working-class vote is the gun-to-the-head, you’d better vote this way or else attitude.
I grew up among the Democratic working classes, and I can vouch for one eternal truth about them: anyone who lectures them about what they “must” do—or else—will simply achieve the opposite result, every time. Time might be better spent making the very difficult argument that 60% of the white vote going for McCain, not 95% of the African-American vote going for Obama, is in some way proof of America's unhealthy racial chauvinism.
Obama, after all, at some point in his career made the political decision not to become a public figure in the manner of a Colin Powell. From the beginning he should have said something to the effect that African-Americans have always voted for white candidates that they agreed with, and whites in turn will do the same when the opportunity arises to vote for African-Americans—and then left it at that.
Instead, from the very beginning of his political career, he chose to talk about “transcending race” to gullible liberals while seeking black nationalist credentials to solidify his Chicago base. As I have worried earlier—Obama, I think, has set back racial relations a number of years by caricaturing the white working classes, legitimizing nuts like Wright and Pfleger, warning that votes against him arise from racial fears, and talking loosely about "reparations," racial-identity charter schools, and the need for "oppression studies".
A Condoleeza Rice made a number of statements about race, but none of them were polarizing or suggested racial identification was central rather than incidental to her character. We will look back at Obama as a racial polarizer of the first order, despite the utopian rhetoric of racial transcendence and the daily op-eds from his supporters accusing America of being racially intolerant by passing on the Obama Sermon on the Mount.