Of course, this is a Democratic year. The public is tired of George Bush and eight years of an incumbent administration. War, Wall Street, and the absence of a conservative Reagan-like charismatic figure should make it easy for a Democrat to win the presidency. After a nearly miraculous McCain surge in September, following the Republican Convention and Palin nomination, the Republicans are once again floundering — and a sense of utter despair has now set in among conservatives.
Wall Street melted down. The New York–Washington media elite went ballistic over vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The Alaskan mom of five in near suicidal fashion was ordered by the campaign to put her head in the Charlie Gibson-Katie Couric guillotine. A trailing McCain — while sober and workmanlike in the first two debates — failed to close the ring and hammer the agile Obama as a charismatic charlatan.
The result is that with not much more than three weeks left in the campaign, a number of conservatives have all but accepted (if a few not eager for) an Obama victory. Others are angry at the McCain campaign’s supposed reluctance to go after Obama’s hyper-liberal, hyper-partisan Senate record, his dubious Chicago coterie, his serial flip-flops, and his inexperience. And how, most wonder, can McCain regain the lead lost three weeks ago, when the media has given up any pretense of disinterested coverage, time is growing ever more short, prominent conservatives such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer, David Brooks, and Kathleen Parker have suggested Sarah Palin would be unfit to assume the presidency, and former Romney supporters are raising again their unease with the once again too moderate-sounding McCain?
Yet for all the gloom, there are several reasons why this race is by no means over.
First, it is not clear that panic, hysteria, and the “Great Depression” will continue to be the headlines and lead-ins each night for the next three weeks. We may be soon reaching a bottom in the stock market. Sometime in the next few days, wiser investors should see that trillions of global dollars are now piling up and could begin to prime the economy — and that still valuable stocks, for a brief period, are up for sale at once-in-a-lifetime bargains. With the sudden collapse of oil prices, the West has been given a staggering reprieve of hundreds of billions of dollars in savings on its imported fuel bills. That economy too will result in more liquidity at home. Given the shameless behavior of Wall Street, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it will be unlikely that we will revert soon to the Wild West speculation that had for the last six years transformed the once pedestrian notion of seeing a house as a home and refashioned it into either a politically correct entitlement or a Las Vegas poker chip to be thrown down on the roulette table.
It is still possible that, by the week before the election, there will be a sense of respite rather than continued anger and panic — and any day in which hysteria is not the topic of the day benefits McCain. In this regard, McCain must keep reminding in simple fashion that Freddie and Fannie were catalysts that drew in the Wall Street sharks: crooked officials cooked the books to get mega-bonuses; they got away with their crimes by lavishing money on mostly Democratic legislators (including Obama); and hand-in-glove they all covered — and still are covering — their tracks under a reprehensible politically correct cynicism.
Iraq is no longer the contentious issue of the primaries where Democratic candidates outdid each other in predicting failure, but mirabile dictu turning out to be a clear American victory. No one can now believe that withdrawal by March 2008, as Sen. Obama once advocated, would have been anything but an utter calamity. McCain needs to continue to emphasize the dire consequences of accepting such a defeat. The military is not broken, but now the most experienced, battle-hardened force in the world. Iraq is not, as Joe Biden once demanded, trisected into feuding fiefdoms, but an emerging consensual state. The more Iraq is out of the news, the more the growing public acceptance that it is becoming a success. McCain should continue to ask: Did Americans want victory in November 2008 or defeat in March 2008?
The Ayers controversy is cited by the in-the-tank media as signs of McCain’s desperation. Perhaps. But amid the tsk-tsking, there are also certain deer-in-the-headlights moments among Obama’s handlers.
Why? There are simply too many ACORNs, Ayers, Khalidis, Pflegers, Wrights, et al. not to suggest a pattern unbecoming of a future President of the United States. Obama’s past statements about his relationship with Ayers (and others) simply cannot be reconciled with the factual circumstances of their long association. McCain must focus on Ayers between 2001–2005. Then in the climate of national worry following 9/11, Ayers was on recent record as lamenting that he had not set off enough bombs, and yet until 2005 still in contact with Obama — about what and why, voters might wish to know.
When Iraq and Wall Street were off the front page, Obama went moribund in the last months of the Democratic primary. Why? Not because of racism, or even public weariness with Obama’s hope and change fluff, or his flip-flops, or occasional striking ignorance about basic history and geography. He finally began to wear on the public — as he continues to when events of the day do not smother the attention of the voter — for two reasons.
First, the public tires of all the media slant, the celebrity rants, and the shills in popular culture, that in concert hourly berate, beg, threaten, and ridicule voters on behalf of Obama. We are supposed to accept Obama’s apotheosis, replete with Latinate seal, Greek columns, biblical injunctions about the seas and atmosphere, and prophesies that he is The One whom we have been waiting for. The creepy effect of ordering us to accept our own salvation becomes cumulative. So there is a quiet unease among the voters, as there always is in America, when someone finger-points and lectures them what they must do — or else!
Second, for all the two years of nonstop campaigning, Obama somehow still remains an unknown — and for apparently good reason. He has almost no record in the Senate to speak of — other than one as America’s most predictably partisan and liberal Senator. What is known of his Chicago associates is not reassuring, and so the only defense can be silence rather than exegesis. No one knows anything of his record at Columbia University, how he got into Harvard Law School, or what he was doing until he reached Harvard, or exactly what he did as a community organizer in Chicago, or how a person with no record of legal scholarship was about to be offered tenure at the Chicago Law School. Each doubt in and of itself is of little import, but again in aggregate even the generalities make voters uneasy — especially when they hear of fraud among voter registration drives, swarming radio stations to stifle those critical of Obama, and threatened lawsuits to yank pro-McCain ads.
The odds always were against McCain. And the outcome in these last few days may be seem contingent in large part on breaking news beyond the candidates’ control. Yet McCain still has it within his own power to win the election. Obama’s view of America is mostly rosy emulation of the European Union; McCain’s is to restore fiscal sanity, keep our defenses strong, and ensure that American exceptionalism remains a fact, rather than descends into an empty slogan. In that context, it makes no sense to sneer at McCain for being behind, but a great deal to hope that he isn’t.
– NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.