Some Canadian and American friends have asked for my opinion on the upcoming US Presidential election. What do I think Obama’s chances are? Isn’t it going to be a Landslide for the Democratic party, given the disaster that Bush has proven to be? Do I think I might return to the US after it’s gone back to being a country more in tune with my beliefs and values?
While for some I may seem unenthusiastic or even pessimistic, I have to admit that my first response has been that I think the outcome is a toss-up. While I’m hopeful that Obama and Biden will win in November, I remember all too vividly how it was to be stunned in 2000 by Bush taking the oath of office, and shocked again in 2004 (no, that time it was more like we were all in mourning) when he was reelected. How could more than half of the American public be so blind, twice? (More about that in a bit). Being a long-suffering Red Sox fan during their drought of World Series victories and agonizing defeats to the Yankees that lasted the lifetime of my mother-in-law (she was born the year after their Word Series win in 1916 and died before they won it again in 2004), I’m no stranger to the despair of an unexpected defeat. Perhaps I’m just doing my best to guard against that pain a third time in a row.
Republicans, like the Yankees, are Good at Winning
If a win for the Democrats is not a certainty, does that mean that McCain and Palin can win? I’m reminded that the GOP is very, very good at winning elections. (As Howard Dean used to say that it’s a pity that the Republican’s aren’t as good at governing as well as they are at getting elected). They still have tons of money from countless corporations and groups made far richer and more powerful than they were eight years ago. They are still in power and hence, have access to all sorts of advantages their opponents don’t have, and they have highly regarded experts with impressive track records like Karl Rove (either within the party or hired as consultants and lobbyists) who know how to persuade voters and perhaps even once again alter voting machines enough to gain an advantage in key swing states (Ohio, anyone?).
American Lack of Education
My belief that either party could win goes deeper than just the GOP’s recent successes (not counting the 2006 Congressional elections, but it’s worth noting that even in defeat, they still managed to hold on to enough numbers to make the Democrat’s retaking of several Congressional seats a non-issue for them; the US Congress is currently held with even lower esteem than Bush!) I believe that for the last 20 years or so the US population has been methodically robbed of the ability to think rationally about the choice of who will govern them. With the weakening of the Public Education system that started at about the Reagan era, it is very possible that both parties — perhaps even by accident — discovered that a dumbed-down electorate was far easier to control, and hence, easier to govern. I can imagine that each group came to the same conclusion: An easily steered population would benefit their agenda. For liberals who believed that individuals deserved help from the government, this meant that people could be convinced of the worth of social programs by selling them the way that Ford or Toyota sold a new car model. For conservatives, well, we can see that the last 8 years of tax cuts (‘You like tax cuts, don’t you? After all, it’s your money!’) for the richest friends of the party and military adventures (with corresponding military contractor feeding troughs) have been the direction they’ve gotten through herding the US’s citizenry.
I’m not alone in this view. Al Gore’s latest book deals not with climate change, but this very subject. It’s called The Assault on Reason. There are also books by Richard Hofstadter: Anti-intellectualism in American Life (which ended up being very prescient, as it as the Pulitzer Prize Winner in 1963) as well as Susan Jacoby’s very recent The Age of American Unreason. There are others, but I thought it might be good to point some of the more well-known titles. There’s been a lot of ink on this particular subject.
With a public so easily influenced and turned to the advantage of whoever is the cleverer marketer, either outcome is possible. It comes down to a game of dueling commercials between the campaigns (and isn’t it appropriate that the same word ‘campaign’ applies to both the activity of selling soap as well as political candidates?)
The Press is Playing for Time
Sound cynical? There’s more: The press has it’s own agenda, but it’s a different one. At a slightly later date after the eroding of the public education system, many news reporting organizations were bought up by a relatively small number of owners, and also placed under the entertainment budget of their respective owners’ businesses. This is particularly the case with TV News, not to mention the 24-hour cable networks. We almost take for granted the fact that The News is now clearly in the ratings business. That means that they not only have to compete for attention, but they also benefit if the Presidential race is close and people stay tuned in and engaged as long as possible. I’m not echoing the common tirade that the press has a conservative or liberal bias. Instead, they have a bias towards anything that makes the race closer, and in turn generates more ad revenue. It’s very likely that the see-sawing lead between McCain and Obama in the polls is a concerted effort by the news media to make sure that their viewers stay on the edge of their seats until November.
Perhaps it isn’t dueling commercials, but a Professional Wrestling match. It’s certainly not a debate of issues. You get the appearance of a contest, but it’s really all just theatre. Policy discussions are, well, just too boring and dry for an uneducated electorate. They want to be entertained, and in the final analysis, may end up voting for the most entertaining and telegenic candidate, and depending on how you define telegenic in this case, I don’t think that Obama’s youth and handsomeness will necessarily guarantee that he gets more votes, particularly if voters want to be reassured by an avuncular or Grandfatherly McCain. This could certainly be the case if the Republicans can once again play the fear card, and there could, of course, be another terrorist attack before the election. I’m not quite cynical enough to believe that the Republicans will stage a fake attack, or even surreptitiously notify some group of a security hole, but give me time.
So with an ignorant public that’s ruled by emotion and campaign manipulation, organizations (like some within the GOP) that have no qualms with a little cheating here and there, and a media that mainly just wants to keep the contest exciting for as long as possible, I don’t expect the outcome to be predictable based on real facts or situations. So, I’m optimistic, but won’t at all be surprised if the Republicans find some way of winning once more. The outcome was never anything that you or I could predict in the first place.
It’s Their Last Chance
One final thought; if the Democrats do manage to lose, they should absolutely and without any further discussion be disbanded. Sell off all the assets at a fire sale and start with a new party with a new name and all new personnel. If I was light-hearted in any of the above discourse, I’m dead serious about this. If the Democrats lose in 2008, get rid of them for good. Forget about Hillary in 2012; That’s not even an issue at that point. If an opposition party can’t win after the appalling two terms of rule by Bush and Cheney, who with all probability will go down as the worst President and Vice President in history, it doesn’t deserve to exist.