Monday, November 10, 2008

US election: A cry for McCain

Nov 10, 2008

He had some good ideas, but the liberal media was against him

By Carl Skadian

SO, President Barack Hussein Obama. Has a nice ring to it, no?

The world watched transfixed when the United States voted in its most novel president to date: someone with a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya.

Now that the euphoric moment is over, however, it is time to take a real good look at what this portends.

I'll put my neck on the block and invite the wrath of those who are cheering Mr Obama's election, and say: We could do with a little more convincing.

Not that I think he's anything other than a reasonable choice, mind you. But I've got questions that refuse to go away.

I've watched every debate and read about most of the stump speeches, but I still can't put my finger on what exactly is meant by that single most attractive element of President-elect Obama's campaign: Change.

What change, exactly?

We know he means a change from Bushism, but what aspects of it? More importantly, what will the changes be?

Two months ago, the man just named as the new White House chief of staff, Mr Rahm Emanuel, promised voters: 'We're going to put in front of the American people the fundamental question of this election: Who's going to change the economic policies in Washington that resulted in a lower standard of living for

middle-class families?'

The word was there: 'Change.' But what it meant in concrete terms was anyone's guess.

Somewhere deep down, I wonder if we've been had, not by Mr Obama, but by a liberal media bias that all but blotted out Senator John McCain's campaign by swinging wildly to the left.

The editors of the Washington-based newspaper Politico, acknowledged as much recently in an opinion piece.

'Yes, in the closing weeks of this election, John McCain and Sarah Palin are getting hosed in the press, and at Politico,' wrote editors John F. Harris and Jim Vandehei. 'Most political journalists we know are centrists - instinctually sceptical of ideological zealotry - but with at least a mild liberal tilt to their thinking, particularly on social issues,' they continued.

And then, this bombshell: 'So what?'

So what? The media exhibits an extraordinary degree of bias, and that's ok? In an election everyone regards as among the most important for a long time?

In the week before the election, The Atlantic ran a cover story on Mr McCain, headlined 'Why War is his answer'. While the story itself was mostly fair, the headline and cover did the Republican candidate a disservice.

Almost every major American publication endorsed the Democratic candidate. There is nothing wrong with taking a stand, but there is something odd when the choice seems based more on what the current president did or didn't do, rather than on what Mr Obama will do.

The New York Times (NYT), for instance, listed a litany of what it termed Bush failures, but did not go into what Mr Obama would do to rectify these.

On the economy, for instance, it says that Mr Obama sees the need for 'far-reaching reforms', for example to the tax structure, to 'make it fairer'. He also wants to raise the minimum wage and tie it to inflation, and 'restore a climate in which workers are able to organise unions if they wish and expand educational opportunities'.

But how to do all these, exactly? And what will the trade-offs be? Instead of probing more deeply into what each claim means, the NYT seems to have been satisfied to take verbal promises - populist promises - at face value.

Another question I have came to mind when watching one of the last of Mr Obama's campaign appearances, in Cleveland. Reports say there were 80,000 people in attendance, to watch musician Bruce Springsteen in concert. As he neared the end of the set, The Boss, as he is known, introduced Mr Obama, who made a stirring 40-minute speech.

Listening to the master political orator, the thought zipped across my mind: How big a rock star does one have to be to have Mr Springsteen as your opening act?

Is that what all this has been about? A two-year-long rock concert?

I went back to Mr McCain to try and get an answer.

The Arizona senator is an engaging personality, with a firm stand on several things, even if that stand sometimes seems at odds with logic. What scored him poorly in my report card was his tendency to pander to the Republican base, the same folks who gave Mr Bush a leg-up when the going got tough. In effect, he abandoned his 'maverick' persona and adopted one that appealed more to Red State voters.

Still, there were signs of what could have been.

One episode, in particular, was quite telling. On election eve, both candidates appeared on one of America's most popular TV shows - Monday Night Football.

Asked at half-time what they would do to change sport, Mr Obama gave the answer that would please many Americans - he would change the system used to determine the college football champion, a topic of endless and impassioned debate among millions of fans each season.

Mr McCain went for the jugular: He would stamp out the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. This was a brave move as illegal drug use is a touchy subject in American sports. Taking it on would mean taking on all the major sports leagues, who would be unlikely to cooperate. Mr McCain bit the bullet, though, and spoke his mind.

The next time I checked in with Mr McCain, he was giving his concession speech.

It might have been the setting, but his speech was touching, gracious, and inclusive. It must have sat well with Americans, to see a proud war hero speak with obvious feeling about what it means to be part of the United States.

Someone once wrote that Mr McCain cherishes what the Japanese call a 'noble failure'.

In giving his speech in Arizona that night, he certainly lived up to it.

Was that the true McCain? A noble man with some good ideas, but who stumbled in the moment, after being broadsided by the media and was ill-advised by his handlers.

Sadly, I guess we'll never know.

[McCain didn't lose the election. Bush did. It didn't matter how good or how bad the republican candidate after Bush was. No republican could be elected after Bush, the wars, the economy.]

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