Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 3, 2008
POLITICS: Change, The Mainstream, and Content-Free Politics
Stepping away for a moment from the right/left axis, there are fundamentally two worldviews of American politics that will, in theory, face off tomorrow.
One is the notion of the Mainstream. Basically, the Mainstream view of American politics is that there's a center to our politics, that things best get done when the two parties work together and marginalize the ideological extremes. This view holds that the real impediment to progress is the resistance of the Right and the Left to compromise. Pretty much by definition, the candidate of the Mainstream is John McCain, the man who practically embodies this view of Washington.
The opposite pole is the idea of Change. This view holds that Washington is at its worst, not its best, when the two parties conspire together against the general population. The Change view notices that Washington has long tended to chew up and spit out grand ideological schemes and idealists and impose a moderating pull towards the inherently corrupt center. The ideal Change candidate must be made of sterner stuff - must be willing to stand sometimes alone against misguided bipartisan consensuses, calling out the whole rotten edifice of favor-sharing and back-scratching. And of course, as I've been through repeatedly in this space, the Change candidate as well, by any sane reckoning, must be John McCain, given the contrast between his dogged pursuit of reform and Obama's business-as-usual attitude towards the corrupt machinery of government.
So given that we have two basically competing visions and one candidate represents both, how is that candidate not obviously winning?
At the end of it all, there remain only three arguments for voting Obama that are not built entirely on willful ignorance or willful deceit regarding his record:
(1) The partisan argument: if you are determined to vote for a Democrat, any Democrat, Obama fits the bill. He's a member of the Democratic Party.
(2) The ideological argument: if you really and truly want to see the left wing take over, then the argument for voting Obama is basically the same as the argument for voting for Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich. He will, in fact, move the government to the left as much as he is able to do.
(3) The race argument: if you think the nation ought to vote for Obama because of the color of his skin, well, you're going to vote for Obama no matter what. (I disagree with Moe Lane's reading of this WaPo profile of an Obama supporter - I think the really distressing thing is her apparent sole fixation on Obama's race. But if, as Moe argues, that also renders her vulnerable to being used for Obama's political purposes, well, there's that too). This should not be confused with the argument that Obama would somehow be good for race relations as a whole in this country; to the contrary, the relentless effort by Obama and his supporters to play the race card against any and all criticism is a difficult instinct to turn off once it is activated, and is almost certain to have a corrosive effect over the next four years. Remember, people once thought electing David Dinkins would be good for race relations in New York City, too.
But that's pretty much it. Everything else that's been trotted out as a basis for voting Obama requires a willing suspension of disbelief. Instead, we get compelling political arguments like this one:
I'm not convinced that Obama's going to win. I'm convinced that he's significantly more likely than not to win, but of course by now we've all been through the reasons to question the polls, and for McCain supporters to refuse to submit to media efforts to declare the race over. But win or lose, certainly the GOP will need to do some serious thinking about how we got to the pass in which a candidate like Obama became thinkable, in which the illusions on which his candidacy has been based have never really been effectively punctured. In the event of defeat, certainly there will be much fun to be had exploiting the gulf between the Obama of his record and the Obama of his image, as it will be impossible for him to govern as both even if he is able to summon the executive competence and fortitude that he has never in his life had reason to display. But the nation should never have had to contemplate being punished with an Obama Presidency.