I began 2007 excited by the Presidential contest to come. The field for both parties was deep and varied. For the first time, I was rooting for a Republican. After watching the 2000 contest, I believed John McCain to be an individual with a history of personal sacrifice and unbending integrity: ingredients to be one of the great presidents. In the period following 9/11, I could not help but think that the war-hero senator would have been ideal to steer the western world into the New World Order. My impression of rookie Senator Barack Obama was less charitable. I found him to be all flash and no substance, as if he were giving clinics on stirring oration less than engaging in substantive policy debate.
However, in the course of my fascination/obsession with this presidential contest, my sentiments on both men have transformed immensely. As Senator Obama showed himself to be a visionary leader, speaking to my logical and emotional capacities, Senator McCain disturbed me with his seemingly insatiable desire to win-at-all-costs, blindly pandering to those whom he had so courageously held fast against in the past.
Throughout the course of the election, Sen. McCain has failed to articulate a cohesive, consistent message. Surveying the varied message themes of the campaign, a common thread begins to emerge: A promise to take care of current problems, which should get America back on track. The difficulty with this message is that it assumes that fixing the current state of things is all that is required to move forward; that a reversion to the Reagan Revolution will ensure the prosperity of America as if that period was its cultural, economic and social zenith. Indeed, in 2000, Sen. McCain tended to rely more on his compelling personal narrative than a political one, but even then his platform seemed more of his own devising than a pastiche of focus-group-tested planks designed to appease sections of the Republican base.
Conversely, Sen. Obama has developed a bold new paradigm for American progress. Rather than merely correcting the mistakes of the current administration, Sen. Obama seems genuinely intent on ushering in a New American Age. He has outlined a vision for an America that transcends petty dichotomies and has developed a heightened sense of purpose, focused on fulfilling the extraordinary promises ignored for the past 16 years in favor of political posturing and rigid ideological adherence. Sen. Obama reminds us that America’s greatest moments are not those when it reacted appropriately in the face of devastation, but when it forged a new way forward.
Irrespective of the fact that this decision is always made in the most animated of political climates, Vice-Presidential selection should never be a heavily political decision. While campaign promises are reiterated over and over, they can be discarded on the floor of the White House when they become inconvenient or untenable. A Vice-President is a decision that, except in very extreme circumstances, you are stuck with. In Senator Biden, Sen. Obama chose someone to provide much needed foreign policy muscle, both on the campaign trail and in the White House. VP picks don’t get much more straightforward than Sen. Biden.
Sen. McCain, however, made an inappropriate and, by most accounts, impulsive selection in Governor Sarah Palin. Setting aside any debate about her individual abilities, Gov. Palin was a cynical and purely political choice, designed to assure a drifting Republican base and scoop up any discontented Clinton voters making their choice on exclusively superficial grounds. Far and away the most myopic decision for any campaign in either party, the impulsive nature of this choice has backfired in spectacular fashion, locking in the base of the party while repelling independent voters that Sen. McCain was once uniquely positioned to deliver. To boot, the McCain team has spent most of the campaign treating Gov. Palin more like a decorative feature of the campaign rather than a genuine candidate for the second-highest office in the land.
The juxtaposition of temperament between these two candidates, especially in the last two months, has been stark.
While at his best when passionately sermonizing, Sen. Obama has displayed a capacity to be calm and measured when challenged, his confidence shining through in either case. Sen. Obama makes every effort to display his extraordinary leadership qualities and communicates with a conviction and sincerity that is difficult to come across in US politics. Since his convention address, his policies and priorities have been clear and consistent, yielding significant dividends.
In his speeches, Sen. McCain attempts to be reassuring and empathetic, but the open-ended nature of his attacks on Sen. Obama are the only component that manage to attract attention. By engaging in a series of Hail Mary campaign plays, bizarre debate behavior and a seemingly intentional effort to completely change, rather than hone, his campaign narratives, Sen. McCain has managed to undermine his previously well-earned reputation as an experienced, straight-talking candidate with the judgment to lead. His conduct during the initial days of the economic crisis could be charitably described as erratic. Like a desperate car salesman haggling at you rather than with you, his campaign has imploded into an embarrassing spectacle that betrays the ethos of the John McCain I came to admire in 2000.
As the election enters its final five days, Sen. McCain is faced with an unfavorable electoral map suggesting that this election will not be the nail-biting experience of 2000 or 2004. On the long road down, Sen. McCain’s campaign has devolved into a parody of itself. Attacks on Sen. Obama have become more outlandish, his policy communications have been reduced to gimmicks and infighting within his campaign is beginning to take its toll as staff turn their back on their central mission.
Even Joe the Plumber has left his side.
Chris Henderson is a political director based in Western Canada, where he spends his time holding democracy together. He is a former Chief-of-Staff to the President of Daveberta. He can be reached through his agent, the President of Daveberta.