The Eve of Destruction

Monday, November 3, 2008 – the day before the presidential election – and there was almost nothing left to say. Either Obama would win (likely), or McCain would win (unlikely), or there would be a tie and House of Representatives would settle things. That’s how we got John Quincy Adams, after all – but that was a bit of a mess. You don’t want to go there again. But a tie now, or any year since 1824, was always beyond improbable.

 

And the eve of the election is always odd – no news, save for the death that day of Obama’s grandmother, the last of those who shaped him – mother, father, step-father, grandfather, grandmother – all gone now. And there was this – California GOP Files FEC Complaint Over Obama Visit to Grandmother followed shortly RNC Hits Obama For Visit To Sick Grandmother. Both the California Republican Party and the Republican National Committee filed complaints with the Federal Election Committee:

 

Obama for America violated federal law by converting its campaign funds to Senator Obama’s personal use. Senator Obama recently traveled to Hawaii to visit his sick grandmother… Therefore, the Obama Campaign violated the FEC’s ban on “personal use” of campaign funds when it paid over $100,000 for the Campaign’s charter to fly to Hawaii without obtaining reimbursement from Senator Obama.

 

The timing seems to have been carefully planned – just when many might feel some sympathy for the guy, and give him a break, you counter that with a reminder that he also arrogantly broke the law, and unless he pays the campaign back for this trip, from his own pocket, he’s just a thief, cynically using people, taking the hundreds of thousands of small donations and doing whatever he personally wants. The death, expected, followed immediately by the law suit, unexpected, balance each other out. The idea is that many will see his arrogance, and their resentment will change their vote for him to a vote for McCain. And a law suit just might rattle Obama when he’s already a bit upset. Either way the guy looks bad – he’s either a crook or someone too easily rattled, and with any luck, both.

 

Filing the formal complaints an hour or two after the old lady died was an interesting calculation – timing is everything. Of course some might see this as cold – but the calculation must have been that most people will see filing the complaints just then as being firm about what is right and wrong, and clear about what is the honest thing to do, and being tough and smart. People like that – or so the Republicans strategists might have been thinking. They may have miscalculated.

 

But this travel-cost complaint came late – the old woman hung on too damned long. It couldn’t change much – there was not enough time to develop and embellish the “he’s an arrogant thief who thinks he’s better than everyone” narrative, to undermine the natural sympathy some might feel. The election was too close. The Republicans just ran out of available news cycles. All they could manage to do is look as if they liked kicking someone in the balls when they’re vulnerable, when they’re looking the other way. We’ve had eight years of being told we should admire the guy who delivers the perfect sucker-punch. It wears thin.

 

But it didn’t matter. After all the long months all had been said (a clever visual summary). There was enough information out there, and the Republicans were looking at the polls and humming that old Barry McGuire tune from the sixties, Eve of Destruction.

 

Things were looking bad. From Gallup, something odd:

 

Obama’s favorable rating is 62% – the highest that any presidential candidate has registered in Gallup’s final pre-election polls going back to 1992.

 

From CBS, this:

 

There is evidence that Palin’s presence on the Republican ticket has hurt McCain with some voters. Fourteen percent of Obama’s supporters say they once supported McCain, and the top reason given for their switch was McCain’s selection of Palin as his running mate.

 

From Reuters, Obama Leads McCain in 6 Of 8 Key States:

 

Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain in six of eight key battleground states one day before the U.S. election, including the big prizes of Florida and Ohio, according to a series of Reuters/Zogby polls released on Monday.

 

As for the electoral votes, see Marc Ambinder – Rove’s Final Map: Obama 338, McCain 200

 

Karl Rove?

 

Of course John McCain had this to say that Monday morning in Tampa:

 

The pundits may not know it and the Democrats may not know it, but the Mac is back! We’re going to win this election.

 

But from Tampa itself this was interesting:

 

About 30 minutes before John McCain is scheduled to lead a rally outside Raymond James Stadium, looks like maybe 1,000 people here. What’s up with that? On the day before the election? Bush drew at least 15,000 people to a rally just across the street on the Sunday before the 04 election.

 

“We are the quiet majority that goes out and gets things done. I smell victory,” said state Rep. Kevin Ambler.

 

Good thing he smells it, because it’s hard to see it with this crowd.

