Yesterday, Salon today published their list of “the punditocry’s 7 biggest blunders of the 2008 election.”
Quickly, they were, as titled. 1. The cult of Sarah Palin. 2. Steven Schmidt is a genius. 3. the price at the pump will fuel the mood of voters. 4. Obama should have taken the money…and run. 5. Obama was guilty of hubris in trying to expand the map. 6. down ballet dems will try to flee Obama. 7. the Hillary Hold-outs will never come back;
Not a bad list, and I certainly applaud the gesture of calling out the pundits on their chronic myopia.
But Salon missed one very important one.
8. That this was/is Obama’s election to lose.
Back in August, this was a constant refrain of the most sober Gatekeepers: that Obama was clearly in the driver’s seat, but that to the extent that he was still new to most voters, and to the extent that we already knew (and presumably loved) John McCain, this election would end up being a referendum on Obama and his readiness to be president. If he proved himself ready, he would win. If not, he would lose.
I hated this meme at the time, and notwithstanding the likely insistence of its peddlers that they were/are right, I hate it now, mostly because it was based on an assumption that I, like many voters, did not share: namely, that John McCain had already passed the commander-in-chief test, and that the strength of his campaign rested on the idea that he was honorable, vetted, somewhat bi-partisan, and as such, would certainly suffice as a worthy alternative should Obama prove unready.
Now it should be said, I bow to no one in my excitement for the Obama candidacy, and the promise that an Obama Administration holds out. For reasons both practical, practicable, and symbolic, I see it as being a potentially transformative moment in the nation’s history, and one that couldn’t come at a better time, as it may provide the only possible antidote to the poison of the last eight years.
And yet as important as I believe it is that Obama win (and this is the point I wanted to scream at the screens back in August), I considered it equally important that John McCain lose, for reasons that no one seemed quite willing to articulate back then, but which are now commonly held: that he was a manifestly terrible candidate, not an honorable man in the least, and one who represented, both politically and attitudinally, a heartbreaking elaboration of all the worst aspects of the current administration; in short, a disaster for our nation and the world.
It was my feeling that this needed to be said, revealed, and recognized, so that what took place on election day might be viewed not only as a nation’s positive endorsement of what appears to be an exceptional individual, but also a clear and unmistakable repudiation of everything that McCain’s party – and he, as it turns out -- have come to stand for. In that light, the suggestion that the election was a referendum on Obama was not only unfair, undiscerning, and vaguely racist, it risked obscuring a good half of the message that the nation needs to send itself.
Fortunately, the pundits' suggestion was -- in addition to being quite unfair -- also quite wrong, as the last two months have shown. Obama’s campaign has been marked by the same consistency, deliberation, and equanimity that the unprejudiced eye must now recognize as the hallmark of the nominee’s character. There have been no surprises, good or bad. There has been no turning point, no threshold moment when everyone realized that he could assume the mantel. Just a steady recognition of who this man is, as evinced in the manner in which he routinely conducts himself.
It is McCain’s performance, rather, that seems to have been the real eye-opener. He is the one who has been proving himself…unfit. Unsuited. Unready. Unworthy. This has not only been obvious, it has been the driving narrative of campaign coverage, witness the steady drip of crestfallen conservative journalists, one by one conceding the moral, financial, and strategic bankruptcy of the McCain campaign. One need only feel their dejection, and see the polling numbers, which still find McCain with striking distance, to realize just how little he would have had to do to make this a much more competitive race; if he hadn’t picked Palin, if he had behaved with even a modicum of dignity; if he could have treated him opponent with the same; if he could merely have sufficed, the way all the wise heads assumed he would – relied on his biography, looked the part and let others do his dirty work -- then the forces of his party and American conservatism could surely have carried him, and all of us, to a real nail-biter
But no. By running such a grotesquely cynical, juvenile, and vile campaign, by appealing to what’s worst in us, by embracing everything that is wrong with his party and with American conservatism at the moment, McCain has made plain just how mistaken the pundits were, and that we should never approach an election with the idea that one candidate has to prove him- or herself while the other does not.
As inspiring as Obama has been, he has not been alone out there. This was John McCain’s election to lose, too, and by gum, it looks as if he has done it.