Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Friend of the blog GS emailed me asking for my thoughts on the presidential election, reinforcing the fact that it's been a while since I felt like I had something vital to say about it. In fact, although I'm still following the race closely, I often find myself surprised by how much so many other people do still find to say about it.
Watching the videos from the Democratic convention, I was struck by how prominent the almost maudlin use of family and personal narrative is in American politics. Then it occurred to me that American politics really is family politics, and not just because of the Kennedy's, Clintons and Bushes. How many times did a speaker in Denver refer to the "Democratic family"? Party affiliation is so often the product of a person's family culture and it, more than anything else, determines voting. Which means that in a normal election, the majority of American voters have already decided who they'll vote for before the candidates for either party have even been selected. There's a reason why the term "Reagan Democrats" entered the political lexicon, and it's because it represented a phenomenon that happens so rarely.
Those who haven't yet made up their minds will base their decision more on character and personality than policy. There, too, I find little to say, because the choice seems so self-evident. Barack Obama, like all first-term presidents, will have some proving to do. Given his relative lack of national and executive experience, he will probably have more to prove than others. But so far in his handling of his campaign, he's demonstrated that he's a gifted politician and an effective manager. More importantly, he hasn't given any indication that he's categorically unfit for the job.
John McCain, on the other hand, seems to combine all the worst elements of American politics (pandering, fear-mongering, sleazeball tactics) with a reckless lack of judgment that makes the thought of him in the Oval Office downright frightening. I've heard the Palin nomination explained as an example of McCain's penchant for gambling, and insomuch as gambling involves accepting the certainty of longterm losses in return for the possibility of a shortterm gain, it was. But even a gambler studies the odds and bases his bet on some sort of calculation. The Palin pick, by contrast, was a shot in the dark.
As for the horse race angle, I've been saying for months that there's no way that John McCain will defeat Barack Obama. And the reason is that there's something called reality, and it's what happens in a little corner of people's minds -- sometimes without them even realizing it -- when they see a tired, outdated, old man next to an energetic, contemporary, youthful man and are forced to decide who they really trust to be in charge. To go back to the family image that I used above, this just isn't a time to turn the car keys over to Grandpa, and when the time comes to choose, most people (including, I imagine, a larger than expected number of Republicans) will grasp that intuitively. So no matter what the polls say between here and November, Obama is going to win in a landslide.