 

And Republican consultant Chris Ingram of Tampa added this:

 

If you can’t round up 1,500 people the day before the election, you’ve got a serious problem. From an organizational standpoint, they’ve done a terrible job.

 

Something was up. Over at the Washington Post, Peter Beinart was arguing that public interest in “culture war” issues is falling off – and McCain and Palin were off track. That sort of things just happens now and then:

 

This won’t be the first time a culture war has come to a close. In the 1920s, battles over evolution, immigration, prohibition and the resurgent Ku Klux Klan dominated election after election. And those issues played into that era’s version of the red-blue divide, pitting newly arrived, saloon-frequenting, big-city Catholics against old-stock, teetotaling, small-town Protestants. In 1924, the Democratic convention split so bitterly over prohibition and the Klan that it took more than 100 ballots to nominate a candidate for president.

 

And just as economic collapse and the Great Depression ended those culture wars, so we have our own overwhelming economic issues now, messing up the message of the likes of Sarah Palin:

 

Today, according to a recent Newsweek poll, the economy is up to 44 percent and “issues like abortion, guns and same-sex marriage” down to only 6 percent. It’s no coincidence that Palin’s popularity has plummeted as the financial crisis has taken center stage. From her championing of small-town America to her efforts to link Barack Obama to former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, Palin is treading a path well-worn by Republicans in recent decades. She’s depicting the campaign as a struggle between the culturally familiar and the culturally threatening, the culturally traditional and the culturally exotic. But Obama has dismissed those attacks as irrelevant, and the public, focused nervously on the economic collapse, has largely tuned them out.

 

And then you add the new kids:

 

Palin’s attacks are also failing because of generational change. The long-running, internecine baby boomer cultural feud just isn’t that relevant to Americans who came of age after the civil rights, gay rights and feminist revolutions. Even many younger evangelicals are broadening their agendas beyond abortion, stem cells, school prayer and gay marriage. And just as younger Protestants found JFK less threatening than their parents had found Al Smith, younger whites – even in bright-red states – don’t view the prospect of a black president with great alarm.

 

Matthew Yglesias isn’t buying this:

 

I think we should be suspicious of arguments that seem to assume that US political history operates as a series of repeating long cycles. Realistically, the number of cases Beinart is working with here are somewhere between one and two, not nearly enough to use as the basis for meaningful predictions. It’s definitely true that the economic downturn is making GOP culture war attacks relatively ineffective. But something similar was true in 1992. Elections that take place during recessions are dominated by a desire to punish the incumbent party.

 

But that doesn’t mean people don’t care about these issues anymore. What’s more, I would say that part of the reason the McCain-Palin camp’s culture war politics seems so lame is that McCain’s record has left him unable to campaign on Federal Marriage Amendment or the need to round-up immigrants and deport them. Unlike praise of small towns and vague condemnations of “fake” Virginia, those are real issues – genuine subjects of legislative activity that I can imagine people running and winning on. Not, to be sure, amidst a recession and with a hugely unpopular conservative incumbent. But I have a feeling both of those issues will be back soon enough.

 

That’s what Paul Krugman considers here – how Republicans might react if the elections go as poorly for them as expected. This won’t be pretty:

 

You might think, perhaps hope, that Republicans will engage in some soul-searching, that they’ll ask themselves whether and how they lost touch with the national mainstream. But my prediction is that this won’t happen any time soon.

 

Instead, the Republican rump, the party that’s left after the election, will be the party that attends Sarah Palin’s rallies, where crowds chant “Vote McCain, not Hussein!” It will be the party of Saxby Chambliss, the senator from Georgia, who, observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that “the other folks are voting.” It will be the party that harbors menacing fantasies about Barack Obama’s Marxist – or was that Islamic? – roots.

 

Steve Benen thinks that’s very likely:

 

For one thing, the few remaining Republican “moderates” (I use the word loosely) are leaving, thanks to a combination of primary defeats, general-election defeats, and retirements. What remains will be far-right lawmakers and further-right lawmakers.

 

For another, the party’s base has already staked its claim — conservatives firmly believe that Republicans lost in 2006 and have struggled in 2008 because the party just isn’t reactionary enough.

 

Benen reminds us of this:

 

Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin’s critics as “cocktail party conservatives” who “give aid and comfort to the enemy.” He told The Sunday Telegraph: “There’s going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party.”

