With apologies to the Onion…
The late Frank Zappa, who had a nice line in satire, used to have a good quip about hydrogen. This is based on the scientific idea that hydrogen, as the most common element, was the basic building block of the universe. Frank begged to differ. In fact, he said, stupidity was more common than hydrogen. Much of his evidence for this derived from close observation of American politics. Joe the Plumber, how are you.
But the interminable presidential election that’s just taken place has thrown up a few surprises. And despite being a hardened cynic, there was one candidate who did catch my imagination, with his manifest integrity and iconoclastic ideas. Unfortunately, that was Ron Paul.
Ron, of course, wasn’t in contention last night. Nonetheless, I settled down last night with a glass of dark liquid, and the mute button and a Southern Culture On The Skids CD handy for any appearances by Dude Hitchens or the man now officially known at our place as Justin Fucking Webb. And the eventual winner, as we’d been expecting, was the Democrats’ man, Irish-American senator Barack O’Bama. (I have been asked what kind of a name Barack is. I can only speculate that it’s some local Offaly rendering of Fionnbarra.) The man is, to give him his due, quite an exceptional politician. He’s certainly one of the best communicators I’ve ever heard, better even than Bill Clinton. Forget about his speeches being full of Bono-style vacuities – O’Bama could read out the phone book and have an audience exclaiming “Yes we can!”
By contrast, the Republican candidate, Scots-Irish senator John McCain, started out hobbled. It isn’t just that he’s a poor speaker, although he is. He made up for that to a big extent by the media legend of him as a straight-talking maverick, when his Senatorial colleagues are more apt to describe him as a grandstander. But he was fatally crippled, not only by being about 120 years old and looking more like Young Mr Grace by the day – an impression only strengthened by the fraudulent old windbag Lieberman playing Lemmon to his Matthau – but by the terminal unpopularity of the Bush administration. He did make a valiant effort to run as the change candidate, but that’s not very easy when you’re running against a president who you’ve agreed with 90% of the time. O’Bama, on the other hand, had a useful platform in the primaries thanks to his decent position on Iraq, and then there was the banking crisis, which seemed to be the decisive factor in strengthening him while cutting the legs out from under McCain.
Then there were the running mates. O’Bama, sensitive to accusations of inexperience, played it safe by selecting veteran Irish-American senator Joe Finnegan Biden. McCain, though, threw us all a curveball with his pick of the almost beyond parody (but thank you, Tina Fey) Alaska governor Sarah Palin. I thought at the time this was a cunning ploy by McCain to corner those women pissed off by Hillary’s defeat. McCain, who seemed to have met Palin only twice before the announcement, may have thought so too. (I also whimsically thought McCain might have been making a pitch for the crucial Inuit vote, but it turns out Palin too is of Irish extraction. Hey, couldn’t we revitalise our construction industry building all those ancestral homes?) But her real value was in rallying conservative Republicans, who’d never really liked or trusted McCain. The imponderable is whether her undoubted value in rallying the wingnut vote was outweighed by her repelling effect on swing voters.
So Barack has his mandate. He also has, thanks to the nature of his campaign – its grassroots popular character, his defeat of the Clintonite party machine, in particular the extraordinary turnout of black voters – the burden of enormous expectations. Millions of people, especially minorities and youth, have made a huge emotional investment in him – much like the feminist investment in Hillary, only on a bigger scale. Yet, to paraphrase George W Bush, it may be that people are misoverestimating him. Remember that, whatever the McPalin talking points, he’s never been a radical but rather a model New Democrat perhaps a millimetre to the left of Hillary Clinton. We don’t yet have much of an idea of how he’ll deal with the economic crisis. Even if he is all they say, he’ll still have to deal with a Congress completely in hock to corporate lobbies. And although he’ll attract a great deal of international good will simply by virtue of not being Bush, his big foreign policy plus – his sensible line on Iraq – is at least balanced by his enthusiasm for sending even more troops to Afghanistan, not to mention surrounding himself with Cold War gargoyles like Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Well, we shall see. But to take the positive view for the time being, this is hugely significant in terms of race in American politics. The Republicans have been pushed back into the old Confederacy (and run unusually close in several southern states), while the much ballyhooed racist Democrat vote in Pennsylvania failed to materialise, and the black electorate is energised and has achieved a sense of its potential clout in society. That, in immediate terms, is to the good. What’s more, the Reps will have to realise that, thanks to W’s Unitary Executive Doctrine and his rewriting of constitutional law to the effect that whatever the president does is legal, the uppity Negro will probably be the most powerful president in US history. And how’s that for an unintended consequence?
Rud eile: As I chronicled a little while back, there has been quite a bit of fancy footwork from the Decent Left, whose natural preference for the most bellicose candidate available has been trumped in the last analysis by their desire to be on the winning side. So, after spending a months boosting McCain, we saw Oliver Kamm, Nick Cohen, and the Harry’s Place boys switch their allegiance to O’Bama without batting an eyelid. I am, however, pleased to report a lone holdout in the form of Marko Attila Hoare (part of this blog’s extended family) who has maintained his Balkan-centric support for McCain despite considerable domestic pressure. Sir, I salute your indefatigability!
Finally, let’s give the last word to Palin’s pornalike Lisa Ann, who actually seems better able to handle interviews than the original…