John McCain: Not Enough Friends

Obama and McCain 08 buttons

Obama and McCain 08 buttons

Hands up: Michael Tomasky was right. I have my reservations about the editor of Guardian America, since he seems to me less a political journalist and more a prolific pamphleteer. There’s an important and urgent argument to be made that ‘balance’ in news journalism does not involve giving equal weight to two sides when one side is demonstrably wrong; but Tomasky tends not to give the other side even the slightest quarter. This is why, on this occassion, he was right.

A while ago, I suggested that Sarah Palin could be a great pick for the McCain campaign. It’s now fairly obvious that she has been a huge drag. Where I slipped up was in giving the unknown governor from Alaska the benefit of the doubt: she did not perform well in the media, most famously giving a cringe-worthy performance in her interview’s with CBS’s Katie Couric, and even her stump speeches failed to win over independents.

The base went crazy for Palin, but 2008 was never a base election, particularly for a Republican party whose base was shrinking in comparison with the Democratic Party’s. McCain was a good pick for the GOP, the only Republican left standing who might appeal to the independent voters who are going to decide this election; but, from picking Palin onwards, McCain tacked to the right time and again. Gone was the fire-breathing maverick who reached across the aisle – here instead was as much a second George W Bush as the Obama campaign could have dreamed of. The tragedy of McCain – or the latest, at least – is that he fought the 2004 election four years too late, and he did so because he picked the wrong staff, who played a great underdog’s hand by enthusing their core vote … and then couldn’t, either for reasons of ideology or otherwise, make the next leap.

Obama, on the other hand, has one great skill, proved beyond doubt: he chooses a great team. This should hearten anyone still concerned about the least publically tried presidential candidate since, er, Abraham Lincoln. A president is usually at least as good as the advisers he gathers around him. Expect to see Obama announce his Cabinet in a relatively short space of time, and expect it to be very strong.

At times like this, the past tense is a dangerous thing. The campaign is still going on, almost feverishly, with McCain in seven separate states today. But it seems, barring a real upset (the most likely sites are Ohio and Pennsylvania), Obama is going to be president-elect very soon. By keeping all the states which voted Kerry in 2004, and appealing to those new 2008 voters in states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia, Obama has come close now to sewing up the electoral map. I’m not convinced that the margin of victory will be huge, but it has every potential to be.

There has been much talk that such a victory would be akin to Reagan’s victory in 1980, heralding a new era in American politics. Perhaps, though it seems more likely that the Democrats will narrowly fail to gain the filibuster-beating tally of 60 Senate seats, and Obama will have to work with some opposition in Congress. This should bring out the best in him – in a sense, his greatest danger is a Congress blue in tooth and claw, demanding he create the country anew. Obama’s rhetoric soars highest when its subject is reconciliation. A decent, though unlikely to be victorious, Republican return in Congress would encourage him to make more states and voters purple.

An Obama administration will not be entirely to European tastes – from his words at least Obama may well be more protectionist than the EU would like. But it would have the same effect as a corporation rebrand, allowing people who want to believe the best of America to believe it again. This goes for people both at home and abroad. There will be fulminating talk show hosts and disaffected Westerners under Obama; but there may also be a rejuvenation. And from the economy to foreign policy, rejuvenation – a renewal of faith, if not a Presidency which will achieve all it says it might (no less than the recession of the seas and the healing of the planet) – is precisely what America needs at this critical juncture in its history.

Perhaps it’s best that Michael Tomasky was right, after all.

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2 thoughts on “John McCain: Not Enough Friends

  1. Hands up: Michael Tomasky was right.

    Your transparent comment-bait won’t work on me!

    … wait.

    It’s been interesting to me following Tomasky’s blog during the campaign, having previously only really read his columns for the newspaper. You are certainly right that he has a tendency, and I think it’s become more marked as the campaign has gone on, to pass on things without necessarily giving them (or at least, appearing to not necessarily have given them) full consideration. (Though in his defence, on that score he’s no Andrew Sullivan.) But I still find his actual columns useful, and I think he’s prepared to be more critical of Obama than you think he is.

    Electoral college: I’m going to trust the polls and predict that Obama will get into the 300+ range, probably around 320. But I’ll be staying up to watch …

  2. Guardian America in better than the The Atlantic shocker! (But, yes, Tomasky’s columns are definitely better than his increasingly vituperative blog.)

    What’s good about staying up is that among the first states to close are bellwethers: Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio. If Obama wins two or three of these, you may as well go to bed. Hell, Indiana and Kentucky are the earliest closers and Obama even has a chance in the former. If he wins there, or even narrowly loses, we can safely have an early night.

    Indeed, the trick of tonight for Obama will be to win those states he’s up in by 3 or 4 points and stay close in those states he’s drawing in. If he holds those numbers, it’ll be clear that the polls are good guides and people aren’t lying to Mr Zogby and Mr Gallup. If he doesn’t, things might get more interesting. But bluntly put, if the polls are right then Obama could easily score closer to 400 than 300 electoral votes.

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