Sunday, November 02, 2008

Complicated Presidents



In June, I predicted Obama in a landslide, and with the election few days to go it's likely going to happen. The problem with John McCain is a that he's a "'tweener" in a Republican party wanting a solid red-state conservative for president. They in-fact got two - Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee who split the Republican baby of rural voters during the primary season leaving John McCain to clean up on the independent voter afterbirth.

While some cultures may prize afterbirth, it's hard to become Republican president without the baby - and after 8 torturous years of George Bush presidency the big infant was on heavy dialasis, lacking clear direction and gosh do I ever need to come up with a new analogy.

Point is, what you've seen McCain doing these past few months is throw away his kitchen sink (better?), not least his scruples to transform himself into a Bible thumpin' redneck Bush lackey. He led in the polls exactly once during the general election and that's when he made his base conservative pick of nut-job / porn star Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

It's hard for me to stomach the things that's been going on in this campaign as well as what's been said about John McCain these past few weeks. I genuinely like the man - and this is not just because Rush Limbaugh said John McCain would singe-handedly destroy the Republican party. In the 5 years that Republicans held both Congress and the White House John McCain was one of a handful of powerful centrists in his party that kept the country from going off the deep end. Pick up the documentary "Shut of and sing" and watch vintage McCain stand up for the first amendment rights of those who would criticize the president in a time of blind hysterical patriotism. The old John McCain was the man.

The fall of John McCain is a Greek tragedy. I haven't felt this way since 2000 when Gore went against Bush. Even back then, Al Gore was a great guy. He was smart, he was funny, he was capable - and most importantly of all - he was right. The problem with him was that he too was a "'tweener" candidate trapped in a Democratic party bent on replicating the Clinton strategy of claiming the rural south on it's way to the White House. Much like John McCain today, the Al Gore of 2000 transformed himself into a conservative shell of himself - partnering with that snake oil salesman Joe Lieberman and disavowing all connection to the presidency of Bill Clinton. I wish we could go back to 2000. I wish we could have had the real Al Gore.

I am mad at John McCain. Right now I want to shout, as the Economist headline put it, "Bring back the real John McCain". Here is a man who decided he'd rather rot in a prison camp rather than sell out his brigade in Vietnam. I can't for the life of me understand why he's selling out now. My anger however, is displaced. Sure, a lot of the blame goes to him. He ran a sloppy undisciplined campaign with a generic and uninspired message to "Put America first". There's more to it than that. The reality is that we live in a country where complicated figures like John McCain and Al Gore are impossible to elect into high office. They have to pretend to be someone they're not in order to apeal to the various common denominators that make up the electorate. It's simple election math. You can't win with Republican after-birth.

I'm what you might call a fiscal conservative, social liberal. The past 8 years, George Bush - by all degrees a fiscal liberal, social conservative - have been a nightmare for me. Any change from that ignorant, arrogant, son-of-a-bitch is a welcomed one. John McCain - the old one - was/is the Republican antithesis of George Bush. It's a shame that that version was deemed unelectable.

For this election I like Barack Obama. He too is a man of great complexity and insight. I hope for the sake of the country he does not follow through on the populist rhetoric he espouses at hard-hat lunch-pail photo-ops in Ohio and Pennsylvania factory sites - but that's just the MBA in me talking. His first 100 days in office will be scrutinized, not only because of the turbulent winds that blow outside our doors, but because our alternative was a man who has weathered the storm for over 20 years.

Still I am hopeful, Obama has bet the house on the American people. He's got half of them behind him, it's the other half that's going to be the real challenge. Obama-girl will not help.