Sorting out the election with Jack Beatty and other lefties

Last night I attended a forum of sorts where Jack Beatty (whose work at NPR and The Atlantic you or may not be familiar with) was the featured speaker and the audience had a decidedly left-ward tilt.

The near consensus was that:

1) The real John McCain would have been a wonderful candidate but the guy who actually ran was a total douche.

2) If McCain had made Senator Joe Lieberman his vice presidential choice then maybe he would have won.

3) Sarah Palin is the worst woman since Eve. A ditz who probably calls Mumbai Bombay!

Let me translate:

1) The “Real McCain” is the Senator who backstabs, insults or generally pisses-off other Republicans, not the one who runs against a Democratic candidate for President of the United States (my prediction: McCain will switch parties in 2009 on the rationale that he is a man of principles and his former fellow Republicans aren’t).

2) Sure, two war-mongering male senators who both are close to the amazingly unpopular President George W. Bush would have been so more compelling to voters in Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina etc than the Yin-Yang ticket McCain actually fielded. Yes, that’s sarcasm. For cripes sake, McCain lost, arithmetically speaking, because he depressed turnout among white voters and captured a smaller share of white votes than Bush did in 2004. How on God’s green Earth would Lieberman have changed that?

3) There are three points to make here:

a) The obsession with the vice presidential pick highlights what a ridiculously weak candidate McCain was. He had virtually no constituency within his party and really no opponents outside of it. He’s a JAG of all JAGs. Popularity wise, Dukakis-Bentsen was a more balanced ticket than McCain-Palin.

b) There is a substantial core of Democratic voters who really truly deeply despise a vast segment of their not-so-fellow Americans. I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

c) Tim Pawlenty and other Republicans who are considering running in 2012 or 2016 are fools if they think they can gain anything by dumping on Governor Palin. Had she not been governor she would have been part of their base, something the people at last night’s forum are never, ever going to be.

Beatty had it that McCain won the Republican primaries running as a moderate, but then ran the general campaign as a conservative in order to win over the Republican base. But the reason he was able to win the primaries at all was the support he got from the Bush machine, the odd way the Republicans distribute national convention delegates and the fact that the anti-McCain wing of the party was split between the opportunistic/entrepreneurial Mitt Romney, the vain Fred Thompson and goofy Arkansas governor MIke Huckabee (whose campaign insists on sending me newsletters, alerts and updates I never asked for in the first place).

By contrast, Senator Barack Obama could run as a moderate because the Democrats were in 2008 where the Republicans were in 2000: Desperate to capture the White House. Like Obama in 2008, Bush was everything to everyone and probably would have snagged a nice majority of the popular vote had it not been for the DUI bombshell a couple of days before the election.

Like so many other left-leaning pundits and journalists Beatty accused McCain of having run a slash and burn campaign against Obama, comparable to the one George W. Bush used to derail McCain in 2000. That’s just nonsense. McCain’s silly campaign was weak, unfocused and cowardly. It made no meaningful effort to explain what Obama’s “the most liberal record in the Senate” actually meant, meaning it was McCain’s word against Obama’s. He whimped out completely by never bringing up Obama’s long and close relationship with racial lefty firebrand Reverend Wright. He never tried to tie Obama to the sleazocracy that is Chicago’s political life. His last-ditch campaign ad was a spot where Obama complimented McCain, as if that was going to convince voters that McCain was the lesser of two evils. Unsurprisingly, as soon as the election was over the McCain campaign tore into Palin with greater ferocity than it had used against Obama.

Beatty’s example of McCain’s nastiness was how some Republicans – not named John McCain, but still – refer to Obama by the Illinois senator’s full name, Barack Hussein Obama. I vaguely recall Massachusetts Democrats having called their state’s former governor Mitt Willard Romney a few thousand times, but I’m sure that was just for unobjectionable informational purposes, so that no one would mistakenly vote for, say, Mitt Charles Romney. It is all so different when Dems do it. Also, some woman also not named John McCain called an NPR show to reiterate that Obama is a Muslim, dang it. There you go. MCCain’s campaign was the nastiest ever, maybe other than Franco’s in 1936.

