Sunday, 9 November 2008

Reflecting on history.

Whether it takes a few days' remove to put the events of the last week into clearer perspective, I'm not sure. Perhaps no clearer perspective is needed than acknowledgement of the simple fact that, last Tuesday in the United States, the American people voted against the last eight years of neo-conservative rule.

What??? How dare I not say 'the American people voted for the first black President' or 'voted for change'! Yes, dare I.

I don't say it to undervalue those truths, certainly not the former. Merely saying 'President-elect Barack Hussein Obama' is still a little odd, it's true. And I appreciate the immense symbolism and inspiration that an African-American President will give to a people who for so many years have been treated as something 'other' or inferior. As for 'change', well...we'll see.

It's certainly true that knifing the neo-cons plays into the 'change' mantra, but the message is a hollow one, really. Even ├╝ber-neocon Karl Rove said "Every election is a 'change' election" and he's right. Look at this race. One side was selling change and the other 'reform', which is basically saying two things: 'they started using change first' and 'even if we had beat them to the punch, to use it would be a tacit admission of failure'.

Which brings me back to the really important aspect of last week...the downfall of neo-conservatism. America showed the world on Tuesday that it is not made up solely of insular little drones who have been hard-wired to respond to messages of fear. It took eight years for them to see the tangible results of the damage a deeply flawed political ideology can do, but they saw it nonetheless, and more to the point, they responded to it in the best possible way.

As an 'armchair pundit', I make a great 'guy sitting in an armchair'. I've found it difficult to see past the factors that may play outside of polling data, plus...I'm hopeless with numbers. That's why it's all armchair and no pundit. While I had a pretty solid feeling Obama was going to win, I could not eliminate the possibility of a Bradley Effect, nor could I escape the notion that McCain's negative run in the last few weeks was going to gain traction.

I saw this negativity towards Obama on a daily basis in the Elections section of Yahoo! Answers. There was a huge section of people quite happy to regurgitate the Limbaughs, Hannitys and Coulters in accusing Obama of being everything from a crack-smoking homosexual to a Muslim Manchurian Candidate (yes, I know...if you read any of the questions on these links you'd wonder why anyone would go to Y!A, let alone stay there. Still, it does make for amusement at times, and I may include some answers in a future post).

The vitriol these people spat has to be seen to be believed. They are the worst advertisements for a great nation. In the space of 12 or so months over 300,000 'questions' were asked about Obama, most of which were inflammatory, juvenile, hateful and downright racist. did Barack Obama win the Presidency?

There are many answers to that question, but to get a little bit of focus on the main reasons, one has to go back to Super Tuesday on Feb. 5 and the huge roll of the dice by Hillary Clinton. Sen. Clinton was very confident that she would be the presumptive nominee by the time Super Tuesday was fact, she was confident to the point of being hubristic.

Polling data did show her with a substantial advantage over main rival Obama, data which had been tracking her way for some time. Leading up to ST she was ahead in pledged delegates, a situation which only changed the week after Super Tuesday (as did the polls, which flipped Obama's way on the 12th and, save for a near deadlock for a day or two in May, stayed in his favour).

As I've mentioned previously, in-depth analysis of the numbers is not my strong suit, but it was clear the Hillary camp was so sure of a rout on Super Tuesday that they pinned all their hopes on it. It turned out to be folly, and while Hillary ploughed on until June, it became increasingly clear that losing in February meant that Hillary had blown the bulk of her money, and just as importantly, she had no contingency plan in place.

John McCain, meanwhile, was coasting to the nomination. His Super Tuesday was everything Hillary thought hers would be. The GOP choices were pretty ordinary, and the ones that looked as if they might be okay were either considered unacceptable due to their faith (Romney, Huckabee), left their entry into the race too late (Giuliani) or were just befuddled and lost (Fred).

Of course, the primary race is all old news now, but it's worth remembering how easy it was (apart from some money troubles in '07) for McCain and what a shitfight it was for the Dems. When Obama's campaign burst into life in mid-late Feb, Hillary's negative run, as with McCain's six months later, was a red flag on the state of their paucity of new ideas.

Dirty campaigning on the election trail is not a new phenomenon. Choose randomly from any race in any country throughout history and you're sure to find smears, vitriol, slurs and 'attacktics'.

Any delving into the smears in this campaign would mean a separate blog entry, or even a book, and given that Obama did not have crack & oral sex in a limo with Larry Sinclair and John McCain did not set fire to the U.S.S. Forrestal, what's the point of it? Smears are part & parcel of the game. With that said, I'll save you the detail around Wright, Ayers, Khalidi, the Muslim crap, the Sinclair nonsense. It was all 'guilt by association' fallacy and, in the case of Larry, outright opportunism.

