And so mercifully, and at long last, the most improbable part of memory's strangest electoral year ends, not with a self-pitying whimper, but with at least a semblance of dignity. Almost five days after her nemesis had assembled enough delegates to warrant legitimate public claim to status as Party nominee apparent, Hillary Clinton, on Saturday, June 7, 2008, acknowledged his victory and pledged her ardent support. Not a moment too soon. Tenacity was about to morph into sulky churlishness.
For almost three months, Hillary Clinton, the politically undead (see this article), wandered the United States, painfully pursuing her lost cause. She had every right to do so, of course, staying close in delegates all the while, and winning most of the late battles, and all of the electorally important ones. Still, for months her struggle was hopeless, and those with more than a passing understanding of Democrat identity group politics knew it.
Because of the Party's nomination arcana, from at least as early as March, possibly earlier, Clinton had no hope of overtaking the Illinois Senator in pledged delegates; and American blacks' unchallenged status within the Democrat coalition as most cosseted and critical voter bloc meant there was no chance Party grey beards would overrule an even slight Obama lead in pledged delegates. Long ago they had decided it would be better to gamble with electoral defeat than to fracture and enfeeble their political coalition.
And so, with Saturday's declaration, the longest and most riveting open-casket political wake in American history comes to an end.
Democrat elders and activists, having engineered, or submitted to, their choice, can now begin attending to the risk they have created.
As we go about our work this week, they are in a frenzy of applying tourniquets to their still gushing civil war wounds, burying their dead, and trying to reconcile their angry and scattered factions (many older women, Latinos and working class whites, particularly, seem to require urgent critical care); perhaps a Valium soup kitchen will be set up for Harriet Christian and the Party's similarly afflicted (video -- contrary to desperate hope, Harriet appears not to have been an agent provocateur).
But, at least to this observer, and historically atypical as this may be, Democrats, actually seem aware of, and up to, the task they're facing.
Despite their history of dubious choices followed by electoral incompetence, and with every reason for euphoria and overconfidence this time, they show disturbing signs of realism and readiness for battle. Contrary to confident public pronouncements, they exhibit a healthy respect for the enormity of the task they've set themselves: electing not only the first black to the Presidency, but unquestionably the most left-wing candidate the Party has ever proffered.
If the Democrats, with every reason for euphoria, seem unwontedly clear-eyed, McCain and the Republicans, with little reason for confidence, seem brimming with it.
One hears talk of a big win. But in reality, Republicans and conservatives have a total of one reason not to slit their wrists: polls show, contrary to all expectation, that McCain is actually in the game. Granted, given the atrocious "generics" (Bush/Republican fatigue and unpopularity, shaky economy, $5 gas, war weariness, etc.), for the Republican candidate to be electorally competitive at this point is not merely happy news, it is a near-miracle.
But the present state of affairs has resulted from absolutely nothing Republicans consciously planned or accomplished -- it is rather the product of the astonishing conjoining of two phenomena, both of which were essential: the Democrats' conscious decision to reject the safe and try, yet again, for socialist utopia at home and flaccid internationalism and weakness abroad; and the Republicans' lucky stumble to the one candidate who, in the present dismal political environment, might possibly be able to seize the chance afforded by the Democrats' brazen choice.
Be proud of and celebrate what you have actually accomplished; be humbly grateful for, and very careful with, what providence, in spite of your incompetence, has given you. The present presidential match up is in the latter category. It is not clear the Republican candidate or his advisors actually know this.
I have every reason to hope McCain and his supporters get the next five months right.
Our beloved country, freedom's last redoubt, civilization's only power capable of resisting the advancing tide of barbarism, keep of Castle Earth, is seriously contemplating elevating to the presidency Barack Obama, an effete academic weakling, a messianic soothsayer, perfervid followers in tow, who believes America's collective soul is broken and that He has been called to mend it, a caricature Euro Statist whose voting record and public utterances reflect passionate belief in all the discredited far leftist critiques of America (and their attendant fixes), a dreamy naïf with a permanently adolescent world view born of lifelong refusal to work in the real world, a thinly disguised leftist revolutionary who for decades eagerly immersed himself in a vile crowd of crypto-Marxists, quislings, racists, domestic terrorists, and antisemites, and who now simply says, calm as you please, he never really shared their views, a twenty-eight carat tyro whose resume of accomplishments would fit neatly on the back of a Visa card, a man whose scary wife (whom the candidate himself seems to fear) dislikes the country that has showered her with great good fortune. Sorry. I know that sentence exceeded its grammatical carrying capacity, if not its potential content.
Barack Obama, measured by his chosen life experiences, closest associations, voting record, and pre-presidential campaign utterances, is, in personality and experience, the least qualified, and, in philosophy and program, most radically left candidate ever offered for the presidency by the Democratic Party. By comparison, George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Al Gore and John Kerry seem the very embodiment of presidential readiness and political moderation.
