In the final hours of this marathon election, all the polls are predicting an Obama victory. Whether this outcome is confirmed or not, the Republican party is in need of some serious soul-searching.
Once again, as in 2000 and 2004, the Republicans are seeking to win the election on the basis of a highly cynical strategy fueled by negativity. In the words of Joe Biden, they are taking the lowest road to the highest office in the land.
Instead of damaging Obama’s reputation, the McCain/Palin ticket has managed to damage its own. With Palin running around the country talking of a “real America” that apparently exists only in the rural areas away from the “elitist” cities, one can only wonder why the party would intentionally want to narrow its base in this manner.
Are the Republicans now confining themselves to becoming solely the party of sparsely populated farms, villages, and little suburbs? Seems foolish, to say the least.
Palin has done more than alienate urban dwellers, of course. She has also helped run a platform against intellectual curiosity. She is trying to tell voters who don’t care and don’t engage that this is the best way to be. It’s OK not to read magazines or newspapers. It’s OK not to be interested in foreign affairs.
This approach can work only in a limited manner.
Every person grapples with his or her own positive and negative sides. A politician can score cheap points by appealing to the latter, but lasting political victory goes to those like Robert Kennedy, who said: “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?'”
There is a reason why we remember Kennedy’s words today, and I somehow doubt that Palin’s own soundbytes will inspire the generations to come.
Meanwhile, personal attacks have always been the bread and butter of US elections. George Bush Senior’s Willie Horton tactics against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election are notorious. And who can forget Lloyd Bentsen’s cruel put-down of Dan Quayle with the infamous “you’re no Jack Kennedy” line?
The audacity of Bush and Cheney’s Swift boat attacks in 2004, with two draft dodgers shamelessly calling into question Kerry’s military service, also remain fresh in the memory. Nonetheless, many observers agree that McCain and Palin have taken the art of personal attacks to a new low.
The Bill Ayers debacle reached its peak with the infamous robo-calls that practically called Obama a terrorist for sitting on a respectable education board with a man who committed acts of terrorism when Obama was 8 years old.
You do have to hand it to the McCain team for their oddly subtle touch. They didn’t want to go out and call Obama a terrorist just because Obama’s father was Muslim. Even with Muslims and Arabs being targets of various forms of discrimination, this would have been a bit much. So they chose a roundabout approach.
At this point, an unexpected hero emerged in the GOP’s own Colin Powell. He was the only politician to come out and attack the very dangerous tone of the discussion surrounding Obama’s non-existent Muslim faith.
Powell’s interview on Meet the Press stands as a true “Profile in Courage,” the courage to say the truth that nobody dares to utter. It’s worth to quote a part of Colin Powell’s extraordinary statement in this regard:
“I’m also troubled by – not what Senator McCain says – but what members of the Party say, and it is permitted to be said: such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim. He’s a Christian; has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, “What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The answer’s “No, that’s not America.” Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be President? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own Party drop the suggestion he’s Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America…
Powell may have been inspired to say those things by McCain’s ignominious defense of Obama against the horrid charge of being a *gasp* ARAB. When that woman stood up and called Obama an Arab, McCain leapt gallantly to his defense, saying “No Ma’am, he’s not an Arab, he’s a decent family man,” as if being Arab automatically precludes being a decent person with family values.
There was the attempt last week to claim that Obama’s friendship with a respected Palestinian academic was a matter of national security, and the scary image of Obama as a Muslim Antichrist – propagated amongst evangelical communities by surrogates of the Republican party.
The list goes on and on.
Is all of the above worth a chance at victory? What kind of an election win would McCain’s be, if he somehow managed to pull a surprise win right now? At what cost can one come to power, without making the whole exercise pointless and counterproductive?
An election success based on racism and other forms of bigotry is no success at all. Even if McCain wins, the damage to the Republican party will live on, eating away at its very soul.
When one considers Republican Colin Powell’s words and the apparent Republican disdain of the urban populations, one can easily imagine a party split in half, if not worse.
The sad irony of it all is that it did not need to be that way. McCain chose to jettison his character and reputation for the Karl Rove cookbook of electoral success. Had he focused on a positive message of bi-partisanship, and on displaying the character of the fair and honest man that his friends proclaim him to be, then he may well have been leading in the polls right now.
Had McCain opted to choose a running mate on the basis of principle and experience, as opposed to a cynical choice based on the need to appeal to the lowest possible denominator, things may have been different.
Instead, he faces the prospect of a historic defeat for a party that is moving to the outer fringes of political decency.
Nonetheless, he may still win and, even if he does, my point remains. A victory founded on fear and very thinly veiled racism is still likely to accelerate the decline of the Republican party as whole.