Here are some scattered thoughts I have been meaning to capture before the election, and despite this election cycle being completely endless, I realize that tomorrow is finally the day, so that I am now compelled to write this and move on.
First of all, to place this election in some context, I think it is worth turning back to the 2000 election. After a prosperous and mostly peaceful eight years under Bill Clinton, the Democratic decision to nominate Al Gore made a lot of sense. Given Gore’s subsequent celebrity associated with his global warming film, it is hard to recall just how much of a stick he was in that election. One measure of his wooden behavior back then is to recall the fact that he really did not outshine George W. Bush as an orator, and Mr. Bush may be many things but a gifted public speaker is clearly not one of them. Now I know there are many who maintain that Gore won 2000, and while I do not agree with that, it seems to me that if you were to believe that, you imagine Gore winning by a very thin margin. What amazed me then, and amazes me still, is the fact that Gore should have won that election handily, well beyond any contestable margin. Gore’s own failings as a candidate, the Clintons’ petty reluctance to support him effectively, and the Bush-Rove team all combined to derail something that seemed to me inevitable.
Fast forward four years to 2004, and ponder the Democrats’ decision to nominate John Kerry that time around. Again, Kerry has his flaws and shortcomings, but again when stacked against President Bush, it is not outlandish to see him as far more polished. Nonetheless, the Democrats’ inability to move in sync with the electorate meant that Kerry tied himself in knots while Bush connected with the parts of the country he needed to secure his reelection. Once again, despite strong circumstances favoring their victory, the Democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Fortunately for them, Mr. Bush has been hard at work on their behalf for the last four years, running up insane debt while mouthing conservative mantras and prosecuting seriously unpopular wars in the teeth of widespread public confusion and animosity to his vague and poorly explained policies. Surely, in this environment, even before this fall’s financial meltdown, even a Democratic ham sandwich should be able to beat the Republican nominee? You would sure think so, but amazingly the race between McCain and Obama has been much tighter than I ever would have imagined as it has wound down to its, in my mind, inevitable conclusion.
I am sure that Hillary and her pals dearly wish they had been able to derail Obama’s appearance at the convention four years ago, which launched his rise to national prominence. You can just feel the deep belief in Hillary’s very being that the White House was hers this cycle, and watching that sense of ordained entitlement slowly crumble under the weight of public acclaim for the cipher that is Barack Obama may well be one of the most dramatic political reversals America ever witnesses.
I have long believed that McCain made an excellent Senator. I have also always maintained strong reservations about him as a national candidate. Just as the honorable Bob Dole left the press cold and never gained any traction against Clinton, McCain’s appeal as a candidate has not translated well to the media, which has a heavy thumb on the scale of this election. While I am no fan of Palin’s selection as McCain’s vice presidential candidate (not enough national experience and far too right-wing for me), I have been shocked by the double-standards levied against her in the media. No Democratic woman would be treated as she has, and if she were, the roars of indignation that would come the press would be deafening. What the future has in store for Sarah Palin is a very interesting question.
If the Republicans lose as badly tomorrow as some of the polls suggest, the Republican party is going to need to reinvent itself if it is to reclaim a dominant role in the nation’s politics. I dream of a return to the socially liberal, politically moderate, and fiscally conservative roots that define the true Republican party in my mind, but I am not going to hold my breath on that one. Rather than seeing themselves as too right-wing, I think we will see the Republicans flirt hard with the notion that they have not been right-wing enough. I think the religious hold over the party will grow, so much so that that it will not be the tail wagging the dog, but a reversal of what part is the tail, and what part is the dog.
I see so many of my peers enamored with Barack Obama, and part of me really wishes that I could join in that sentiment. I would love to feel that enthusiastic about the future of American politics. For whatever reason, he leaves me cold. His promises to fix everything do not reassure me, his plans to handle the economy and taxation make me fearful, and the prospect of a united Democratic House, Senate, and White House strikes me as the most dangerous change of course the United States has seen in a very long time. America cannot afford such unchecked power in the hands of one party with a chip on its shoulder.
Hopefully, President Obama will prove me wrong. I truly hope he does. No matter what, it will be interesting to watch it unfold.