Sunday, June 29, 2008

Flip and Flop

I have expected that Hillary’s dropping out of the race would create an immediate and palpable emotional vacuum – and it sure as hell has. The most compelling figure in the drama has been killed off and carted away. She was like, had she been put on, to have proved most royal – but ‘twas not to be. So, bid the soldiers shoot.

And yet… we’re still here. Sitting in the theater. We’re still watching… as Fortinbras, Osric and Horatio amble about the stage and attempt to deliver soliloquies and repartee. And we find ourselves wondering why the curtain hasn’t come down and the house lights come up.

Anyway, nature and airtime abhorring a vacuum, as they do, the talking must go on – so the campaign shifts from Hamlet (or Lear) to Six Bloviators – and Two Candidates – in Search of a Narrative.

On the Sunday talk shows this morning, the discussion was almost entirely about which one is the bigger flip-flopper. Both have provided a wealth of material, of course – Obama most recently, and most amply.

The popinjays of the lefty blogosphere have tried to out-Osric themselves in their own flip-flops – from rationalization to buyer’s remorse and back. ("It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.... Exceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry -- as 'twere -- I cannot tell how.") And yet, the net effect of all this isn’t mostly outrage, much less fervor or excitement. It’s more like ennui. Dare one say “malaise”?

This was supposed to be the most consequential, conscious, compelling election of all time… the turning of the page… the hopefest of a new age of changiness. The issues were supposed to be clear and paramount. And yet, the whole thing is quickly resolving around dumb-ass media narratives of “But you said X” and “Are you gonna take that from him?” And this isn’t simply because the media likes dumb-ass narratives. It’s the candidates themselves who are playing this game – pretty much to the exclusion of any other game.

Anyway, if I were advising John McCain’s campaign, this is exactly where I’d want the meta-narrative to go. Because if this thing becomes a contest between two men, McCain wins. I don’t care if it’s a dispiriting contest between two men – as this seems to be becoming. As long as the main thing in voters’ minds is “Which of these two guys do I think is better for the job? Who’s stronger? Who’s more decisive? Who’s a better leader?”… rather than “Which party do I like better?”… it’s bad for Obama. It’s bad for Obama because he has consistently failed Job One, failed to define himself. And his “tacking to the center” – as Big Tent Democrat and Glen Greenwald accurately note – simply continues this failure.

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