McCain/Palin doomed by Bush
Posted on Wednesday, November 12, 2008
As someone who retained doubts as recently as September that Barack Obama could win the presidency, I’ve rarely been more gratified to be proved wrong. But could the Democratic nominee have prevailed without the Wall Street collapse that millions see as the financial equivalent of Hurricane Katrina ? Without the spectacle of Sen. John Mc-Cain, owner of a plethora of houses and automobiles, campaigning as the working man’s tribune, along with his new best friend Joe the (unlicensed ) Plumber ? Without Sarah Palin’s “Neiman-Marxist” shopping spree and husband Todd’s silk boxer shorts ? Can the comedy channel survive without the GOP ? From the moment he secured the Democratic nomination, Obama ran a near-perfect campaign. His handling of the TV debates was masterful. Rather than going for the knockout, he was content to display confident mastery of the issues along with an imperturbable disposition that made McCain / Palin’s efforts to portray him as a wild-eyed radical look ridiculous. Equally clear in retrospect is the wisdom of Democratic Natioal Committee chairman Howard Dean’s oft-ridiculed strategy of competing in all 50 states. President Richard Nixon’s famous Southern Strategy appears all but defunct. Apart from fools flocking to gun shops to fortify themselves (against what, pray tell ?), most Americans are responding to the prospect of an Obama presidency with relief and anticipation.
According to a recent CNN poll, 64 percent of Americans look upon Obama favorably, substantially more than voted for him. Meanwhile, an astonishing 76 percent disapprove of George W. Bush. His “rancher” pose abandoned, the president will retire to North Dallas, one of a few metropolitan areas where he’ll be able to appear in public without jeers.
Could any Republican have won this year given Bush’s legacy of failure ? I think not.
Perhaps the most penetrating analysis of the GOP plight appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Basically, argues Mark Lilla, the party that played upon the prejudices and fears of the least educated, most provincial Americans to maintain power ended up captive to its own propaganda.
In promoting the manifestly unqualified Palin, “whose ignorance, provinciality and populist demagoguery represent everything older conservative thinkers once stood against,” Lilla says, Republican intellectuals parodied themselves. Somewhat like self-styled Sixties “radicals” lionizing the Black Panthers, they elevated misbegotten populism into farce.
So it happened, Lilla writes, that Republican politicians and pundits came to “mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.”
In less exalted terms, GOP strategists made the fatal mistake of believing their own BS. It wasn’t only Palin. McCain spent the campaign railing against earmarks, approximately 1 percent of the federal budget. Now there’s a plan: Cancel post office and sewer construction projects in the middle of a recession. Put thousands out of work. Terrific idea.
Rush Limbaugh spent the week before the election hysterically warning his audience against Obama’s alleged plot to seize people’s 401 (k ) retirement accounts and put them into the Social Security Trust Fund. Could anybody gullible enough to believe him have investments worth seizing ?
Two days after the election, Limbaugh began blaming Obama for the ongoing financial crisis. The presidency of George W. Bush, you see, never actually happened. Right up until Nov. 3, every bad thing that happened in the U. S. A. was the fault of Bill Clinton. Starting Nov. 4, it’s all Obama’s fault.
In short, they’re out of ideas. Partly due to what I believe was a cynical decision to politicize the 9 / 11 tragedy by scheduling an Iraq war vote shortly before the 2002 elections, the GOP ran the table. Conservative ideologues had complete control of the government for six years, during which they invaded Iraq on false pretenses, bungled the war catastrophically, failed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, turned Afghanistan into a running sore, allowed a major American city to drown, resorted to kidnapping and torture, gutted Fourth Amendment privacy rights, ran up massive government debt and oversaw the near-implosion of the nation’s financial system. It’s been straight downhill from “Mission accomplished” onward. So now many of the same pundits who marveled over Bush’s manly profile in his flight suit caution Obama to go slow, be mindful that America remains a “center-right” country and take care not to offend conservative sensibilities. Fortunately, the best thing I can say about Obama is that he’s far too tough and smart to listen.
—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.