Here we are, rockin’ and rollin’ on the roller coaster ride of another presidential campaign. Up and down, rippin’ around the corners.
At one moment, it looked like a straight-ahead, smooth road to the White House for Barack Obama. After all, the Republicans had been running all branches of the government since 2001 and everything they’d done had turned out wrong. Hillary did her part for Obama. Bill did too.
Focus on the Family organized prayers for a deluge on the night of Obama’s acceptance speech in the open air stadium. But there were clear skies. As if God had finally switched sides (or Focus had one of their prayer glitches and actually called for Texas, a Republican stronghold, to be flooded by mistake.) Barack appeared and seemed worthy of the satire that “The Daily Show” did of him as the Lion King.
Then, suddenly—They Were Back.
They had a pit bull wearing lipstick (her own description). She became the new number one celebrity. From the PTA to the governor’s mansion to the podium at the Republican National Convention. A moose-huntin’, boot-wearin’, ex-beauty queen mom from the backwoods. Davy Crockett with cleavage and five chillun.
There is no doubt about it, she is not an elitist. She is an authentic Wal-Mart shopper. When she was mayor, she helped transform her hometown of Wasilla from the crystal meth capital of Alaska into the crystal meth capital of Alaska with a strip mall of big-box stores.
John McCain and the Republican noise machine then proceeded to run on “Change!” They proceeded to run against the Washington the Republicans had been in charge of for the last seven years. As the real reformers! Against special interests and lobbyists! (Never mind that almost all of the people running
McCain’s campaign are lobbyists. That the head of his transition team—should he win—is a lobbyist.)
McCain and Palin are running for Victory in Iraq. Never mind that Bush, Maliki, and General Petraeus have all already signed off on what is essentially Obama’s plan for phased withdrawal of US combat forces over, roughly speaking, 18 months. (Oh, you didn’t know that? You can’t expect the media to make a big deal out of something so minor.)
It was like McDonald’s advertising itself as the cure for America’s epidemic of obesity. They didn’t even bother to change management or the menu. The scary part was that it was working. It should not have been.
After all, we had just been through the Bush years. It was assumed that we had finally tired of a guy who said we were doing a good job in New Orleans during Katrina, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda, that the Mission Was Accomplished, that Americans do not torture people, that his tax cuts would produce “good jobs” and balance the budget, that the economy was sound. And that we didn’t want another guy like him.
It was assumed that we had finally awakened to reality. That we could tell the difference between ridiculous assertions (spin, distortion, lies, delusions, TV-induced wackiness) and reality. It was assumed that even die hard Republicans were tired of it. That they could read their broker’s statements, do the numbers and see that their IRAs and Keoghs and trust funds were in trouble. That the Reagan ex-Democrats could see their $28-an-hour-plus-health-care-and-pension jobs disappearing, and that if there were any jobs to replace them, they were $9-an-hour-no-benefits-take-this-urine test-and-polygraph-and-swear-that-you-put-the-company-first jobs. That the hoo-rah, hoo-rah militarists would have noticed that their clowns didn’t know how to pick an enemy or run a war. That even (some) of the racists had been appalled by “Heckuva Job” Brownie. And noticed that not only had the levees not been fixed, even the trash in the streets of New Orleans hadn’t been picked up yet.
It was a bad assumption.
Suddenly, the election looked like a dead heat. With the race factor lurking in the background—no one is able to tell how many people will, when they go into the booth, say they just can’t vote for a black person—it seemed possible that McCain could win. This campaign—America’s future—is a contest between delusion and reality.
Selling delusions has its advantages. You’re free to say whatever you think consumers are most likely to buy. You are unconstrained by facts, reason, history, contradictions and cognitive dissonance.
Selling reality is comparatively much more difficult. Think of it as a nutritionist trying to compete with McDonalds. Obama is pretty good at it. He dresses it up as Change—which we do need—and Hope, and tries not to be too specific. It had worked very well for him, but after the Republican National Convention, his campaign seemed to have stalled.
Then reality stepped in. Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. The market dove 500 points in one day. AIG needed to be bailed out. While McCain was saying the economy was basically sound. At last, the Democrats came out swinging. It’s not over.
Unless it is. But it probably isn’t. The Republicans will fight back. There will be a barrage of pundits and advertisements blaming the Democrats and claiming the Mavericks were always against the corrupt Wall Street Bankers. And there are lots more things that can happen between now and the first Tuesday in November. Gaffes, terrorist attacks, more bad news in the market, scandals. Who knows what.
Here’s my prediction. If reality stays in the spotlight, Obama will win.
If reality calms down and steps back, delusion will seize the opportunity.
Then McCain can win. Proving that not only can you put lipstick on a pig, you can get America to marry it.