I never had this much interest in the decision that Americans faced when voting for the President then now. In part that is due to the Bush years, which placed loyalty to friends before responsibility in office whether Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Brown at FEMA or nominating his personal lawyer Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court – “a pit bull in size six shoes” as he described her. Katrina came a year too late to blow Bush out of the White House; he has never recovered from that. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, New Orleans our words dominating the political legacy of the outgoing President.
While Bush did not deserve a second term I found it difficult to get excited by Kerry. He was unconvincing in how he was going to change things, while Bush had four years in office to point to as President. Right or wrong in his actions, in an uncertain terrified world people stuck with the devil they knew in the hope it may take one to tame and catch one; the devil they did not know was a flip flopper that gave a mixed signal. People did not want peace then, they wanted the enemies of America to know they would attack if provoked 100%.
Four years later Osama Bin Laden is still free to mastermind, and the Al Qaeda franchise means that even with his capture splinter cells have the ability to cause mayhem. Short of John McCain appearing bruised and battered with a chained Bin Laden – “My friends, I got him!” – McCain needs a surge of his own in battleground states to all go his way to defeat Obama. Spoilt ballot papers confusing Osama/Obama will not be enough. Doubt that Obama has the seasoning to do the Commander in Chief role may.
Which brings me back to why this election matters for me. Obama is the man that could have taught Martin Luther King in the art of public speaking, or that in an age of skepticism about politicians being able to change things and cynicism that they actually want to he is a breath of fresh air that threatens to blow through the stale odour of closed backrooms in Washington DC. Whether there is enough huff and puff to open the door and effect real change is debatable.
There is nothing beyond the rhetoric that points to Obama being able to do those things. He inspires, and his ambition to always be on the way to the next level can go no further then President of the United States. The only place left is a legacy, and if your ambition is to go beyond the admiration held for Abraham Lincoln, the question is whether Obama has what it takes. The problem is that we will only know that when he is in office.
McCain though is someone I have long admired on this side of the pond – not least because he was reported on. He often criticised Bush, he took on the religious right in his party and his attitude to abortion was like my own – I may not like it but I like the idea of illegal abortions even less, and reproductive issues are between a patient and a doctor. On the economy he was for free trade, and on the environment he stood out.
However the McCain of 2008 now is a pale shade of the McCain of 2000. His political persona is like comparing the physical Michale Jackson of “Blood on the Dance Floor” with the one that did “Billy Jean”. The transformation is unnatural, and what you once admired has disappeared in artificial layers, as the beat changes to the rhythm of the religious right. Blame it on the bogey; to get the gig he had to dance to their tune.
Picking Sarah Palin as the Vice President demolished any lingering respect for McCain. At 72 it would only be right to pick a heavy weight – he owed that to the American people. Instead he picked someone with over a years experience as a Governor and no knowledge of the economy and foreign affairs. Her folksy glamorous style to motivate the Republican base and appeal to women was about spin and not substance. Had there been a shorter time between choosing her and Polling Day she may definitely given him the White House. Under media scrutiny she has come across as a rabbit caught in the headlights, a pit ball with lipstick trapped in the cross hairs.
Hitchens makes the point that character is a political issue. On that score McCain has looked like someone wondering around having forgotten what he stood for. He cancelled his campaigning to resolve the financial crisis in the Senate. The result was the majority of Republicans were against the measure. It was a real test of his ability to lead, and he fell down.
In the last debate he was restless, a bewildered look in his eyes that people would consider anyone but him for President. Obama was poised, dignified and calm – a rock in a stormy sea. He toned down the professor lecturer, and became a statesman ready to do the job. McCain looked like he was ready for his medication.
McCain really needs a knock out blow. At the moment Obama has an average lead of 8% in the polls. Very close to the lead I predict he needs of 10% by mid October to assure himself of the Presidency. Because I think the only way to go is down for Obama as it becomes his to loose and I think the polls exaggerate his current support. The real test is how so in the battleground states that analysis plays out. The problem for McCain is he needs a clean sweep of the toss up states to win – the 2% swing of itself is not beyond possibility. That needs stressing because though the final result may seem huge, the margins of victory that brought them about in key states may be minuscule in comparison. Every vote will count in those states and the Obama enthusiasm for getting out the vote may be what secures him victory. But the wind of change is blowing in Obama’s favour.
Iraq is an issue – yet the fatalities have been considerably less for US forces (under ten a month) and the murder rate for Iraq in 2008 looks set to be less than 2007. Put in perspective, Iraq is a little more dangerous for the population than for black people in America in terms of homicide [source]. McCain needs to tackle Obama about the surge, which together with support of Al Qaeda dropping in Iraq have played a part in the improving security situation.
McCain’s polling went down sharply while Obama’s went up after the second debate. Stuck behind a coffee table directly by your opponent, McCain has to come up with something in the third debate to turn things around. He cannot afford another dip. As polling day draws nearer the stay at home Republicans may turn up, having succeeded in making McCain have to appeal to them rather than undecideds and independents or slightly leaning Democrats. Should McCain loose, they will have to shoulder some of the blame – because having a candidate they wanted rather than the man they had meant McCain was diminished.
If only McCain had secured the Republican nomination instead of Bush in 2000. That was his time. The future now belongs to Obama.