 

There will be blood, and so you get Krugman talking about the acceleration of the Republican Party’s “long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries.”

 

As for the rest of them:

 

Many of them spent the Bush years in denial, closing their eyes to the administration’s dishonesty and contempt for the rule of law. Some of them have tried to maintain that denial through this year’s election season, even as the McCain-Palin campaign’s tactics have grown ever uglier. But one of these days they’re going to have to realize that the GOP has become the party of intolerance.

 

Earlier the Los Angeles Times has been reporting on the coming post-election fight – the one for the future of the party:

 

The social conservatives and moderates who together boosted the Republican Party to dominance have begun a tense battle over the future of the GOP, with social conservatives already moving to seize control of the party’s machinery and some vowing to limit John McCain’s influence, even if he wins the presidency.

 

In skirmishes around the country in recent months, evangelicals and others who believe Republicans have been too timid in fighting abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration have won election to the party’s national committee, in preparation for a fight over the direction and leadership of the party.

 

The growing power of religious conservatives is alarming some moderate Republicans who believe that the party’s main problem is that it has narrowed its appeal and alienated too many voters.

 

Out here, conservative friends and family call on election eve, assuming Obama will win – panic mixed with despair – we’ll all lose our jobs as the companies we work for all shut down, one after the other, we’ll be forced to become mindless socialist drones, the government will control everything, churches will be closed down and Christians driven underground, we’ll all be forced to give all our stuff to lazy Welfare Queens, and so on and so forth. This is the eve of destruction – but, really, what can you say? None of that is going to happen, and you could explain why, but dispassionate logic might just make things worse. You remember the old Star Trek show – Spock was either the butt of jokes or really, really irritating. Best to let it play out, and not mention the real thing that is being destroyed – the Republican Party. The honest conservatives are leaving.

 

Consider Jeffrey Hart, one of the intellectual founders of modern American conservatism, founder of the Dartmouth Review. He’s simply fed up:

 

Republican President George W. Bush has not been a conservative at all, either in domestic policy or in foreign policy. He invaded Iraq on the basis of abstract theory, the very thing Burke warned against. Bush aimed to turn Iraq into a democracy, “a beacon of liberty in the Middle East,” as he explained in a radio address in April 2006.

 

I do not recall any “conservative” publication mentioning those now memorable words “Sunni,” “Shi’a,” or “Kurds.” Burke would have been appalled at the blindness to history and to social facts that characterized the writing of those so-called conservatives.

 

Obama did understand.

 

In his now famous 2002 speech, while he was still a state senator in Illinois, he said: “I know that a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, of undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without international support will fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al Qaeda. I’m not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”

 

Burke would have agreed entirely, and admired the cogency of so few words. And one thing I know is that both Nixon and Reagan would have agreed. Both were prudential and successful conservatives. But all the organs of the conservative movement followed Bush over the cliff – as did John McCain.

 

Yep, these guys do miss Edmund Burke – the father of conservatism. Actually, they seem to miss careful, clear thinking, and a certain restraint, a rejection of boastful ego and contrived drama, and they certainly miss Burke’s graceful and stirring eloquence (even if Burke’s speech On the Death of Marie Antoinette is a tad over the top). No wonder they like Obama – there’s a lot of Burke in Obama, even if Obama comes to different conclusions about government and economics. Obama, for all that, has a conservative temperament. Those of us who have little patience with conservative positions, and will gladly argue them, see Obama a different way. He’s not a conservative – he’s just an adult.

 

Of course, on election eve, Burke would never appear on the Colbert Show. But Andrew Sullivan, one of Burke’s admirers, did just that – the real conservative faced off against the guy who plays the blowhard, clueless and utterly pompous caricature of a conservative. We live in strange times.

 

But earlier Sullivan penned a long and impassioned endorsement of Obama, reviewing the horrors of the last eight years and ending with this:

 

I fear and believe we have given away far too much – and that, while this loss is permanent, it can nonetheless be mitigated by a new start, a new direction, a new statement that the America the world once knew and loved is back.

