Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obama Beats McCain

As the media has helpfully told us, ‘Hillary won West Virginia!’ (The exclamation mark is mine.) And as Clinton herself has helpfully told us “America is worth fighting for!” (The exclamation mark is hers.)

Both these points are worth making, though they barely qualify as news—more as reminders that the media must report many things, newsworthy or otherwise, every day and Hillary must end her speeches on a loud, if not entirely salient, point. Here’s a prediction I will make, complete with another largely irrelevant exclamation point: ‘Obama beats McCain!’

I read somewhere that a really good writer uses one, maybe two, exclamation points in a lifetime. I don’t remember who said that, perhaps George Will or William Safire making the argument that emphasis ought to derive from the use of language, logic and rhetoric in proper context. It is the reader, one or the other might argue, who should suddenly say to her or himself, “My god, George (or Bill) is right!”

In any case, in less than 200 words, I’ve managed to insert four exclamation points. It wouldn’t surprise me if at this stage a George Will or Bill Safire (or, even, crucial portions of my already vanishingly small audience) might say to themselves,
“Four exclamation points! I have had my fill of this writer! I’m done with him!”

So be it, writing is that odd human activity that both requires an audience and can hardly be engaged in public. So I’ll go the rest of this way myself.

Jeff (I tell myself), Barack Obama will beat John McCain in November because Barack will be the Democratic candidate for president, and this year a Democrat is going to beat McCain. It won’t even take a good Democratic candidate, although Obama will be one.

Let me list a few of the reasons why McCain will go down regardless of who the Democratic candidate is.

1. Even if McCain comes up with something better than staying in Iraq for 100 years, it’s too late for him to be a peace candidate in regard to a war that is the most unpopular in American history.
2. Whatever McCain might say in regard to the economy—he will face voters in November saddled with the “Bush economy,” which will almost certainly be worse than it is now.
3. McCain has already proposed measures that will virtually eliminate employer-provided health care. It would give insurance companies an even larger role and freer hand in providing health care and charging for it. The Democratic campaign against him, and the media, will savage McCain and his proposal. After that he will be lucky to get the vote of even a quarter of the elderly and the chronically ill.
4. McCain, i.e., “The Straight Talk Express,” will be exposed again in the fall, when a larger audience is paying attention, for pandering. He will have to defend tax cuts he voted against, nuance his position against torture, and fruitlessly explain how cutting gas taxes will solve energy and transportation problems in the United States.
5. So far this year, Republicans have lost three special Congressional elections filling vacant House seats in districts that have voted Republican for decades. One of the seats belonged to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. The other two were in Louisiana and Mississippi. McCain has bigger problems than worrying about winning Ohio. With an under funded campaign, he will have to worry about winning states like Virginia, Indiana and New Hampshire.
6. McCain is the presidential candidate Republicans never wanted for a presidential campaign they know they cannot win.

That’s six. I leave it to “Tonstant Weader” (as Gertrude Stein might say), if there is one out there, to add to the list. And notice not one of the six even mentions Barack Obama. Or Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Either one should defeat McCain handily.

But it is Barack who will make the better Democratic candidate in the fall, notwithstanding Hillary’s imitation of the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Obama, after all, has opposed the Iraq War, with minimal waffling, from the start. He also gave no support to Bush’s saber rattling toward Iran. And he also articulated a no-conditions approach to diplomatic contacts with any and all significant international figures and movements, including the likes of Hamas, North Korea and Iran.

It has been decades since an American president has refrained from demonizing enemies. In response, Clinton has been forced to modify her own pose of toughness, increasing the possibility that diplomacy might once again precede threat and intervention in U.S. international conduct.

Similarly, Obama’s stance on trade agreements suggests that labor conditions and protection for the environment will become more important features of future treaties. In this instance, as well, Barack’s leadership has forced Hillary to reframe her own positions. McCain has almost nothing to offer voters that would inspire confidence in his ability to recast international relations in pursuit of peace, or for the protection of labor rights and the environment.

In the general election campaign that will begin shortly after the Democratic nominating process finally concludes, these issues will become pivotal. At that point, Democrats will be reminded that political unity has the potential to bring enormous benefits, including a possible filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. (Imagine the impact the next president’s appointments might have on the judicial branch and on regulatory agencies.) And it is very likely the awareness of those dramatic opportunities to make change that has motivated Clinton to adopt her never-say-die approach to the primary.

The person who gets to be president in 2009 will have eight years to change how the government of the United States functions. Arguably, Ronald Reagan was the last president to take advantage of that opportunity. But Reagan, counter to his ideology, presided over a vast expansion of government. And that expansion came at the direct expense of working families in the United States. Obama can be the first president since FDR to remake government in a manner consistent with his political values.

By November, many more voters will see the transformative possibilities. In November, Obama beats McCain. Big!

1 comment:

  1. Other reasons McCain's in trouble (I was working on this post last night, which is why I have the list handy, but your post is better than mine would have been):

    *Polling - McCain should be wiping the floor with Clinton/Obama right now, after having had a free couple months to sit back and watch them bloody each other up. He's not.

    *Change symbolism - oldest president ever? Or first African-American president? Hm... (not to mention the toxic GOP brand, as you alluded to)

    *Historic small-dollar fundraising levels, vs. public-financing fiasco. Not to mention the Congressional/Party Committee disparities, and all the retirements in "safe" seats the GOP will now have to play hard defense on.

    *Message: "Bomb Iran"? "100 years"? Lobbyists running the campaign, and on the side lobbying for Burma (or worse, in Black's case)

    *Enthusiasm: base loves Obama/Clinton too much to choose. Base hates all GOP candidates equally, last one standing gets the nod.