Saturday, October 25, 2008

THE BIG LIE(S)

When I originally conceived of this blogpost, the title wasn’t supposed to have parentheses. I had planned to talk about two flat-out falsehoods. One has been voiced by liberals, the other by conservatives. I still believe the statements to be false. But the first one – the statement made by liberals – is starting to ring more and more true every day.

The statement is succinct: this election is already over. I first heard that claim during the week of the Democratic Convention, which I think we can all agree went off beautifully. Then, immediately after “Sister Sarah” was nominated (that is the term used for her by Patrick Buchanan, who seems to be her political hero), I didn’t merely hear the comment at issue … I started making it. My initial reaction to the Palin pick was that McCain had lost his mind and that Palin would mire her running mate in pathos – like the doddering old man in the old-age home who can’t find his false teeth.

Obviously, that reaction was short-lived. At her own convention, Sarah turned in a performance worthy of Hollywood. She looked great. She smiled at the right times. She read her words with just the perfect intonation. And she had a message of populism and feistiness that struck a chord with men and women alike. Suddenly, Palin/McCain was the happenin’ ticket. Obama looked like Mr. Five Minutes Ago, and Biden looked like Mr. Five Decades Ago.

The polls confirmed my fears. Palin/McCain jumped into the lead. They even took the advantage on Intrade – meaning that the folks who were putting their money where their mouths are thought that Sister Sarah and her daddy had a better than average chance of winning. Needless to say, the game was on.

But not for long, says conventional wisdom. Three things happened at around the same time. First, our nation’s economy began to unravel. Economics was always Obama’s territory, at least in the minds of voters, and once the credit market tightened, McCain would no longer be able to persuade those voters that foreign affairs were more important. Second, McCain’s first reaction to the economic meltdown was to grab a mike and declare that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Talk about being out of touch. McCain looked positively clueless. Third, America started taking the measure of Sister Sarah – this time, not as someone who reads a speech from a teleprompter but as someone who answers a journalist’s questions. Palin’s interview with Katie Couric was two parts embarrassment and three parts hysteria. Palin couldn’t have made more of a fool of herself had she dropped her trousers and peed on the floor.

"As Putin rears his head and comes into the airspace of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state." There you have Sister Sarah’s claim to foreign policy expertise. But what may have been even more telling was that she couldn’t name a single magazine or newspaper that she read. Not one.

Day after day, America was being treated to more bad news about the economy and more absurdity on the Palin front. Obama had regained the clear lead in the polls – and on Intrade. So sure, the chorus of “it’s over” began to grow. Then came the debates. McCain looked cranky (did I mention that he couldn’t find his false teeth?), whereas Barack looked Presidential. Biden answered Gwen Ifill’s questions masterfully; Palin stated that she felt no compulsion to answer the question that was asked. According to the instant polls, the Democrats won four games to zero. A clean sweep. By the end of the last debate, you could almost hear the words “it’s over” drowning out the applause.

It has now been ten days since the final debate – and the same number of days that are left until the election. A lot can happen in ten days, right? Well, they have. McCain/Palin took the offense. They started throwing mud at Obama. Major mud. On the campaign trail, Sister Sarah had her crowd whipped up to a frenzy. “Kill him,” one person chanted. “Terrorist” chanted others. And lest you think that they were only talking about Bill Ayers, the McCain/Palin campaign began distributing leaflets in which the reader couldn’t help but get the impression that a vote for Obama was a vote for terrorism. To make matters worse, Palin (and one of her doppelgangers, a Congresswoman from Minnesota) turned the election into a battle between pro-American and anti-American forces. To Palin, small towns represent “pro-American” areas of the country. The rest of us, by implication, are enemies of the state. After all, most of us support a candidate – Barack Obama – whose views McCain has labeled “socialist” because he supports rolling back taxes to where they were at the time Bill Clinton was President.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Joseph McCarthy had returned from the grave and is now running the GOP.

According to conventional wisdom, negative campaigning works! But not this time. With each piece of dung that McCain or Palin flings at Barack, he only surges further ahead in the polls. It didn’t help the GOP that one Republican leader after another has endorsed Barack. Or that reporters revealed that Sister Sarah, the so-called Hockey Mom (or “Joe Sixpack” candidate), has spent $150,000 on clothes since her nomination less than two months ago. Some thrifty maverick! We have witnessed the return of the pork politician who campaigned for the Bridge to Nowhere and then, later, funded the Road to Nowhere. Only in this case, the Road is adorned with the most exquisite fabrics. And the recipient of the pork isn’t all of Wassila, or Alaska, but only Sarah and her children. They look mahvellous.

Just a few days ago, I had planned to say that this was still a contest. I could have pointed out that according to the polls, the states in which Obama has a truly comfortable lead would net him somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 or 260 electoral votes – an impressive number, to be sure, but not the 269 he needs to win the election. I could have added that much can still change in the next week and a half, especially when you have Barack’s VP choice making truly dumb comments (I can’t get over his recent line suggesting that bad guys will want to “test” Barack because of his inexperience). And … I remain convinced that the Bradley Effect could well be significant. So on paper, THIS RACE IS NOT OVER. And, in fact, I am still a bit nervous.

