After two terms of George W. Bush, which only seemed like a scarred eternity, American voters (so the scenario went) would be pining for Democratic recapture of the White House and a return to competency as a novel change of pace. Let the reclamation begin. In January 2009, the former president would pack his saddlebags and head back to his Texas ranch, secure in the knowledge of having wrecked pretty much everything there was to wreck (Iraq, the dollar, the national debt, America’s prestige abroad, the rebuilding of New Orleans, the Endangered Species Act).
The president’s impromptu tap dance at the White House as he killed time waiting for a tardy Senator John McCain to arrive for his official endorsement as the Republican nominee was the perfect vaudeville symbol for the breezy, wanton disconnect of this administration from the consequences of its actions, the unsinkable cheer of its sunshine superman. Despite his dapper moves, Bush’s dragging approval numbers were proof that his old white magic had lost its spell, that his was not an aura in which it was healthy to bask. He shrivelled everything he touched. (So far 29 House Republicans have announced their retirement this cycle, one sure sign of blight.) In the electoral battle to succeed Bush, the positivity seemed lopsided: the Democrats had cornered the market on good vibrations and Pepsodent smiles, while the Republicans—apart from Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee—majored in grim tidings and sour dispositions. Poll after poll showed that Democrats were happy with their top candidates—Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama—while Republicans kept scanning the horizon for a hunk of salvation, measuring Fred Thompson for Ronald Reagan’s raiment until he went logy on them and had to be put out to graze. Even the second tier of Democratic contenders, from happy warrior Joe Biden to Dennis Kucinich, with his red-tressed, tongue-pierced, statuesque wife, seemed like a Happy Meal compared with furrowed Republican also-rans such as Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo. One by one the camera fodder dropped out of the race as the winnowing process culled the weak, the fanged, and the superfluous, the Republican field reduced until John McCain became the winner by default, the last bowling pin standing.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is fond of repeating the political maxim “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line,” and a halfhearted queue formed behind McCain’s candidacy despite the cranky impetuosities of a highly crafted nonconformity that grated on the Rush Limbaugh dittoheads, the Club for Growth tax-cut fanatics, and the nativists who wanted to Berlin Wall the border with Mexico to keep out the intruders causing Lou Dobbs such gastritis. Democrats had fallen in love with Obama, in heavy like with Hillary and Edwards. A born-again populist, Edwards functioned as a lubricant, a slick lining separating—and dampening the friction between—two competing iconographic surge forces (the first black presidential nominee versus the first female nominee) and drawing enough support on Daily Kos and other liberal-Dem Web sites to diffuse the animosity, competitive zeal, and gender-generational differences between the two camps.
Once Edwards dropped out of the race, however, the buffer zone was removed, direct contact replaced triangulation, and the Obama and Hillary supporters faced off like the Jets and the Sharks. The rancor was disproportionate in intensity and extravagant in invective, a fervor worthy of ancestral foes. Months-old grievances seethed and erupted as if they had been bubbling for centuries in a lake of bad blood. On the most egoistic plane, it seemed like a clash of entitlements, the messianics versus the menopausals. The Obama-ites exuded the confidence of those who feel that they embody the future and are the seed bearers of energies and new modalities too long smothered under the thick haunches of the tired, old, entrenched way of doing things.
The Hillarions felt a different imperative knocking at the gate of history, the long overdue prospect of the first woman taking the presidential oath of office. For them, Hillary’s time had come, she had paid her dues, she had been thoroughly vetted, she had survived hairdos that would have sunk lesser mortals, and she didn’t let a little thing like being loathed by nearly half of the country bum her out and clog her transmission. Not since Nixon had there been such a show of grinding perseverance in the teeth of adversity, and Nixon in a pantsuit was never going to be an easy sell contrasted with the powerful embroidery of Obama’s eloquence—his very emergence on the political scene seemed like a feat of levitation.
Hillary’s candidacy promised to make things better; Obama’s to make us better: outward improvement versus inward transformation. With Hillary, you would earn your merit badges; with Obama, your wings. Hillary’s candidacy was warmed-over meat loaf—comfort food for those too old or fearful to Dream.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Battle of the Blogs
In the most recent issue of Vanity Fair, James Wolcott explores “the vicious Clinton-versus-Obama rupture” in the liberal blogosphere, which has only widened the split amongst Democrats and, to this point, given John McCain a free pass. An excerpt: