Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gerson: History's Unfair To McCain


Shorter Gerson: We're in an economic crisis, and people turn to Dems in an economic crisis. McCain's a great man and has run a fine campaign, but couldn't have been expected to win under those circumstances. To win, Obama just had to look good while doing nothing.

Dude, you're sooooooooo kidding. But you're only fooling yourself and other Kool-Aid drinkers.

Previous to this economic free fall -- and after his transformative vice-presidential choice -- McCain was about tied in a race he should have been losing by a large margin. The public clearly had questions about Obama's leadership qualities. But the McCain campaign also proved itself capable of constructing an effective narrative: Obama as lightweight celebrity, McCain as maverick reformer. Until history intervened.

Golly - McCain's team was able to construct an effective narrative. That definitely qualifies him for the White House, doesn't it? I'm sure impressed. Maybe our next President should be a bestselling novelist, what with narrative being so important.

As a political tool, narrative is genuinely important. But it's got to match up closely enough with reality that everybody plausibly fits with their places in your narrative. Otherwise, the whole thing falls to pieces.

The problem for McCain was, he abandoned his "maverick reformer" ways when he endorsed Bush for President in June 2004. I should make myself clear, though: even a maverick reformer is quite reasonably expected to endorse the Presidential candidate of his own party. But from that point forward, McCain turned into a good GOP soldier and reliable supporter of the Bush/GOP party line. Wrapping Bush around McCain's neck wasn't going to be much of a challenge for the Dem nominee, whoever s/he turned out to be.

And then reality intervened, which gave McCain a chance to demonstrate he was both a maverick reformer and an experienced, steady leader in a crisis.

Following the onset of the crisis, McCain was left with flawed options. He reasonably chose to work for a responsible bailout while hoping the markets would stabilize quickly. Instead, the bailout proved politically unpopular and the markets gyrated like the Pussycat Dolls.
Try again, Mike: like I said, you're only fooling yourself. How about: McCain first said the fundamentals of our economy were strong, then continued campaigning while Congressional negotiatiors tried to reach a deal, and Obama listed four points that he said belonged in any bailout plan. Then when Congress was near a deal, McCain 'suspended' his campaign (but not really), then barged in on the negotiations, causing the deal to fall through. When it was reassembled and put to a vote the following week, McCain took credit for its passage prior to the vote where it was defeated. He later took credit for killing the deal, and was not particularly visible when the deal was revised to the form that passed Congress.

In short, he's been on every possible side of the bailout issue. No steady leadership, no maverick reformer, no nothing.
Then McCain raised Obama's past association with William Ayers -- a valid attack if properly raised....But this accusation naturally looks small compared to the nation's outsized economic fears.

So why was he raising it? The problem wasn't that it was valid - the problem was, it was trivial. Nobody held a gun to John McCain's head and forced him to treat it as a major issue. He did that all on his own. History gave him a Churchillian moment, and he chose to be small. He could have demonstrated leadership and independence by coming up with a coherent alternative to the Bush bailout plan. He didn't. His bad.

Obama's task has been easier. He needs only to ride a historical current instead of fighting it. And this plays to his greatest political strength: the easy, laid-back self-assurance of a 1940s crooner. During the financial crisis Obama has contributed nothing of note or consequence.
Early on, he listed four points that belonged in a bailout plan, and stuck with them. He was a consistent supporter of the Paulson-Dodd-Frank bailout plan. A number of Blue Dog Democrats credited Obama with changing their votes to support the bailout plan that passed Congress, after they'd voted against the first House bill. That may not be leadership worthy of Churchill, but it is far above and beyond what McCain has demonstrated.

Couldn't resist this bit of catnip:

Can anyone doubt that the past political association of McCain with a right-wing terrorist would attract some attention?

Yes, I sure can:

AP: McCain was on the board of directors of the U.S. Council for World Freedom, part of an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America.

Sarah Palin's hubby was a member of a right-wing secessionist political party.

Neither of these facts has gotten much play. This is not a complaint on my part: on the scale of the issues we're dealing with, these are small potatoes. We don't have time for 'issues' like these, just like we don't have time for our political discussion to be about Bill Ayers. Gerson's wrong, that's all.

Maybe [McCain] is a great man running at the most difficult of times.

And maybe the images in the funhouse mirrors are reality, and what we see every day is the illusion. But I wouldn't bank on it.


MR Bill said...

There is a lot more crazy/violent Right out there: G. Gordon Liddy for example...
Or look at the Good Work of David Niewert at Orcinus..There is a lot of crazy right wing violence just under the surface, and the Obama win will set loose some of it. We should be ready, or at least, not surprised if there are a lot of racist types freaking out.
There simply isn't much of a violent Left going, the Seattle WTO craziness aside.

low-tech cyclist said...

You're absolutely right - but even a healthy majority of the right-of-center folks don't want that shit. So far, they've managed to fool themselves that it doesn't really exist anymore - that the OKC bombing was the end of right-wing violent radicalism.

But if the people waiting in line at McCain and Palin rallies are any indication, there are a lot of crazy people out there.

I think we've got better pushback against the crazies this time than we did in 1993. The main thing is, I hope the Secret Service does their job.