Saturday, August 30, 2008

Campaign 2008: Kickoff

(Editor’s note: if you’re wondering what became of me since late May, I was busy preparing for a major trip to Toronto in early June as part of my ongoing research on an oral history of the NHL’s Original Six era. Also I was feeling burned out and starved for inspiration with regards to my blog so I decided to take a compositional holiday until the dust settled for me intellectually, artistically, and emotionally).

For all the talk of 2008 being a Democratic year it’s amazing that as Labor Day comes before us (and with it the traditional kickoff of the Presidential race) we are faced with a dead heat in the polls between Barack Obama and John McCain. And now that both candidates have selected their running-mates the Presidential race becomes a contest of steel-on-steel with broadswords and long-knives unsheathed. It could be no other.

Two night’s ago Senator Obama eschewed his customary poetic elocutionary style for a more steely-edged feistiness reminiscent of Harry S. Truman in 1948 than Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 or John F. Kennedy in 1960 (Obama invoked both the latter two’s names in his address). And yet that feistiness is badly needed right now. If Al Gore or John Kerry had been as feisty in 2000 and 2004, respectively we would not have suffered eight bloody hard years of George W. Bush. Obama needs to swing from the heels and his selection of Senator Joe Biden from Delaware (a combative orator in his own right) reinforces that need. Interestingly in Obama’s speech, Obama (as noted before) cited FDR and JFK as paradigms of the Democratic Party but refused to cite Bill Clinton too. (I smirked when I noticed that omission and couldn’t help but wonder if that was a subtle backhand to the Clintons). Even more interestingly I wonder if Obama took a page from Hollywood in his attacks on John McCain during his acceptance speech. Early on, Obama told the crowd that “McCain doesn’t get it.” In the movie American President Actor Michael Douglas, playing the role of the President used the same line to attack his political opponent played by actor Richard Dreyfuss in his climactic speech at the end of the movie.

And yet…

And yet despite all of Obama’s oratory and cool decision-making the race is still in a dead heat because John McCain has continued to effectively wage his stealth campaign. There seems to be reluctance in the press to accept McCain’s viability as a candidate but the fact that he has closed the gap and placed himself in a position to grasp for victory cannot be discounted. Given Obama’s inspirational and oratorical skills, McCain’s comeback must be seen as one of the finest examples of skillful political campaigning in the annals of American Presidential politics. Whether you approve his message or not, the fact that he has as close as he has at this moment is a testament to John McCain the man and it’s a testament he should be proud of for the rest of his life—whether he wins the election or not.

The fact that Obama has allowed McCain to come this close bodes ill for him and the Democratic Party.

McCain’s selection of the Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as his running-mate speaks volumes about McCain himself. McCain’s choice of Palin as running-mate allows him to go into the history as the first G.O.P. candidate to break the glass-ceiling for Republican women. Hopefully Palin will not be the last woman to grace a G.O.P. Presidential ticket.
McCain’s selection of Palin speaks of boldness, daring; a willingness not to be chained by orthodoxy in order to achieve a goal, and, most importantly, his personal ability to appeal to a broad range of voters—which is why he is in a dead heat with Obama at the present time.

Still I cannot help but wonder if Sarah Palin was McCain’s first choice from the beginning. I wonder if McCain wanted Independent Senator and nominal Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as his running-mate. Considering how the two have worked closely together in the Senate and have campaigned together, I wonder if McCain had wanted Lieberman but was dissuaded by G.O.P. insiders because they told him there would be a conservative backlash against him if he did so; i.e. they would do to McCain what they did to George H.W. Bush in 1992, sit on their hands and allow Bush to lose to Clinton in 1992?

If McCain had chosen Lieberman it would have been an even more daring decision than choosing Palin. A McCain-Lieberman ticket would have been America’s first attempt at coalition government in the European style. Considering the crisis state America is in today such a ticket might have had appeal if properly exploited by both men.

There is another disquieting aspect to this campaign that Barack Obama needs to consider (and overcome) in the weeks to come. Obama has run an anti-war campaign against our involvement in Iraq. McCain has supported the war from the beginning and has based his whole thrust of the campaign on attaining victory in Iraq. Given the unpopularity of the war one would think that Obama is on the right side of the issue and holds the winning hand. History however tells a different tale—a tale Obama needs to keep in mind. No American Presidential candidate who campaigned on an anti-war platform has ever won a Presidential election. In 1864 the Democrats led by George McClellan sought an end to the Civil War based on a negotiated peace with the South. McClellan lost badly to Abraham Lincoln. In 1968 Hubert Humphrey belatedly sought a bombing-halt against North Vietnam as a prelude to an American withdrawal from Vietnam only to lose to Richard Nixon. In 1972 Democrat George McGovern called for an immediate pullout from Vietnam only to be annihilated by Richard Nixon. In 2004 John Kerry tried to wage an anti-war campaign only to be beaten by George W. Bush. This is a factor of American history which cannot be ignored and if Obama does ignore it he does so at his own peril. It is also a factor which can help John McCain win in November—as long as he plays his cards right.

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