Beatty remarked that the Republicans did surprisingly well considering the environment in which the election took place (Bush, Obama, the economy etc) suggesting that the party still has a strong brand name in much of the country. But he also seemed to lean towards the theory that the last two election cycles combined form a realignment election, that is, an election where voters switch from one party to another for the foreseeable future. He made much mention of the William McKinley v. Bryan Jennings election that realigned American politics for decades in favor of the Republican party (the distribution of the popular vote in that election was somewhat similar to the one in this year’s election: 51-47 for McKinley v. 53-46 for Obama). Of course, as Beatty pointed out, Bush’s election strategist, Norwegian-American Karl Rove, tried to replicate the feat after Bush was elected president in 2000. Rove failed.

Beatty suggested that the failure was in part because of Katrina (the abysmal handling of which shattered the paltry inroads Bush had made by buying off black churches through the Faith based social services initiative he launched early during his first term) and the failed effort to legalize illegal aliens and expand legal immigration, efforts that Bush launched too late, in Beatty’s opinion. Truth is that Bush trial-ballooned both a guest-worker program with Mexico and amnesty in 2001 but saw both get shot down even before 9/11. 9/11 put bags of sands in the amnesty machinery but Bush nonetheless launched serious attempts at pushing amnesty through Congress in 2005 (when he believed himself to have political capital to spend, if you remember), in 2006 and most famously last year. Each time he was thwarted by voters who deluged Members of Congress with angry phone calls opposing any form of amnesty.

I think this year’s election was more of a trajectory election, with more or less the same pattern that we have seen since at least 1992, a slow but steady shift away from Republican party towards the Democratic party. This shift stems partly from the decline of the white vote and partly from changing social mores among whites (primarily in the form of delayed family formation, declining fertility rates, watered down religiosity among the main blood-line denominations (Catholics and mainline Protestants), erosion of rural life, residential densification in suburbs, increased household debt etc).

Circumstances that are unusual (the bungling Clinton Administration 1993-’94) or extreme (the 2001 Arab-Muslim terror attacks, this year’s financial meltdown) can cause spasms that run counter to or exaggerate the trajectory, but I don’t think they have fundamentally altered it. This “trajectory” is by no means monolithic, as we can tell from how ballot questions across the country fare. If the current economic turmoil coupled with various actions by the Obama Administration to reduce incarceration rates result in a new crime wave we’ll likely see a strong, pro-Republican reaction in the 2010 or 2012 elections. Judging from the full-on Democratic embrace of mass incarceration even in a state like Massachusetts I’m guessing that particular development isn’t going to happen.

Regardless of what kind of election we just witnessed, how will Obama preside over the nation? Will he favor reform over recovery, or recovery over reform, as Beatty posed the question, drawing an analogy to the FDR Administration. FDR chose reform, which likely contributed to a slow and painful recovery, but also paved the way for the heyday of what one might call progressive American liberalism, the 1960′s.

Beatty more or less scoffed at the recovery argument, noting that legislation that strengthened organized labor’s hand were said at the time to be sure to have dire consequences for the economy. From there the discussion veered – without pause, reflection or even a hint of irony – to the looming collapse of the U.S. automakers. I thought that was pretty funny.

It was also funny to hear the strong support for the unionization of service workers. If you live out in the suburbs, and the forum was held in one of Boston’s tree-lined, pre-Levittown suburban towns, you’ll notice that a very large percentage of households outsource basic chores like lawn mowing, leaf-raking and snow shoveling to Aztecs of questionable legal status (Aztecs armed with very noisy equipment, to boot). I’m not convinced that the suburbanites who are too sexy to grab a rake or push a mower are going to be all that happy if the Aztecs start demanding union rates.