by Victor Davis Hanson
This is becoming a very strange campaign.
On CNN recently both David Gergen and Ed Rollins echoed the current mantra that the “old” noble McCain is gone — and a “new” nastier one has emerged, largely because of his attacks on Ayers, perhaps his planned future ads on Wright, and a few unhinged people shouting at his campaign stops.
Recently Christopher Buckley endorsed Obama, likewise lamenting the loss of the old noble McCain. New York Times columnist David Brooks dubbed Palin a “cancer,” and he suggested that Obama’s instant recall of Niehbuhr sent a tingle up his leg as Obama once did to Chris Matthews as well.
A couple of thoughts: the George Bush, Sr./Willie Horton campaign was far tougher; so were the Bush 2000/2004 efforts. If anything, McCain’s campaign is subdued in comparison to what we’ve seen on both sides in past years. Indeed, McCain as a vicious campaigner is a complete fabrication, but, again, a brilliant subterfuge on the part of Team Obama that, in fact, has run, via appendages, the far more vicious race.
Obama and his surrogates have repeatedly engaged in racial politics (as Bill Clinton lamented when in fury he denounced the “race card”). When there was never evidence that McCain was using race as a wedge issue, it was clear Obama most surely was — preemptively, on at least two occasions, warning Americans he would soon be the victim of opposition racial stereotyping.
His surrogates like Biden and those in the Senate continue to link legitimate worries about Obama’s past with racism. Second, for about 3 months all we’ve heard are references to McCain’s age, with adjectives and phrases like confused, can’t remember any more, disturbed, lost his bearings, etc.
Moreover, so far, McCain supporters have not broken into Biden’s email, or accused Biden of being a Nazi, or accused anyone of not bearing one of their own children, or photo-shopped grotesque pictures of Obama on the Internet (as in the Atlantic magazine case). I don’t think deranged McCain supporters in Hollywood or television almost daily are quoted as damning Obama in unusually crude terms. Nor are white racist ministers calling McCain a ‘messiah’ or McCain operatives fraudulently swarming voter registration centers. And on and on.
Instead I think what we are seeing again is an interesting phenomenon of the old nice/now mean McCain. A great many moderates and conservatives are worn out and tired of Bush and Bush hatred, the European furor, serial charges of racism and illiberalism, and finally, in their weariness, think that Obama will, in a variety of ways, just make all the ickiness go away — as if he will make all of us be liked abroad and end racial and red/blue fighting at home. They should ask themselves whether Jimmy Carter restored American popularity with his human rights campaigns, praise of left-wing dictators, dialogue during the hostage crisis (cf. “The Great Satan”), boasts of no more inordinate fear of communism, etc., or whether Obama, in his Trinity/Acorn/Pfleger years, brought racial healing and understanding to Chicago.
Second, with Obama now with an 6-8 point lead, some in the DC/NY corridor these last three weeks figure it’s time now to jump or at least sort of jump, since the train they think is leaving the station and there might still be some space at the dinner table on the caboose. They also believe as intellectuals that the similarly astute Obamians may on occasion inspire, or admire them as the like-minded who cultivate the life of the mind — in contrast to the “cancer” Sarah Palin, who, with her husband Todd, could hardly discuss Proust with them or could offer little if any sophisticated table-talk other than the proper chokes on shotguns or optimum RPMs on snow-machines.
And third, a lot of moderates who would not vote for McCain liked him when he was a sophisticated, ironic maverick loser scoring points against the simplistic Bush and other cardboard-cut-out conservatives. Now he has the onus of winning a campaign and can’t be a noble, tragic loser; so it is easy to say he is no good since he is less than perfect. The sure iconoclastic loser has an attraction that the mainstream conservative possible winner does not.
Obama, as I have said ad nauseam, has brilliantly prepped the battlefield to such a degree that a Farrakhan endorsement or surrogates calling Palin a quasi-Nazi or a bimbo, or smearing McCain as near senile is irrelevant; yet one screamer in a crowd of tens of thousands is proof of McCain’s and Palin’s racism and hatred.
Again, most conservatives know this paradox, but for some being outraged, as the conservative voice of reason, at McCain’s supposed low road ensures a CNN spot, or some future rehabilitation during the expected Obama regnum of the next eight years. I think should I write a column suddenly taking the “high road”, praising Obama’s wit, taste in books, and metrosexuality, I would be dubbed principled rather than cynical, ‘even-handed’ rather than self-serving, and a maverick rather than toadish.
Yet for a self-acclaimed conservative to vote Obama would mean that higher taxes, larger government, more entitlements, more of a U.N.-centered foreign policy, dialogue with an Iran, less coal, oil, and nuclear energy production at home, more “oppression” studies and “reparations”, leftish Supreme Court judges, open borders (I could go on) were the truly conservative positions, or perhaps suddenly truly the ‘right’ positions. And as far as ethics go, in fact, a cursory review of the past Obama campaigns would reveal a ruthlessness never seen in any of McCain’s efforts. Obama’s record is far more left than McCain’s is far right. Obama the healer has proven to be the most partisan in the Senate, McCain one of the most bipartisan.
Yet to believe that truth would be — if we remember that scene in Tolkien’sThe Two Towers — to trust the grating harsh voice of Gandalf detailing the dangers of Saruman rather than the mellifluous charm of the latter who in soothing tones outlines his own victimhood.
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson