Saturday, September 06, 2008

Some "Meta" Thoughts On The Presidential Campaign

With the conventions over, the tickets selected, and the race to November 6 on, I think it is time to consider why it is the I believe that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will win. First and foremost, I believe that there has been a fundamental shift in American politics over the past three years, and the Republican era, in force since Richard Nixon narrowly defeated Hubert Humphrey in 1968, is over. The odd thing about this era is that the Republican dominance has never been overwhelming, despite two historically high re-election contests (Nixon in '72, Reagan in '84), and a relatively high win for George H. W. Bush in 1988. The Republican era has been a marginally majority thing, with the GOP only taking over Congress in 1994 and only managing to hold that majority for 12 years. Their grip on power was always tenuous, and their approach to governance dominated by spectacle and an appeal to division rather than substantive. This is not to say that, especially with the advent of Ronald Reagan they did not come with a plethora of ideas and proposals; it is also not to deny that, since the late-1970's, American liberalism as embodied in the Democratic Party was not ideologically anemic, and skittish of the constant barrage of criticisms put out by the Republican Party.

That time has passed. I said it two years ago, and no one believed me. I predicted sweep of the Congressional elections in late summer, and was told that Republican smears, Republican tactics, and even Republican illegality would steal the election. I was told that the Republicans would win, but I could only conclude that people believed that because Republicans had been winning for quite some time. Even with the Mark Foley scandal, the presence of Tom DeLay (even after he quit Congress), and the historically low approval ratings of President Bush, I kept hearing how the Republicans would win and there was nothing we could do about it.

Being vindicated by actual events, we are in another national campaign where the Republicans, I am told, could still win because they are running a Republican campaign playbook that has been so successful in the past. Yet, consider some things. The American economy is very weak. We are, for all intents and purposes, in another era of stagflation, with energy and food prices again being the culprits. Our financial system is shaky at best. People are unhappy with the way the country is being run. The word "change" was heard so often over the past week, I kept checking my pants pocket to see if they were talking about coins. Both parties recognize the public's desire for effective, substantive leadership.

With the national conventions, we were offered a look at the way the two parties address the concerns of the country. The Democrats spoke candidly of the realities we face, of the challenges facing whomever is elected in eight weeks, and offered the American people not just fluff and guff, but some serious options as to how they would go about addressing the multiple problems in which we find ourselves embroiled.

The Republicans, on the other hand, spent much of their convention, belittling the Democratic candidate for President. We had the spectacle of a former liberal Republican governor of an eastern state deriding "eastern elites". We had the former mayor of our largest city - in many ways the first city of the world, not just America - insisting that the choice of the Governor of Alaska as the party's VP nominee was being derided as not cosmopolitan enough. Both the Presidential and Vice Presidential nominee spoke not of what they would do in the face of myriad challenges facing America, but rather insisted that such things were of little importance because both had interesting, even compelling biographies (which, at the same time, are not to be scrutinized too closely). While it is true that both John McCain and Sarah Palin have interesting personal stories, I came away from the Republican convention wondering why anyone would consider them for high office because they did not once offer a policy statement, a message to the new Congress that will also be elected this fall, or anything else that addresses our times. Trying to make Barack Obama in to some kind of lightweight (silly on its face), they have refused to allow the press access to their VP nominee. In fact, in the waning days of the convention and yesterday as it wrapped up and the delegates scattered back to their homes across the country, it became clear that the Republicans are running an anti-media campaign as much as a campaign against Barack Obama and the Democrats.

In essence, the two campaigns appear as follows:

*The Democrats - We know you are facing challenges and serious problems, and here are some ways we will try to address them.

*The Republicans - The eastern elite media wants to hide the fact that Barack Obama does not have the experience to lead the United States because it asks questions about the lack of qualifications of the VP nominee and demands serious, substantive positions of the Presidential nominee.

I fail to see how the Republicans can win with this approach. My own feeling is that the McCain campaign, chronically faced with personnel changes and shifts of emphasis and message as it has been for the past year or so, will continue to drift as it searches for a message that it can use to pull ahead of its Democratic rival. Obama, on the other hand, will continue his "rope-a-dope" approach, allowing McCain/Palin to wear themselves out with futile gestures, messages, and attempts to take Obama out, then come back with short, effective hits that keep McCain off-balance.

A combination of a strong GOTV movement being run by Obama and the Democratic Party, plus the changing socio-political climate and the general dissatisfaction with the way the country currently is will combine to provide the edge. While never underestimating the possibility that some disaster or great event might alter the equation somehow, my own feeling, as I've expressed many time before can be summed up as follow:




Virtual Tin Cup

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