One week from today Americans will go to the polls and choose their next president. One week from tomorrow the newspapers (and the right wing weblogs) are going to be filled with post-mortems of the Sarah Palin/John McCain campaign. They are all going to try to explain to us why Palin/McCain lost and Obama/Biden won. The thing is, we already know why. We’ve known for quite some time.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert gets a pretty good handle on it in his column today, entitled “A Choice and an Echo.”
With the country facing enormous problems (even before the meltdown of the credit and financial markets in recent months), the voters wanted more substance from their candidates. They wanted a greater sense of maturity and a more civil approach to campaigning. They were tired of the politics of personal destruction and the playbook that counseled “attack, attack, attack.”
Senator Obama was perfectly suited to this new approach. He told the crowd that trekked through the cold and snow to hear his victory speech at the Iowa caucuses:
“You said the time has come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that’s consumed Washington. To end the political strategy that’s been all about division, and instead make it about addition. To build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states.”
John McCain didn’t get it. He seemed as baffled by the new politics as an Al Jolson aficionado trying to make sense of the Beatles.
He answered the desire for a higher tone in politics with ads that likened Senator Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and with attacks that questioned Mr. Obama’s patriotism, blamed him for high gasoline prices and all-but-accused him of being a socialist.
Mr. Obama, said Mr. McCain, would convert the Internal Revenue Service into “a giant welfare agency.”
Whether this is admirable or honorable is not the question here. In the current political and economic atmosphere, it seems very much like a roadmap to defeat.
The heyday of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove is over. Yet Senator McCain handed the reins of his campaign to Rove’s worshipful acolytes. With the nation in a high state of anxiety over the conflagration in the credit and financial markets, Senator McCain traveled the country ranting Rovelike about Bill Ayers, trying to instill a bogus belief that the onetime ’60s radical and Senator Obama were good buddies and perhaps involved in some nefarious doings together. Senator Obama was about 8 years old when Mr. Ayers was engaged in his nefarious doings.
It was the classic fear card that the Republicans have played to such brilliant effect for years. But times have changed. (Lately Senator McCain has been obsessively invoking the name of “Joe the Plumber” at his campaign appearances, as if that might be the phrase that finally sways the electorate in a way that the Bill Ayers mantra did not.)
Senator Hillary Clinton helped define the new political atmosphere with her own historic run for the White House. Senator McCain, demonstrating again his tone-deafness to the new reality, tried to capitalize on Mrs. Clinton’s remarkable achievement by cynically selecting Sarah Palin, the anti-Hillary, as his running mate.
Mr. McCain must never have noticed that the public turned overwhelmingly against the Bush administration because of its repeatedly demonstrated incompetence. Now here is Senator McCain, in the midst of a national crisis, with a running mate who is demonstrably incompetent to serve the nation as its president.
Ms. Palin is a walking affront to the many Republican women (not to mention women in general) who are, in fact, qualified to hold the highest office in the land.
John McCain could have traveled a higher road. He chose not to. He bet instead on one last gasping triumph of the politics of the past.
So the lot of you who are at this moment attacking your keyboards trying to come up with your bits of wisdom for next Wednesday morning can stop now. Mr. Herbert has done the work for you. I’m sure he would appreciate a word of gratitude.
P.S. If you’re thinking about leaving a comment to remind me that the election has not yet been held, I know that. Don’t you think I know that? Please, don’t waste your time or mine. Thank you.