Sunday, October 26, 2008


Herewith a thought prompted by a few of the op-eds in today’s Times. The Cliffs Notes versions:

David Brooks – McCain is losing because of his campaign. (He didn’t move to the center.)

Paul Krugman – McCain is losing because of his campaign. (He has dwelt in trivia, when the public wants seriousness.)

Maureen Dowd –McCain is losing because of his campaign (in this case, because that campaign turned Sarah Palin into a high-spending hypocrite).

Timothy Egan – McCain is losing because of his campaign (in particular, their attacks on the “brainy cities”).

Go to other papers, magazines, websites and punditpaloozas on the tubes, and you hear varieties of the same.

Well, I beg to differ. McCain is losing because of the tsunami. This crisis hasn’t driven the American public to a more focused and conscious scrutiny of these two men and their positions. Rather, it has rendered those moot. It’s so big and so scary that people are putting the traits of the individuals aside. They’re voting Democratic, period. They’re voting Democratic in the House. They’re voting Democratic in the Senate. They’re voting Democratic in state races. And they’re voting Democratic for president.

All of this energetic parsing of McCain-did-this-wrong and Obama-did-this-brilliantly is purely meta. It’s pundits – the color commentators of our political-sports broadcasting biz – justifying their own role, privileged position and putative cleverness. These two candidates haven’t changed in any visible ways the cases they’ve been making for themselves and against their opponent over the course of the campaign – and yet their fortunes have taken a dramatic turn. Before the financial meltdown erupted, McCain’s (now supposedly risible) campaign was succeeding, against all odds, and Obama looked like a deer in the headlights. After the meltdown, McCain’s (formerly seen as jujitsu-smart) campaign is seen as doomed and desperate, and Obama is described as sober, calm and presidential. What nonsense.

Finally, since I am such a big fan of Paul Krugman, I feel obliged to clarify where I think he’s mistaken in this column. As he argues, McCain is “spectacularly unable to talk about economics as if it matters.” And since it so palpably matters now, he has been disqualified as a candidate. But the same could be said about Barack Obama. Throughout the primaries, and more or less up to this very moment, he, too, has been – to be very generous to him – at best clumsy in attempting to explain what’s going on, to capture people’s feelings about it or to suggest a path forward. It’s not any putative “seriousness” of this person, or his ideas, or his inspiring message that are being rewarded here. That’s the stuff of the man-crushes of Andrew Sullivan, Chris Matthews, Jonathan Alter, Josh Marshall, Frank Rich and their ilk. It’s a chimera. To the degree Obama has moved people, it is because he spoke to things other than their economic standing or prospects, and because he tickled emotions that are at a far remove from “seriousness.”

Those emotions might, absent the tsunami, have nonetheless produced a narrow victory – perhaps as narrow as John Kennedy’s, the campaign to which Obama is most often and credibly compared. But given the landfall of the tsunami, what's being rewarded is quite simply the “(D)” after his name on the ballot. Period. The rest is self-aggrandizing movie reviews.

1 comment:

Shainzona said...

Thank you for putting some sanity into the dialogue. If anyone thinks Obama will win because he's Obama...they really have consumed too much Kool-Aid.