by Frank Schnittger
Thu Sep 18th, 2008 at 11:29:28 AM EST
The USA has always traded heavily on its founding myths - the hard-bitten, self-reliant frontiersman in the log cabin who overcomes all odds and establishes himself in hostile territory supported by God and Guns and with little help from a distant Government. Governor Palin fits that mystique very well. Not only is she a moose hunting, salmon fishing, self-made women, she is also a soccer Mom and fire-brand evangelical who opposes the decadence of cosmopolitan America. And her husband is a Hunk.
Palin turned a near disastrous GOP convention into a triumph for McCain which eclipsed the almost perfectly choreographed professional love-fest that the Obama team managed to mount in Denver. The result was a near 10% swing post convention bounce for McPain. But now that mythology is beginning to unravel in the face of reality. Firstly the Hurricane season is providing unhelpful reminders of Katrina and the pathetic Bush administration's response to that tragedy. Then Wall street blew up an even bigger storm which reminds people of how much the McBush regime is in league with big money.
There is seemingly no end to the amount of taxpayer's money that can be made available to big league bankers and brokers, but not a penny to help out those who are losing their jobs and homes through redundancy and foreclosure. For McPain the "fundamentals of the economy are strong" - when it is those very fundamentals - a sound banking and regulatory system - which are being destroyed in an almost perfect storm brought on by the overheating of the Global financial system.
Now the polls have turned and Obama is once again in the lead. So long as the focus is on the economy and jobs and the profligacy of the Bush era, Obama will do well. Only a major war can save McPain now - and the South Ossetia crisis came a little early to survive in the news cycles until November. Even the Election of a relatively dovish Tzipi Livni as leader of the Kadima Party in Israel is unhelpful as it reduces the possibility of an Israeli pre-emptive airstrike on Iran - something the neo-cons have been keeping in their back pocket in case of emergency come the November election.
So what can McPain do for his next trick?
His age, weariness on the campaign, the hollowness of his "message", and the sense of his representing a bygone era and old fashioned way of doing things is growing all the time. His attempts to move beyond the white establishment by fostering a maverick image is cutting little ice by those disenfranchised by the near financial collapse of middle America. Even the down turn in the Oil price is undermining the attractiveness of his "let's drill everywhere" panic response to consumer alarm.
But has Obama succeeded in building on his positives by way of contrast? There seemed to be some panic and confusion in his campaign as to how to respond to the Palin phenomenon. Originally idealistic and non-partisan, his campaign has become increasingly negative of late focusing on Palin and McCain's inadequacies rather than responding positively to the challenges now facing the USA. Does anyone know how Obama would manage the financial crises differently? There is little point in arguing that a Democratic administration wouldn't have gotten the USA into this mess because the Clinton regime continued the deregulation process, and, in any case, the crucial issue now is not who got us into the mess, but ho can get us out.
McPain's lack of expertise on economic issues is plain for all to see, but has Obama made a convincing case that he knows the way out of this crisis? The time has come for Obama to stop responding to the McPain agenda and start creating his own, and that has to be a lot more specific and inspirational that the simple mantra of Change for its own sake. The electorate are ready for change but now need to know more precisely what changes an Obama Administration would initiate.
Are we going to have a new FDR style New Deal? A Kennedy style passing of the baton to a new multi-cultural generation not concerned with race, gender and religious bigotry? A Carter style refusal to be goaded into war, or a Clinton style determination to negotiate with everyone rather than seek to impose unilateral US rule?
I have a suspicion that an Obama Administration might try to do a little of all of this, but how much we simply don't know. How radical or timid or cautious is he going to be? If he wants to build a consensus for a new Reagan style revolution in US attitudes and policies, he has to start building that consensus now. Otherwise his Administration risks being bogged down by the incremental centralism that has characterised the Democratic Congress up until now. And before you know it new elections will be upon us, and little will have been achieved. Where is the brashness and confidence which charaterised the "100 days" of the Republican "Contract with America"?
My point is this. Obama (and the Democrats) should be 20 points ahead at this stage given the disasters which have characterised the Bush era. That they are struggling to gain any worthwhile lead at all is because they have failed to present a radical new blueprint for the USA. Excelling at the specifics of the "ground game" is fine, but it is not the leadership the USA needs and is pining for. So long as Obama mixes it with McPain, he is being dragged down to their level and is not giving the American people the Change he promised and they long for.
The race will continue to be close for so long as that is the level of leadership that is on show - and the Republicans are better at playing dirty and pulling some rabbit out of the hat. McCain sought to change the game by selecting Palin and failed. He doesn't have many shots left in his locker. But does Obama? Will the real Obama please stand up? America needs leadership and is crying out for someone who will actually take the lead.
The political pros, media gurus and campaign managers have done their job and made a black candidate electable. Now the real leader needs to take over and make that choice seem inevitable. Otherwise the dark arts of the black operations people could yet steal this election.