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Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's Hard to Be "Bipartisan" When You Can't Even Look Your Opponent in the Eye

Not once. Not in one hundred minutes of direct exchanges, with nobody up there on stage but the two of them. Was it fear, was it contempt, was it scarcely managed anger that kept McCain from offering up the most basic recognition of Obama in this moment of confrontation with the man who, even were he to lose the contest to come, is sure to win the sincere votes of countless millions of the Americans McCain is hoping to govern as President?

As a Democrat who has observed my Presidential candidates win debate after debate on issues and substance only to "lose" them within a couple of days in the endless pundit after-game of picking at facial tics and questions of tone and body language and "likeability" and the rest of that nonsense, I can say with confidence that although McCain deserved to be regarded as the loser of last night's debate on substance (Obama was fine, better than McCain certainly, though hardly meteoric if we're being honest about it), he was truly the loser of last night's debate on tonalities.

He was grumpy and stiff and blustery, a bit of a live wire, while Obama was unflappable, gracious, and seamlessly Presidential. After all the erratic conduct of the last two newscycles, McCain hardly could have wanted the contrast to play out as it did.

While those who were already in the tank for McCain were probably confirmed in their prejudices (much of Obama's base was likely a smidge less pleased, foolishly dreaming their candidate would throw knockout punches for their short term edification rather than consolidate his non-divisive brand and reassure foolishly spookable undecideds who are just beginning to pay real attention to this thing), my guess is that Obama lost nobody he had and gained more independents than he alienated, while assuring low-information undecideds in the mood for change in a palpably Change Election Year that the clear change candidate wasn't too risky after all.

On this date in 2004, the Projector, had Kerry at 234 electoral votes and Bush at 280 (some states were too close to call at that moment). The final numbers were 251 Kerry, 286 Bush. On this date, today, roughly a month out from Election Day the numbers are 286 Obama, 252 McCain. I don't expect the debates to nudge the numbers McCain's way, and the financial meltdown newscycle is hardly the ground McCain wants to be on. McCain is already starting to pay for the impulsive and ludicrously wrongheaded choice of unqualified unvetted Sarah Palin as his running mate. His stunts are backfiring and the underlying terrain is unforgiving to Republicans in a Change Election with unprecedently low approvals for the Killer Clown Administration McCain aided and abetted 90% of the time and with a media terrain that now contains just enough progressive alternatives to undermine the right wing monologue.

McCain biffed last night's opportunity to turn things around -- and calling himself a "Maverick" in public (how pathetic is that?) or mumbling "horseshit" (or whatever it was) under his breath when the young whippersnapper's turn to speak came up, certainly wasn't helping things. Indeed, these are the very details onto which we can expect the media heathers to seize most ferociously as they bury McCain in snarky peat fistful by fistful. This ain't my first time at the rodeo.

I expect Obama to win the Presidency in November, that is to say to win it handily enough that Republican disenfranchisement shenanigans and so on fail, at last, to skew the result and steal the thing under our noses. No, I'm not saying we should be complacent or fail to anticipate setbacks and outrageous mass-mediated faux-gaffes and faux-scandals and so on. But, certainly we should stop second guessing the almost flawlessly executed Obama campaign's broader gameplan at this point, stop fussing around the edges in a panic and providing soil in which idiotic counternarratives about democratic discontent can sprout like poisonous mushrooms.

Say what you want to, obviously, express your reactions as you will, register your worries about Obama's corporate-militarist ties or anti-corporate-militarist ire, but give the campaign its due: they have plenty of advice already and the advice they are listening to seems to me better overall than the advice being offered up in a panic or in a rage in the Comments sections of Netroots blogs as far as I can see. We should feel good about the way things are shaking down for once.

Indeed, Obama is doing so well it seems to me we should be directing our energies to supporting an Obama victory that might have the coat-tails to get us closer to the still implausible goal of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. After we have the numbers on our side at all the relevant layers, one hopes that even timorous Democrats will listen to their better angels and enact a progressive agenda equal to the scale of catastrophe brought about by thirty years of gathering corporate-militarist neoliberal/neoconservative movement politics in Washington. That's when truly progressive voices can mobilize their concerns about Obama's unacceptable coziness with corporate-militarism in a productive way. What's the point of muddying up the discourse now, if it won't get more progressive asses in legislative seats? It's too late to expect an Obama makeover on the campaign trail. Let circumstances transform him into FDR once he's made it to the White House and has a conducive Congress that will actually heed our barking when it comes to that.