Fast forward to June. Hillary was dogged in her resistance but with no primaries left to contest and the DNC ruling on Florida and Michigan complete, it was Obama's race now. Of course, there were many Republicans hoping to capitalise on the infighting among Democrats, most notably the Mugabe-style tactics (early on) of Rush Limbaugh's Operation Chaos, and the PUMA bollocks (a short side note: PUMA officially means 'People United Means Action' but was better known as 'Party Unity My Ass'...perhaps that mixed message went some way to outlining their abject failure in sabotaging the Democratic nomination).

Of course, the Dems did make their own mess by slugging it out so dirtily in the primary season, not to mention the Florida/Michigan stupidity. If not for the fact that Hills had no back-up plan after Feb 5, the primary race might well have been a much more sedate affair. Critics, skeptics and droolers were predicting (and in some cases, willing) a 1968-style riot situation at the DNC Convention.

There was much speculation as to whether Hillary would play ball with Obama, or try to kneecap him at every opportunity. It was even suggested (admittedly by not very smart people) that she might run as an independent. While I always knew that Hillary was capable of being a brawler, it was highly doubtful she'd be so petulant as to sabotage Obama's chances by splitting the ticket and handing a gift to McCain & the GOP.

And so it went. At the DNCC in late August, both Hillary and Bill formalised their vociferous support for the Democratic nominee, and rendered the bleating of the divisive ones mute. Obama accepted the nomination with typical eloquence and was lauded for a brilliant speech...for about a day.

Enter Sarah Louise Heath Palin. Governor of Alaska. The Barracuda. The MILF...the dolt.

Caribou Barbie.

The initial reaction to John McCain's choice of Palin as running mate was 'Sarah who?' Then, for some reason, it was considered a stroke of political genius. Certainly the timing of the announcement could not have been better. It completely extinguished the almost post-coital glow of Obama's speech and turned everyone's attention to the unknown 'hockey mom' and former beauty pageant contestant.

McCain's campaign was seemingly revitalised. He'd pulled focus from the golden boy and in doing so turned a four point deficit into a three point lead.

The GOP convention took place in the Twin Cities a few days later, and with their new wunderkind on board and the incumbent President absent, the Republicans must have been feeling increasingly confident about their chances of winning the unwinnable.

It didn't last. Two things happened that combined to put McCain's campaign right back where it was:

1) In mid-September, Caribou Barbie opened her mouth. Sarah Palin first did an interview with ABC's Charles Gibson in which she tried to make some kind of link between Little Diomede's proximity to Russia and foreign policy experience. Then she did a gaffe-free soft ball interview with Fox's Sean Hannity. Who'dathunkit? A few days later CBS anchor Katie Couric engaged Palin in what appeared to a bit of a light chat, shot as a behind-the-scenes look at the Governor on the campaign trail. Here's the interview in full, but it's still worth seeing parts of this exchange in print:

a) Couric: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more example of his leading the charge for more oversight?

Palin: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie - that, that's paramount. That's more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.

Couric: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.

Palin: He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about - the need to reform government.

Couric: But can you give me any other concrete examples? Because I know you've said Barack Obama is a lot of talk and no action. Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?

Palin: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.

Couric: I'm just going to ask you one more time - not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.

Palin: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.


b) Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years.

Couric: Can you name a few?

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.


America's response to this arrant stupidity appears to have been 'Oh no, not another idiot!'

2) When the economic crisis got to the point where Washington decided to intervene (around the time of Palin's Couric interview), McCain announced he was going to suspend his campaign. This happened a few days before the first scheduled Presidential debate. His reason was simple and to the point. He had to get back to Washington so he could help to be a part of the bailout bill.

Immediate raising of eyebrows, not just from pundits, but the general public. McCain is not a member of the Senate Finance Committee or any of its sub-committees. What possible use would he be in drafting a bailout bill? And if the excuse was more to do with being in town to vote on the bill, well, wouldn't a proxy vote have been acceptable?

The truth of it is, McCain was busted trying to get out of the first debate, which, while scheduled to be primarily about foreign policy (McCain's alleged strong suit), would certainly devote a little time to the economic crisis.

Proof of McCain's transparent blunder came not from an investigative journalist, but from McCain himself in pulling out of an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. I covered this at the time, but did not cover McCain's terrible attempts to shimmy out of it when he returned to The Late Show a couple of weeks later. As you can see, I've included the interview link, so I'll leave it to you to judge how McCain handled himself, but 'I screwed up', to my way of thinking, was a pussy move.

Of course, having been thoroughly caught out, McCain did appear at the first debate, and did reasonably well. Oddly enough, he did better on the questions around the economy than he did on the foreign policy stuff.