And all this is occurring while the Democrats control both House and Senate by margins that will increase in November and at a time in history when the continued existence of Western Civilization is in serious question.
We have every reason to pray and hope for John McCain's success.
Political prognostication is a risky business in the most normal of elections. In this election it is arrogance and folly. Having been right once already, and not merely in the outcome but the details (see this article), prudence would dictate silence. But in elections, from early prognostication flow campaign tactics, and from campaign tactics flow history. I care about the history that this year's electoral outcome will produce (see above). So here goes.
In a pure contest between John McCain and Barack Obama, confined to the polite subjects of personal biography as self-servingly presented by the candidates, the candidates' persona, and current issues, McCain will lose. Present polls are meaningless and will change markedly, as they always have in presidential elections, as the public focuses on the election and its personalities. Left to self description and public perception, Obama will seem slightly less threatening and more ingratiating, and McCain slightly less affable and substantially older.
Moreover, without the introduction of something compelling, all other major factors favor Obama: principally, the generics (see above), but also money, energy, organization, manpower, and media bias that will reach historically unparalleled intensity.
And then there is the really great unknown, turnout, which, on both sides of the contest, creates only further downside for McCain: will the Obama cohorts (the young and blacks) turn out in markedly larger than normal numbers; and, for McCain, will the Christian conservatives, so critical to the last three successful Republican Presidents, turn out in markedly smaller numbers?
In short, the country will not elect McCain, in the affirmative sense. However, it very well might reject Obama because of his life-long politics, as opposed to those he claims suddenly to have discovered when the taste of the presidency first reached his mouth.
And therein lies the difficult road to victory for John McCain.
An unexciting, possibly even unliked, candidate's ascension to the presidency because of his opponent's downright scariness has a long and respected pedigree in American politics. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, to name but two recent examples, come to mind.
This will mean that either McCain or his independent supporters -- or, most effective, some combination thereof -- will have to incur the disapproval of the New York Times. Otherwise, employing his personal gifts combined with the full complicity of an adoring and selectively silent media, Obama will march to November as an unthreatening and inspirational centrist.
Without McCain (or his independent supporters') active, persistent and repetitive reminder of who the man really is, as revealed by his odious past -- chosen "work" (leftist political agitator), awful associations, hard left voting record and recent highly revealing San Francisco gaffe ("Bittergate") -- the country will elect a person who does not exist.
The efficacy of discussing the real Obama emerges from a glance at the chronology of Hillary Clinton's vanquishing:
In the early primaries -- pre-Wright, pre-Ayres, pre-Bittergate -- Obama won the white vote in three key states: Iowa, Wisconsin and Virginia. He continues to lead in the polls in the first two of those states (Iowa and Wisconsin). The lesson appears to be that, not only is Obama widely attractive when unsullied by reality, but that, once a favorable perception of him unimpeded by accurate information is formed, it has staying power.
In all of the key later primaries, where Obama's steaming landfill of a background was in the picture from the start -- Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky -- Clinton won handily. Yes, these were tougher venues for Obama under any circumstances, but that alone cannot account for the scope of Clinton's victories, or for the fact that in some (e.g., Pennsylvania) she won though outspent nearly 3-1; and in others (e.g., Texas) she won with a much weaker state organization.
Almost as important as the later Clinton primary outcomes, Obama was at his personal worst when trying to deal with the negatives of his career presented by actual critics. Between the emergence of Wright, on about February 28, and Obama's final resignation from Wright's hate factory on April 28, Obama offered more than five wildly divergent explanations. Amazingly, even a few in the media noticed that all his various remarks didn't hang together too well. Like all weak men, Obama is at his best when surrounded by adoration; in a fight he has little to offer.
The enormous and abundant negatives in Obama's background are still powerful, no matter which tanked pundits say which of them are "behind us." The truth is none of it -- not Wright, Ayres, Pfleger, Bittergate, or the man's voting record -- is "behind us." It is behind us only if McCain and his supporters allow it to be. All of it is still enormously powerful, but only if mentioned.
McCain can win the election, but he cannot win nice.
McCain and his independent supporters cannot permit Obama's newly minted self-definition to become imprinted on the public mind, and allow the man to walk calmly away from a twenty year train wreck of a record -- work, associations, voting, and public statements -- any portion of which should be disqualifying for the presidency.
It will not take a fortune to vividly remind the voters of, say, Missouri Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado of these seamy details of the great unifier's last twenty years.
Doing so soon, before Obama is able to sell a false and enduring version of himself in these states and elsewhere, may well be the difference between victory and defeat.
James Edmund Pennington is the pen name of an attorney.