Perhaps you‘ve seen it, the near-precise moment when John McCain lost control of his campaign. The scene is a now familiar one, the bogus “town-hall meeting.” He’s passing the microphone around like a decrepit Donahue, standing before a woman who starts by saying she “can't trust" Obama; McCain is nodding along, intimately engaged for the moment in manipulating the neurotic angst that is the dwindling lifeblood of his campaign. About the time she says her fear is due to what she’s been reading, a look of worry creases his trademark frown of condescending concern; he’s contemplating preemptively snatching the microphone back from her, when she lays it on him: Obama is “an Arab”. She's managed to confuse her slander (assuming there isn‘t an “Obama is an Arab” email careening about the internet), but it matters not.
Taking back the microphone, still in the affectedly somber tones we usually hear dulling the senator's continual call to panic (before the more immediate economic panic swamped it along with his campaign) he informs his disappointed supporter that while he‘s spent the last several months denouncing as irresponsible peace-mongering Barack Obama‘s marginal departure from a foreign policy of serial occupations determined by the requirements of AIPAC and the defense industry, no, the man is in fact human, and all that entails. The crowd lets fly with various notes of despair, all but booing their candidate.
It was about as close to sympathetic as our too-proud would-be president has come in a long time, but it's the anonymous woman, now a momentary punchline, who deserves our compassion (in taking a break from writing this I find her being parodied on television as "Crazy McCain Campaign Lady"). Her only sins are a lack of sophistication and an abiding faith in a political party. In taking advantage of this that party has terrorized her with the serial bogeys of Iraqi WMD, Iranian nuclear weapons, treasonous Democrats and now an Islamic Manchurian Candidate, with only resolute John McCain and his platoon of lobbyists and ideologues standing athwart these allied furies, united solely but unalterably in their Hatred of America and Her Freedoms.
If you’re a severe enough white liberal, witnessing the exchange you probably experienced that familiar rush of ethno-masochistic ecstasy at the welcome sight of white Republican “bigotry”, producing an odd combination of gloating and dismay (think of the old joke about the conflicted lover: “Don’t! Stop! Don‘t…stop! Don‘t stop! Don't Stop!”). Whatever internal psychic tension is produced in the breasts of our liberal brethren by this fetish, this conspicuous self-abnegation, is probably one of the great unexamined social effects of our time.
Indeed, soon after, on the subject of the increasingly hysterical mood of Republican rallies, Chris Matthews sounded as dismayed as the McCain crowd as he all but demanded that Pat Buchanan personally reign in the cranks. One wonders how Mr. Matthews, having participated in the fear mongering preceding the Iraq War of which this woman‘s neurosis is the continuing effect, plans on enforcing his edict. Judging by the volume of his indignation he's going to defend his offended sensibilities by deluging us all with spittle. Watching the man snap one more tether to reality, assuming it can't be long before someone relieves him of his microphone, I console myself that the affair is not without its entertainments and compensations.
If you’re just paleo enough to find the preceding mostly inoffensive, and you saw the video above, you probably cringed. You may be tempted to sue the liberals for peace, if they‘ll only protect you from the barbarian hordes that have sacked and taken over the Republican Party. GOP, we hardly knew ye.
If you’re a supporter of John McCain you’re not reading this, but lapsing into carbon monoxide induced unconsciousness in a sealed garage, sitting in an idling Cadillac Escalade with a “Drill Here, Drill Now” bumper-sticker. I confess I’m finding it difficult to feel sorry for you. Nonetheless: don’t do it; you’ve got your whole life ahead of you; things are never as bad as they seem; this is not the answer. And so forth and so on.
The town hall format is proving disastrous for McCain, who has been deluded into thinking close quarters suit him--probably by the many reporters who've flung their skirts overhead at the first wink of we-think-alike-don’t-we-won’t-you-accompany-me-on-my-way-to-the-White House complicity. The candidate, his disdain for common folk barely concealed beneath his deliberately sedate (or sedated) style, cuts an unappealing and alien figure among the living and breathing. One imagines there are none on his staff willing to brave the volcanic vanity of their boss by suggesting, however gently, that he‘d be better served parking his doddering personage behind a podium.
