Thursday, March 20, 2008

Senescent Campaigns

There is much ado to be heard, about Senator Obama’s long-delayed and half-hearted admission yesterday that he had indeed heard “controversial” statements from his “mentor” and advisor Jeremiah Wright. Clinton supporters hoped the scandal would derail his nomination run, while McCain supporters hoped it would improve McCain’s chances in the fall. Obama and his team, once able to sell Barack as a man above the vulgar manipulation of race in his campaign, are now forced to deal with the revelation to the nation that Obama’s hands are as dirty as anyone else’s and quite possibly worse, and that his connection to Reverend Wright implies a crass racism in his own history which belies his oft-professed ideals. At best a hypocrite, Senator Obama is still exhibiting a clear stage of denial in the process, unaware that excuses and evasion will only make things worse.

With that said, however, no one should assume Wright’s racism, no matter how heinous, will permanently or seriously affect Obama’s candidacy. There was an immediate cost, and it will hurt Obama to some extent, but in the end it is a scandal about the words and behavior of one of Obama’s friends, not the Senator himself. True, Obama’s long friendship with Wright would devastate his career if Obama were white and a Republican, but as he is neither, History shows the cost will be transitory. As long as he does not make things worse, Obama can ride out this storm. Now he is proven no different from so many politicians before him, Barack Obama can relax and follow the script, dropping the pretense that he really represents anything innovative.

So whither Hillary? This time last year, Senator Clinton cast the image of the ‘inevitable’ next President of the United States. Since then, the ‘Smarter Clinton’ has been Clintanic in her campaign, as in a ship that aims for icebergs. The advantage for Clinton is that hitting nearly every possible obstacle during the primary run has helped her map them out for the fall campaign, should she gain the nomination. And no one should count Clinton out of the race, even should it seem impossible for her to come back. If Hillary share’s Bill’s penchant for saying and doing extremely unwise things as political strategy, she also shares his stamina and perseverence, even if those qualities are born of a voracious and ruthless lust for power. Hillary simply never gives up. While I can’t see how Hillary would be able to win the nomination in any normal fashion, I do not doubt she will contend all the way to the convention. Those Super-Delegates should expect a lot of pressure between now and the convention.

All this, we are told, delights the people at McCain 2008. The mental image of Obama having to address the public discovery that he is imperfect, while Hillary boils with the potential end of her rise to Oval Office Omnivoration, creates no end of amusement for the presumptive GOP nominee. But McCain has his own issues, not least the fracture in the Republican Party which McCain has done nothing to heal. Putting it bluntly, McCain has made it clear he neither respects Conservatives, nor intends to work for their support. McCain hopes to win the General Election with the same plan he used in the primaries, to attract self-proclaimed moderates and independent voters, as well as to depend on his reputation as a war hero. He is more than willing to forfeit Conservative support in that exchange, especially as he hopes – somewhat vainly – that they will vote for him anyway in the fall, for fear of Obama or Clinton taking office through their neglect. Which decision brings up an intriguing point which I have not seen addressed anywhere else, yet: The question of grass-roots infrastructure.

The 2004 Presidential Election was noteworthy for its high voter turnout. While this was attrbuted to many causes, one of the most important in my opinion was the intense effort made by Democrats and Republicans during the spring and summer, from building enthusiasm to registering new voters to making sure they got to the polls. The logic is obvious – Democrats heavily vote for the Democrat while Republicans heavily vote for the Republican. So if the candidate consolidates their base and gets a higher turnout from their party at the polls, they are more likely to win. 2004 bore that out, as both Bush and Kerry enjoyed tremendous vote tallies. Therefore, the present situation should concern both Democrats and Republicans. The energy in both the Obama and Clinton campaigns has been strong, but the emotion also threatens party unity when one of the two must give up the fight; there is a lot of bad feeling already present, and while it is a stretch to imagine Clinton or Obama supporters crossing over to actually vote for McCain, the question of how many will stay at home is a very real factor in the race. Not that McCain can relax on that count. Conservatives are traditionally some of the most energetic campaigners, and without their support McCain will find the fall much harder going than he seems to expect. And frankly, Senator McCain has burned too many bridges with Conservatives to think that he can win them over now with a few half-sincere gestures. But again, the Obama and Clinton campaigns are not at all likely to join forces after the nominee is selected; the bad blood is too deep now for that, especially as it has become quite clear that the Junior Senator from Illinois and the Junior Senator from New York do not like or respect each other.

This fall, then, will be turbulent and full of noise. Which, when you think on it, is always the case these days in Presidential Elections. The only chance of a real ‘October Surprise’, would be if this time we were treated to a pair of qualified, mature candidates who respected the voters enough to trust their intelligence and judgment. But since we know the potential candidates, we already know that possibility is not at all realistic. The senescent practice is once again the norm.

No comments: