Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Consent of the Governed II: The Republicans

The fun part about watching John McCain win the Republican nomination for President is to see the anguished outcries expressed by conservative TV pundits like Glenn Beck and Hannity & Combs on the Fox News Channel. Before 2008, I never gave the Fox News Channel a first glance let alone a second glance but now I watch it every night there is a primary just to see the collective gnashing of teeth and the hypocritical moaning from these paradigms of conservative values.

In their eyes it isn’t right that John McCain has freely and fairly gained the Republican nomination by the consent of the governed; it isn’t right that McCain has attained the nomination by appealing (unlike the other G.O.P. candidates) to moderates and even disillusioned Democrats to cross over and join his campaign; it isn’t right that McCain, if elected President—something not inconceivable—is the only Republican who has the potential to achieve a bi-partisan coalition that could get the necessary legislation passed to get the country moving again.

In many ways John McCain’s successful campaign is one of the most remarkable political comebacks in the annals of Presidential politics. To see a parallel one must go back to 1968 when Richard Nixon defied the odds and his own self-destructiveness to win the Republican nomination and the Presidency. Interestingly, Mitt Romney invoked the ghost of Richard Nixon when he was still campaigning against McCain in the race, saying that McCain was using Nixonian tactics (i.e. Watergate tactics) against him. Romney erred only slightly. Yes, McCain did use Nixonian tactics but not the Nixon from the Watergate era but the Richard Nixon who won the Presidential race in 1968. McCain, like Nixon, had lost a Presidential campaign eight years before and had been written off politically. McCain, like Nixon, had to go to great lengths to shake off a loser’s image. McCain, like Nixon, had to appeal to conservative voters by blatantly pandering to their core issues (Richard Nixon in 1968 packaged himself far more conservatively than when he ran in 1960. McCain’s rightward turn made pundits and supporters wince but, so far, it has worked to get him the nomination. Now whether this will get him the Presidency remains to be seen but McCain still has that ability to grab voters from the center and the left than his opponents). McCain, like Nixon, ran a vigorous grassroots campaign which resulted in key wins in the right states which in turn allowed him to receive those key endorsements that guaranteed future victories—each victory opening up new possibilities and new avenues of support for a campaign that had been declared dead one year ago. McCain, like Nixon, campaigned on a platform that supported an unpopular war and demanded a more vigorous and more effective application of American military forces in that war.

And what if John McCain loses in November? Then it’s a brand new ballgame for the Republican Party and that means there is a vacancy which either Mike Huckabee or Jeb Bush will fill in 2012. Huckabee’s campaign continued to amaze after Super Tuesday, winning Southern states and gaining conservative supporters (voting in protest against John McCain) despite low funding. It begs the question: if Huckabee had the money that a Jeb Bush or a Mitt Romney possessed, it would have been more likely that Huckabee would be the presumptive G.O.P. nominee and not McCain—a possibility which would have made Fox News Channel delirious with ecstasy. Huckabee’s failure to win the South Carolina and Florida primaries ensured his defeat. Even though he lost by narrow margins in both states, the winner-take-all rules gave McCain plenty of breathing space in terms of delegates. Had Huckabee won those contests then the tables would have turned. Although he cannot win the nomination, Huckabee remains in the race to make the case for himself as McCain’s running mate and, even more likely, to get a running start in 2012 campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Huckabee is asked to be the keynote speaker of the 2008 Republican convention. He would certainly do a great job in delivering the keynote address. Huckabee’s ability to articulate conservative values is excellent and he must not be underestimated. You will be seeing more of him in the near and far distant political future.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Consent of the Governed I: Democrats

At last! An interesting Presidential race! On both sides! Not since 1976 has there been a prolonged duel for both political parties in the Presidential primaries. Despite the predictions by the pundits that the massive front-loading of the primaries would result in a premature end to the campaign, the opposite has occurred with splendid results for the quest of enhancing political debate and voter participation.

I played my role in the political process by voting in the New Jersey Primary last February 5th. It was the first time in my memory that my vote actually counted for something. In the past the New Jersey Presidential primary was held in June and the nominations for both parties were usually resolved by that time which made my vote moot.

Not this time. To paraphrase a Maureen McGovern song, I was torn between two candidates. Don’t laugh. It wasn’t funny. For the first time ever I really had to think about who I wanted to run for the Presidency. In the weeks preceding the primary I had to do some serious soul-searching. Although I am anti-war I didn’t consider Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vote to approve President Bush’s use of force a significant reason to reject her. (Don’t forget Democrat George McGovern campaigned for President against the Vietnam War in 1972 even though in 1964 he had voted to approve the Gulf of Tonkin resolution which got America into the war in the first place).

Even though Barack Obama is the far better orator than Hillary is and I had the opportunity to listen to Obama speak on C-Span I wasn’t going to let Obama’s elocutionary talents to be the sole criterion for selecting him. I need more than eloquence to make a decision. (Although Obama is very good on the stump I don’t consider him in the same league as John F. Kennedy, FDR, or Abraham Lincoln: the greatest Presidential speakers of all time…or even the late Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X for that matter!)

And yet….

And yet my local newspaper The Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Obama and the brother and daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy—Senator Ted and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, respectively--endorsed Obama for the Presidency. But part of me wonders about that endorsement? Do the Kennedys really consider Obama more worthy of the Oval Office or are they afraid that Hillary Rodham Clinton (as did her husband before her) will go a long way in eclipsing the rather thin Presidential legacy that the late John F. Kennedy left behind? A very distinct possibility if Hillary wins the nomination and the Presidency.

In the end my decision came down to who could best withstand the hellfire—and that’s the best word to describe it—of a Presidential election and being President itself. For all his attainments—Barack Obama hasn’t really been tested yet. It’s all well and good to run neck and neck for the race so far but what happens if he gets the nomination and has to face the Republican nominee in the fall? Even if he wins in November, does Obama have the inner fortitude to withstand the verbal putrefaction of conservatives and the political obstructionism that is soon to come? If you think the conservative attacks against Bill Clinton in the 1990’s were bad the attacks on Obama will be even worse—much worse. I don’t think Obama really knows what political opposition in the 21st century is really about. He thinks he knows but he really doesn’t—not yet.

Hillary Rodham Clinton does know; has known since 1993. People talk about the Bill Clinton administration. Actually it was the two of them together running the country. Bill Clinton could never have won in 1992 and 1996 without Hillary. There is no debating that question. He could never have survived the impeachment and trial in the Senate as a result of the Lewinsky scandal without Hillary at his side. The hellfire Bill Clinton faced Hillary faced as well.

The real root of conservative hatred for Hillary Rodham Clinton is based on this: both Bill and Hillary Clinton succeeded politically where others before them failed. They succeeded because they had the wisdom and audacity to beat the conservative movement by using their own weapons against them. There is a substantive legacy of achievement which came as a result of their success. We can only speculate whether Obama can move the country again. We know Hillary can because she and Bill Clinton did so in the 1990’s.

In the end, I chose for the person who has been tested by the hellfire and emerged strengthened, shriven, and sharper than before. When I entered the voting booth on February 5, I pulled the lever for Hillary. Even if she falls short of the nomination—a distinct possibility, I won’t regret it. If Obama gets the nomination over Hillary I will vote for Obama but my heart went with Hillary Rodham Clinton.