Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why the Democrats will win the White House in 2008‏

I have been watching the Republican presidential candidates all jockeying for position through debates and campaigning. Each one wants to be the heir to the Reagan legacy, each one want to be the best candidate for national security, a winning strategy in Iraq, a sound economy and so on.

But what I'm really hearing from all of these candidates isn't as much about why they're better than the other Republican candidates (which they should - at this point they're only competing with each other for the nomination). No, what I'm hearing from all of them is why they're better than Hillary.

We haven't even decided which one from the Republicans (or the Democrats) will be on the ticket next November. Not one primary has happened yet. And they've already reached the conclusion that whoever wins, they'll be up against Hillary.

This tells me two important things about the crop of Republicans. One, that they listen to polls way more than they want us to believe. We're supposed to believe that Republicans are the party of morality; they're not susceptible to the whims to the Americans. They're stalwart, they're constant as the northern star, and they’re all about old-fashioned American values. They can't be influenced, they would have us believe, by trends and fads. They believe in a simpler time; a time when right was right and wrong was wrong. They don't want god removed from our currency or pledge of allegiance, just because some liberal fanatics hate god and want to remove all mentions of him. No, they represent the Waltons, the Mayberrys, the Ozzie and Harriet nostalgic amongst us who knew what was true and weren't swayed by public opinion.

This, of course, was all sarcasm.

The truth is, Republican or Democrat, they're politicians. They have to get elected, and that means getting votes. And to get your vote, they must say and do and promise all the things that we, the fickle American public, want to hear. So, despite their image makers trying to pass them off as throwbacks of a simpler time that only Pepperidge Farms and Nick at Nite seem to remember, they’re 21st-century slicksters who will say or do anything to get elected. The only difference between them and the slicksters of yesterday is, the old-timers didn’t have the benefit of YouTube.

The second thing I’ve decided is none of these guys has any idea how to lead the American nation into the next four years. Each one of them seems to be a one-trick pony. Giuliani? Morally, he’s just about the last person the Republicans want to nominate. He’s been divorced (messily) twice, the last time so he could hook up with a co-worker. To elect him would be to admit that all that pompous chest thumping they did over Monica Lewinsky was just so much hypocrisy. Ron Paul? He wants to end the war. Not much else to say about him that distinguishes him from the herd. Tancredo? He hates Mexicans. A lot. Fred Thompson? Oh goodie, another actor-turned politician-who thinks that makes him presidential material. That southern drawl helps, though. Nothing says “I’m one of you” like a well placed “Aw shucks”. People will remember him from “Law and Order” or maybe “The Hunt for Red October” and think that he’s the guy we want in the white house. That’s some dangerous reasoning, and I’ll pay you the compliment of assuming you’re intelligent enough to not need that explained.

But beyond the speculation, beyond the Vegas odds on who will win the Republican nomination, one has to look at how this diverse (by Republican standards) array of faces has fractured the Republican voting base. They’re polarizing into camps, and yet all agreeing that despite whatever misgivings they may have about this candidate or that one, when it comes time for the general election campaign, they’ll throw in 100% for whoever gets the nod. My party, right or wrong, seems to be the mindset. And this above all is what will kill their chances.

This sort of demand for blind allegiance to all things Republican, whether they’re enthusiastic about the candidate or not, is what gives third party candidates, however unelectable, enough runoff vote to slide the opposition into office. In 1992, people were concerned the George H. W. Bush wasn’t strong enough, plain-speaking enough, nitty-gritty enough to appeal to the flyover state voters. After four years of his whiny voice and ridiculous vice president, his Yale credentials simply weren’t playing to the corn farmers in Nebraska anymore. Along came Ross Perot, who despite an eerie resemblance to Gollum from Lord of the Rings, struck a chord with the simple folks. He never stood an actual chance of winning, but the contrast he threw to Bush the Father was enough to slough off the winning edge, and thus begat the Clinton Years.

In 2004, despite an abysmal record, a failing foreign policy and an unpopular war, Bush managed to vilify John Kerry on every possible front. The tactics of that election will go down in the Hall of Fame of Sleazy Character Assassination politics, the church that will no doubt be founded by Pope Karl Rove the First. I remember seeing people campaigning for Bush carrying signs that read “Kerry is Scary”. I wondered what was so scary about him? That he went to war when he could have opted out with a mere phone call from daddy (like the other guy did)? That he came back after having actually served and then had the temerity to speak out against the war? They attacked his rich wife (“she’s a bitch”). They attacked his military record (“he wasn’t wounded that badly”). They attacked things they made up. And in the end, Bush got re-elected not because he was doing such a bang-up (or blow-up, if you will) job as president, but because he was more desirable than the other guy. To be fair, many of the people who supported the Kerry campaign did so with little more than an Anybody-But-Bush mentality. They hadn’t decided to vote for Kerry, they had simply decided to vote against Bush.

And this Anybody-But-Hillary mindset that the Republicans have adopted is exactly the self-defeating ideology that sank the Kerry Presidency before it even started. A president cannot be elected on a policy of avoidance. We must simultaneously come to grips with the fact that no candidate is ever going to completely embrace any one voter’s fantasy while accepting that one candidate from the bunch is our nation’s best hope for the next four years. They’re all sellouts. They’re all charlatans. And yet one of them will be President. We must, individually and collectively make peace with this fact, and resign ourselves to the process of thoroughly inspecting each candidate on his or her own merits and then compare that to our own core beliefs, then choose whoever we can live with the easiest. Blind allegiance to a candidate, or a party, is just plain stupid, not mention lazy. We cannot claim to love our country and at the same time refuse to carefully scrutinize who will lead it. We owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to take our responsibility a little more seriously than that.