But those nerves are in my heart. My mind tells me that it will take an upset of epic proportions for McCain to pull things out now (absent some sort of disaster befalling Barack Obama). What is the source of my confidence? It’s related to that OTHER big lie. This is the one that is told by conservatives. It goes like this: Unlike Palin, Barack lacks executive experience.

Talk about bull.

For the past 20 months, Barack Obama has been the de-facto CEO and Chairman of the Board of an enterprise that has raised and spent many hundreds of millions of dollars. His enterprise has had a large staff, and an enormous number of volunteers. It has inspired a substantial portion of this nation, and an equally impressive contingent of foreign observers. By all possible measures, this enterprise has done an incredibly good job in delivering the goods to its consumer base.

I’m referring, of course, to Barack’s role as the leader of the most impressive political campaign of recent memory. There has been a hiccup here and there, but for the most part, Barack’s troops have behaved flawlessly, and their discipline has merely reflected that of their leader. In speech after speech, and debate after debate, he has been on top of his game. Barack revealed himself to be deeply knowledgeable on virtually all areas of public policy, even holding his own against Hillary Clinton, an acknowledged master of that domain. Moreover, when he needed to deliver a big speech, he did so with an eloquence not seen on these shores since Martin Luther King. Speech giving was Barack’s domain, and in that area, Hillary couldn’t hope to compete.

All campaigns have ebbs and flows, and this one has been no different. Not surprisingly, many of Barack’s supporters have panicked on different occasions – such as when Hillary started pulling away last summer or catching up this spring, or more recently, when Palin-mania took hold. But Barack never panicked; he just went about carrying out his game plan. And that plan was to demonstrate that he was just the opposite of what this nation has come to expect of African-American Democrats who sought the Presidency. Unlike Jackson or Sharpton, Barack was a unifier, not a divider. He asked that we ignore his skin color, but not the plight of working people, black or white, who need our help. He also summoned the nation’s love for religion, ultimately revealing the bigotry and hatred of those who falsely branded him a “Muslim.” And above all else, he developed a grass roots political organization the like of which we have never seen before.

It is precisely because of Barack’s organization that I am so supremely confident about the outcome. For nearly two years, we have heard about how that organization has perfected the art of fundraising in the Internet age. Here are the figures – the campaign has raised more than $600 million since the campaign began, and more than $150 million last month alone. It seems to be the one company in this country that is actually doing well! But just as importantly, the campaign has also done a unprecedented job in assembling boots on the ground. Those volunteers have been busy registering voters, canvassing, and making sure that as many people as possible vote early. The numbers from states that permit early voting are staggering, and they strongly favor Obama.

Personally, I have already voted. I did so because on Election Day, I will be out of state, working to ensure that every vote is counted. In that regard, I am hardly alone. Thousands upon thousands of Obama supporters will be in swing states, working from the time the polls open until the time they close. This time, the nation’s Democrats will not be caught with our pants down. If McCain/Palin are going to win this, they will have to earn it. And so far, you’d have to say, the only thing they’ve earned is plenty of laughs.

I remember the first time I walked into Steve Novick’s campaign headquarters a few days before his nearly-victorious primary election. I saw the staffer who was in charge of the headquarters that day and I said, in essence, “I’ll be here through the night of the election. Just tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it. No exceptions.” It was easy for me to take that attitude because Steve Novick is one of my best friends. But the interesting thing is that Barack Obama has inspired that same attitude from so many of his troops. Right-wingers mock us for hero worship. But really, this isn’t about hero-worship. This is about motivation. We are motivated to finally take this country back from non-compassionate conservative rule. We are motivated to see what this country could be like with an Administration that isn’t wedded to trickle-down reasoning. We are motivated to learn how well an Obama Administration can perform, given how well an Obama campaign has been run. And we are motivated to ensure that politicians who campaign based on fear and hate will finally come to regret those tactics.

So yes, my mind tells me that because Barack Obama has been such a great executive, and because he’s about ready to harvest the fruits of his labor, he should be a massive favorite to win this election. But … there are many days left in the campaign … he is a black man in a primarily white country … and the Republicans have shown the guts to let it all hang out in attempting to win this election. So I will remain nervous, probably until election night. As far as I’m concerned, that night cannot come soon enough.

2 comments:

Betty C. said...

My thoughts exactly. I posted them on And So Forth a few days back. The difference between you and me?
Just a few thousand words!

That's great that you're going out to monitor the process. (I know you won't be doing it all by yourself!) Because the only thing worse than trying to explain a McCain victory to all of my friends, colleagues and students here, on the right and left BTW, would be trying to explain another stolen election.

Daniel Spiro said...

Funny comment, Betty. I've always lived by the maxim that there's no point saying in 100 words what can also be said in 1000.

I really am confident that the people's choice will win this one. Who will that choice be? I'd say 9 or 10 to 1, Barack.

Frankly, though, I would love it if one of my football or baseball teams had a 5-10% chance of winning the championship. Put that way, McCain's chances don't sound half bad.