 

The world will soon remember why it resents America as well as loves it. But until this unlikely fellow with the funny ears and strange name and exotic biography emerged on the scene, I had begun to wonder if it was possible at all. I had almost given up hope, and he helped restore it. That is what is stirring out there; and although you are welcome to mock me for it, I remain unashamed. As someone once said, in the unlikely story of America, there is never anything false about hope. Obama, moreover, seems to bring out the best in people, and the calmest, and the sanest. He seems to me to have a blend of Midwestern good sense, an intuitive understanding of the developing world that is as much our future now as theirs’, an analyst’s mind and a poet’s tongue. He is human. He is flawed. He will make mistakes. His passivity and ambiguity are sometimes weaknesses as well as strengths.

 

But there is something about his rise that is also supremely American, a reminder of why so many of us love this country so passionately and are filled with such grief at what has been done to it and in its name. I endorse Barack Obama because I will not give up on America, because I believe in America, and in her constitution and decency and character and strength.

 

And the world needs that America now as much as it ever has. Can we start that healing, that rebirth, tomorrow?

 

Perhaps we can. It may not be the Eve of Destruction. But on the eve you don’t know what the dawn will bring.

 

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Andrew Sullivan, Edmund Burke, McCain, McCain the Drama Queen, Obama, Obama as the Grown-Up, Obama Calm and Steady, Obama the Conservative, Obama the Gentleman, Republican Civil War, Republican Party Breaks Apart, Sarah Palin. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Eve of Destruction

  1. Rick (from Atlanta) says:

    According to Jim Nuzzo, that former White House aide to President Bush Senior:

    “There’s going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party.”

    Cool! We Democrats will take ’em! These are talented folk with brains, and know how to use them! We can always use a few more of those.

    Of course, just because they’re invited doesn’t mean they’ll want to join. After all, the Democrats are, at least recently, the party of liberals, and these people are all self-described conservatives.

    So the question now is, what does it even mean anymore to be a conservative? Maybe I need to go back and read up on my Edmund Burke.

    But then you have Jeffrey Hart, part founder of modern Conservatism, who claims not only that George W. Bush is not a conservative, but that “true conservatives” like Nixon and Reagan, and maybe even Burke himself, would have liked Obama. Forget the fact that most conservatives I know claim Nixon was actually a liberal (although that may be partly because he became such an irreconcilable object of national scorn, they figure he must have been a liberal), but I also think the confusion about Burke is that he himself was not only an eloquent orator but a great thinker, making everyone assume that a true conservative must be both of those things.

    But I think that’s a mistake, especially when it comes to the thinking part. Thinking, I think, is firmly part of the liberal heritage, and has been from the very beginning.

    Here’s the fifty-cent tour of the history of the two ideologies, as I understand it:

    Back in the middle ages, Europe was governed by nobility and the clergy. After the Crusades re-exposed Europe to the learning of the ancient Greeks and Romans, we got the Renaissance, in which the old world order was overturned by “thinkers,” who came to believe that human beings could “think” their way out of most any problem, rather than just leave it all to rich people and God. This was the true birth of “Liberalism.” Conservatism came into being as a movement several centuries later when Burke founded it quite simply to counterbalance prevailing liberal thought. And largely, that’s what has survived until this day.

    Not large government vs small, not high taxes vs low, not “life” vs “choice,” not guns vs gun control, not gay rights vs “family values,” not prayer vs Godlessness. Want to know the real difference between the two ideologies today? The real difference is all about attitude, and can be summed up this way:

    You want to be a nice person? You’re a liberal. You want to be tough? Conservative. It’s about that simple. Think if we all work together, we can make the world a better place? Liberal! Can’t stomach people who talk that way? Conservative!

    Or maybe you’d rather codify it all into basic principles that can be stitched into a sampler that can be placed in a picture frame and hung on your wall:

    (1) The guiding philosophy of American Liberalism is to try not to go through life as a self-centered bully who doesn’t know how to think, and has little or no respect for those who do.

    (2) The guiding philosophy of American Conservatism is the same as Liberalism, except you just strike out the word “not”.

    (So David, David, and Peggy? Welcome to the Party of Heaven! Enjoy your stay!)

    But at some point — and maybe it’ll take another election before it happens — the Republicans will realize they can’t survive representing only the schmuck voters of the country, and will then try to broaden their base in hopes of winning elections again. And at that point, I suspect we might see the Brooks, Frums and Noonans once again migrate back into the old fold.

    Oh, well, it’s probably inevitable. I guess democracy in America really needs at least two healthy parties to survive anyway. But hopefully by then, it will, as a concept, be equally respected by both of them.

    Rick

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