In the space of two weeks, the McCain/Palin ticket had experienced a mildly dizzying high and, through their own actions, let that all slip away.

Palin was also taking the 'maverick' tag a little too far when she broke from 'message' and criticised her own campaign's decision to pull the pin on Michigan.

What was Obama doing all this time? The same thing he'd been doing for months. Staying 'on message', running a mostly positive campaign and most importantly, presenting an unflappable, 'cool-in-a-crisis' demeanour that made him look and sound...well, Presidential.

In October, it became clear that Obama was dictating the agenda of the campaign. McCain had little response, and dwindling finances. Well, certainly compared to BHO. In September Obama's campaign received a staggering $150 million in donations.

So...what did McCain do on the back of all of this mess? He started running hard negative. This in itself was not surprising for a campaign in near freefall, but in a bewildering move, the McCain campaign telegraphed this ramping up of negative strategy to the Washington Post.

The DNC pounced, producing an extremely effective ad in response to McCain's negative escalation, quoting McCain in 2000:

"I just have to rely on the good judgment of the voters not to buy into these negative attack ads. Sooner or later, people are going to figure out if all you run is negative attack ads you don't have much of a vision for the future or you're not ready to articulate it."


Into the home stretch, Obama maintained anywhere from a six to eight point lead on McCain. The electorate by this time had pretty much rejected the attacktics from McCain and viewed Palin not just as a harmless clown, but a dangerous one.

The polls were giving the result to Obama by 7.6%, in the end he took it by 6.5%, with (to date) Obama gaining 364 electoral votes to McCain's 163 ( with Missouri, the 'Show Me' state, yet to be called). did Barack Obama win the Presidency?

When I was at school, one of the few things I remembered from my modern history classes was this: Oppositions don't win elections...governments lose them.

The main reason Barack Obama is the President-elect of the United States has not as much to do with his buckets of money, his charm, erudition, looks or loquacity as it does with eight years of George W. Bush.

In the final analysis we can say with certainty that it was Bush's intransigence, incompetence and goofballery that led to the GOP being defeated. It was a complete rejection of the neo-conservative ideology that allowed massive corporate greed, a murderous foreign policy and an abject failure to look after even its own citizens in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

If there are any lingering doubts about this, you need look no further than the campaign of John McCain. He wanted Bush nowhere near the stump or the convention. The only time he ever willingly mentioned Bush was to highlight their differences. Bush, quite simply, was poison to the Republicans' chances of winning another four years of executive office.

But it wasn't the Bush admin alone. I've already outlined some of the main failings of the McCain run, but there are others. Timing, for one. When McCain cruised to presumptive nominee status in March, the country considered the war in Iraq a major issue. This was great for McCain, as he was seen by many as an expert on foreign policy and military strategy.

By the time the campaign started getting to the sharp end, however, Iraq was not important anymore. The economy was the only real issue that had traction with voters. This left McCain at a huge disadvantage. Not in comparison to Obama, whose experience is light-on in all areas. But that didn't matter. Obama, being from the challenging party, represented a clear, if not yet defined, alternative. McCain was, by his own admission, confused about economic matters.

The only way out for McCain was to try and set himself apart from Bush in particular, and the Beltway in general. He railed against Washington, not realising for a second that people obviously saw a man who's been in the Senate for 26 years as nothing more than an apparatchik.

McCain was trading on his maverick status to highlight himself as a 'man apart' from the machine. By October, it was clear that any ideas McCain had about convincing people he was a renegade Senator from the Wild West were shattered.

You can blame Palin (or Palin's string-pullers) for some of this. She fell back on the word 'maverick' so often it lost all meaning. Especially when a quick look at McCain's voting record shows how often he happily danced along party lines. It also didn't add up when McCain said on Meet the Press in late October he shared a "common philosophy" with Bush.

And then there's the choice of Palin herself. McCain made a blunder of massive proportions by taking the populist route in choosing such an ill-prepared, unintelligent person to have as the potential leader of the free world. It made a complete mockery of the McCain slogan 'Country First' and worse, it made the American people out to be stupid, gullible fools.

And if we didn't know it before, we know it now...they are anything but.

So that's that. Election 2008 done and dusted. President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on January 20, 2008...and I hope to take the day off work to watch that, too. I heard the date described recently as the 'end of an error'. Obama has a lot of work to do, and he must do it quickly. He is inheriting a country riven by turmoil, at home and abroad. He is extremely inexperienced, and let's not forget, 57.5 million people didn't vote for him.

I do wish him, his team and America the very best of luck. But matter who wins, no matter how much you like them, no matter what they may promise you, they are not to be trusted.

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." -- Thomas Jefferson.