But McCain willingly crawled into the coffin his own supporters are now nailing shut, when he declared the Jeremiah Wright controversy off limits. In so doing he left the issue to his more rabid supporters, and a deliberately oblivious media. Despite his independent pose, John McCain strictly observes the rules of engagement as set by his former “base” in the press. That base deserted him almost immediately, ironically as a requirement of the same politically correct rules of engagement that McCain dutifully observed by forfeiting the Wright controversy. This Maverick never goes below the hard deck, and would probably report someone who did to the Commanding Officer (before heading off to the officer‘s club to brag about how he told the Old Man off).
Thus, even as he stokes fear of Islamists, Iranians, Russians, the Chinese, terrorist cells, suitcase bombs, and Barack Obama's suspect commitment to the defense of America, he cannot bring himself to exploit what should be his opponent's biggest weakness, his political mentoring by the buffoonish crypto-segregationist Jeremiah Wright. Why Wright is off limits has never really been explained. In a more open and honest media environment, the Wright controversy would have played out by now. Of course, McCain was likely conceding a battle he rightly figured he could only lose. This all delineates for us some of the extent of Barack Obama’s considerable advantage as the potential First Black President.
Few remain to lament the lost McCain administration. One is tempted to welcome any route by which this dangerous man is shunted off to retirement. But, despite our culture of personality and ambition, the citizenry's appreciation of reality is always far more important than the candidates who spend much of their time seeking to obscure it.
Understanding Jeremiah Wright, and the need of his flock of upwardly mobile black professionals--of which Barack Obama has fashioned himself into a prime psychological exemplar--to identify themselves as oppressed despite the obvious blessings of their citizenship in America and their participation in Western, “white” culture (indeed, perhaps because of this) is a fascinating and exigent question. But it is forever obscured beneath a rigorously limited discourse that says, in effect, that no claim against white America can be baseless--legitimacy is conferred in the making of the charge.
In the years ahead, as unprecedented demographic shifts occur, perhaps simultaneous with the painful economic contraction attendant upon the decline of American power, the preservation of the Republic will largely depend on whether or not we can reconcile a diverse population to the inequality that results from equal opportunity. This may be a longshot; indeed the respectable consensus holds that inequality in wealth and influence is necessarily a result of unequal opportunity. Another more severe consensus is forming as well, as the first becomes less and less tenable, as the idealism of the sixties resolves increasingly in bitter disillusion: that equality in wealth and influence apportioned by demography is the goal itself, and that equality of opportunity is either a delusion or the very instrument of oppression.
Despite the promise of cross-racial unity, Barack Obama's career, his very identity, depends upon casting in relief and exploiting the most problematic division in American politics. You have to hand it to him; he spends his formative political years mastering the narrative of guilty America's permanent racial division, and then he offers himself as its solution. Whether he truly believes in either is suspect. An Obama presidency will be welcome opportunity to give the lie to the demagogues of various degrees who see in the resentment toward white America (and perhaps soon other market dominant minorities) an inexhaustible vein of political power and patronage.
None of this is to paint Barack Obama as a extremist. He too is a highly conventional politician and thinker. Even if he's the closet radical his detractors make him out to be, there is little significant change he, or any president, can effect. The process of candidates surrendering certain ideals as the price of admission to higher office isn't without its benefits. As Obama's demonstrated himself of superior temperament to his rival (no great boast, yes) I say, bring him on, delusions and all. Barack Obama has promised to unite us, largely by rephrasing conservative critiques of liberal excess and returning them to his opponents as high-sounding but meaningless sops disguising the unoriginality of his boilerplate. His presidency will be a welcome opportunity to call his bluff. Perhaps we can finally have that "conversation" about race the liberals are always talking about--that is to say they'll finally allow their counterparts to get a word in edgewise.
The elite consensus is that black nationalist radicalism, as evinced by Jeremiah Wright, is a harmless indulgence to be humored only when it can‘t be ignored. Media and political elites do not take the Wrights of the world seriously, and with some good reason. These demagogues typically content themselves with shake downs and patronage. They are prone to internecine squabbling and a Big Man mentality that can only be discomforting to the studiously tolerant--that is to say deliberately ignorant--observer. Liberals can’t say outright that Jeremiah Wright and his ilk are ultimately irrelevant jokes; this upsets a certain carefully calculated pose that always assigns a premium to both the intellectual achievements of blacks and charges of white racism.
McCain left the radicalism of Barack Obama’s political coming of age to the nut cases behind the “Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen” emails. Now he’s lost his audience. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But the result of an ambitious but untested melancholic backing into the presidency by stepping effortlessly into America's great romance of racial atonement at a moment of profound national doubt, well, that should have happened to another country.