If Obama wins, it will make history come what may, and we will be in a better world for the change we've made. If we direct a forceful critique of corporate-militarism from the Netroots to the majorities we have elected in the midst of this distress (many of whom have far more sympathy for such a critique than they have courage to act in accordance with its dictates) we will re-orient public discourse in the direction of sanity at last, and let us hope not too late. We must elect Obama first, and elect him in a way that delivers a mandate and legions of legislators available to enact its terms. Obama will be beholden to us, and the failures of the Killer Clowns will have set the table for a hearing for the progressive case precedented only by the Depression that opened the door for the New Deal and the Civil Rights struggle that opened the window for the Great Society. This is likely a once in a lifetime chance for change, and Obama has been right when he has said as much himself. Enough of us sense the stakes that the tension makes us a little crazy, especially when facile Republican stunts and ugly deceptions would make a mockery of the fraught realities we know we are contending with in this moment.

You can be sure, if McCain were to win, given all that has happened, given all that we confront, we will have squandered the promise of this moment in a way that frankly beggars description. Whatever McCain and Palin would demand of us, whatever they would take from us, whatever they would expose us to, it is scarcely likely they would even look us in the eye as they wreaked their havoc on our lives.


Burr Deming said...

McCain was indeed transparently angry. I think it goes beyond the debate or even the campaign.

John McCain suffered unimaginably in service to the rest of us. When his sacrifices are denigrated or ignored by those who never endured such treatment, his anger is understandable. I believe this instance is more revealing than the debate.

Dale Carrico said...

A President has a lot of work to do. If McCain's going to get spitting mad and petulant every time the appropriate interval fails to get set aside to genuflect to his unimaginable suffering as a POW I think that tells us he has no business trying for the job.

I for one think the Democrats are far too deferential to and respectful of McCain given his implication in corruption from the Keating Five to Phil Gramm and Rick Davis and his terrifying warmongering and watercarrying for one of the worst Presidents in the history of this Nation, George W. Bush, the last eight years, and given the way such moments of respect get opportunistically taken up by the cynical Killer Clowns of "Movement Republicanism" in its Atwaterian/Rovian mode to prop up their candidate and blunt righteous critique, and given the way it diminishes the ability of Democrats to do the vitally necessary work of framing in a clear and mass-media-friendly way the crimes and errors and thefts of this ruinous Reagan generation of Movement Republican rule.

By the way, it isn't only POWs who suffer unimaginably in the service of the rest of us, but the ones who endlessly whine that McCain is getting disrespected when he's getting anything less than interminably fellated tend not to give much of a crap about the sacrifice of poor folks dying lingering painful deaths from treatable conditions while raising families and doing menial jobs because we don't have decent healthcare, or folks dying because of exposure to toxic substances in underegulated products or underregulated industrial sites or from the dirty coal plants and nuclear waste sites or from the sinister munitions all of which McCain so palpably adores, or the soul-diminishing demands on the lives of truly independent journalists and public school teachers and dedicated social workers and civil rights attorneys working their whole lives without much in the way of pay or support or respect or recognition to keep this civilization going while we celebrate and reward instead the "enterprising spirit" of marauding assholes who appropriate the creativity, effort, energy of others to fill up the bottomless hole where their ego should be.

I can indeed empathize with McCain's suffering -- I'm a liberal after all, not one of the damaged fear-and-hate-deranged ignoramuses who still vote Republican -- and you can be sure that I am eager to educate, agitate, and organize politically to ensure that our veterans are well treated and supported all of their lives for their sacrifice, all the while struggling to build a world in which such sacrifices are never demanded again of promising American women and men in the service of the deceptions and greed and ignorance of ruling elites -- as happened once to John McCain and as is happening to countless thousands now because of McCain and others like him.