Why is the election so ugly right now? Why have McCain rallies recently seemed reminiscent of a Skrewdriver concert?
I gained some insight the other night while sitting on a dirty couch eating Mexican food, mainly because they’d failed to hold my reservation at the Liberal Elite club and I was reconnecting with the common people.
Being at a friend’s house often means that, in terms of food, entertainment, etc, you are more or less at their mercy. On this night, it was a mixed bag; tacos and the local Fox News affiliate. I’ll let you guess which one I am fonder of.
This evening, the station in question was talking to a political focus group. Because, apparently, politics are a matter of roughly the same concern as what shape of ketchup bottle consumers find more pleasing, and a handful of people grabbed from a mall in the valley will give sharp insight into which way America goes come November.
One man, almost stereotypically Southwestern looking and a few years north of middle age, started to surprise me. I think we need change, he was saying, and the last eight years have not worked out. I was interested since I would have laid money on him being a Republican. Then he continued that Obama is almost certainly a better choice, paused and added “but I’m a Republican, so I don’t know”.
I felt like breaking the TV.
Good thing I didn’t, since my friend, while generally mellow and agreeable, probably wouldn’t appreciate me doing it.
I found myself despising this guy, without even knowing him. And on some level, the feeling has not subsided. Was it unfair that I immediately branded him as some Phoenix yahoo that probably votes for Joe Arpaio, asks women in bars if he said they had a beautiful body would they hold it against him, and cheers when an Arab villain gets blown up in a movie? Possibly.
But I have less respect for him than for the brainwashed party hacks who will vote for anybody and everybody their party puts up, because this guy knows his nominee is a bad choice but is prepared to vote against what he acknowledges is a better choice simply because of arbitrary party affiliation.
Democrats are certainly not exempt from this; Keith Olbermann is an example of someone who will be in Obama’s camp no matter what he does, and (for once) it was hard to gainsay the right wing commentators who tore into him for hypocritically lauding Obama for the same basic stance on telecommunications that he attacks Bush for. Nor have I forgotten the Clinton years, when people who had called for the blood of Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood (the latter of whom was in some ways more liberal than the Clintons) made excuses for Bill’s behavior, which was as bad or worse.
But the basic GOP structure as it stands is about party loyalty in a way that no other political organization in America can boast. The level of reality-avoidance is staggering. If Cheney says the sky is purple on Wednesday and green on Thursday, legions of talk-radio listeners will be happy to parrot their favorite propagandists to explain that he was somehow right on both days. Obama suggesting it may have been blue is silly.
Party affiliation, to some extent, just comes down to a matter of clubs. I’ve met a few Democrats who realize this and I’m sure that many Republican higher-ups know it even if the party base doesn’t. And I think that the reason McCain rallies have gotten so ugly ties into this.
It’s not that there is no middle ground between Obama and McCain, it’s that the middle ground has all moved to Obama. McCain abandoned every position contrary to the Republican machine of today and made a VP pick so brazenly polarizing that anyone not already on board was going to take off running, and ensured that unless you are the party loyal, you simply will not vote Republican in November.
All we are seeing now is raw, un-moderated Republican base. And that base, with nobody a little calmer, a little wiser in the middle……Well, that base is mean. That base is white, angry, incurious, and loves a scapegoat.
And now we see McCain, who cannot court a rational voter any more than Jesse Jackson could court Jews in ’84. McCain cannot court an average, reasonably intelligent American who is worried about the proliferation of what she considers irresponsible financial practices in government; he can court a loud, abrasive mob who believes that Obama is a crypto-Muslim who plans to take their guns, burn their churches, and build a statue of Bill Ayers on the Capitol Mall.
Was this always the case? Well, maybe not. There is no big tent in the GOP anymore and the party can only appeal, at this point in time, to the die-hard partisan.
My fellow Arizona resident, famously right-wing LBJ opponent Barry Goldwater, said towards the end of his life that the Arizona Republican Party had stopped inviting him to meetings, adding “they think I’m practically a socialist.” The party cannot deal with someone who does not toe the line in all regards.
The primaries brought this out as candidates who had always been relatively moderate on social issues, such as Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani (and McCain), conveniently found themselves realizing in middle age that abortion and gay marriage were wrong and that Pat Robertson wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
This is simply not where most people are at, even in the deeply conservative American heartland. The rallies that will tarnish McCain’s legacy forever served no purpose, and I hope he can make peace with this is in his remaining years.