Tue, 12 Feb 2008

I’ve been listening to a lot of Rush, and Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage, and other right-wing radio blowhards over the last few days as I drifted around southern Texas. And while their programs are pretty entertaining – and I’m starting to understand why they’re so popular down here – their political analysis is self-serving. It benefits hard-right conservatives to peddle the argument that without their support, Republicans can’t win the presidency. It allows them to keep the candidates in line. The reason that Rush and his colleagues hate John McCain isn’t because they think that with him as the candidate, the Republicans will lose the next election. It’s because they’re worried he can win, with crossover support from independents and Democrats, that he’ll win without being indebted to the far right – and that he’ll then be free to go forward with immigration reform, and climate change initiatives, and balanced budgets, and shutting down Gitmo, and all the other policies he supports that the foamin’-at-the-mouth conservatives detest. And he’ll go on thumbing his nose at the Jesus-peddlers and waterboarders in his party, and they won’t be able to do anything about it except go on the radio and complain. The far-righters would rather lose with a “true” conservative, and keep their power within the party, than win with a moderate.

I think McCain definitely beats Hillary, and it’s a toss-up against Obama. Olin has joined the Obama cult – even donated some money to the cause – and while I’m sympathetic, I don’t really see what Obama’s nebulous “change” mantra adds up to beyond “I’m a black dude and my name is neither Bush nor Clinton.” Not that this isn’t a powerful argument in itself. Choosing a president isn’t just about choosing a set of policies, it’s also about choosing a figurehead – the Colonel Sanders or Tony the Tiger who will stand for America on international magazine covers and TV news reports for the next four years. With George Bush, Americans selected a figurehead that represented all the negative qualities that the world attributes to America – cockiness, unearned privilege, simpleminded piety, bad grammar. Obama represents all the positive qualities – cultural diversity, equal opportunity, and, frankly, sexiness. While I’m not sure that the average mujahideen will notice the difference, it should improve America’s image in the eyes of the French and the Germans and us sexy Canadians.

An observation. Now that McCain has pretty much sewn up the Republican nomination, he’s free to start positioning himself for the general election – which means emphasising his bipartisanship and git-‘er-done common sense, and distancing himself from the conservatives he had to court to win the nomination. Meanwhile Hillary and Obama have no choice but to keep on spicing up their rhetoric to win over the true-believer liberal Democrats who vote in the primaries. This means talking up, for example, their anti-war credentials. Isn’t this the wrong time to be running on an anti-war message? The situation in Iraq has improved substantially since “the surge” began last year, to the point where it’s now debatable whether Iraq or Afghanistan is the more dangerous war. John McCain’s message looks a lot more appealing at a time when America appears to be, for the first time, not losing in Iraq. Another reason I think the Democrats should be worried.

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