In the end this campaign could have been a clear-cut and honest choice between two world views, unapologetically expressed. I think with McCain his conservative/centrist views and 30-year public life were pretty well known to the public. Like it or not, the voters knew what they would get. But was the opposite true?
Obama did not need to hide in the dissimulation of “only restoring taxes to the Clinton-era rates,” but instead could have said candidly that he needed to tax those over (who knows?) about 20% more in income and FICA payroll taxes without caps (far, far higher in combination than the Clinton hikes) to pay for his vision of a larger government that would add $1 trillion in expenditures in what he felt were necessary expansions of critical services that only the government could provide.
He could have said he had no real apologies for Ayers, Wright, Moss, Pfleger, Khalidi, or any other of his earlier Chicago associates, inasmuch, however prone to exaggeration and bombast, they all shared a very skeptical and understandably conflicted view of the US and its policies and history, one that he hoped to convince the rest of America to share.
Yet regrettably, on any occasion that he has come close to honestly offering a different and unapologetic vision — bankrupting the coal industry as the tough, necessary price to ensure our wind and solar future, spreading the wealth around on the premise that half the wage earners really should pay no taxes and the 5% who now pay 60% really should pay far more (a redistributive goal impossible to meet, regrettably, by court action alone), or suggesting a need for racial reparations and more ‘oppression studies’, or that the surge would make, and had made, things worse, and that the Iraq business should have ended by March 2008, he almost immediately backtracked and sidestepped with the now accustomed “what I really meant,” “what I was trying to say”, “that was taken out of context,” or “not the (fill in the blanks) I used to know”.
The unfortunate result is twofold: one, we have little idea of what Obama, if elected, would do, and whether, with the reins of power in his hands, he will revert to the hard ideologue of 1996 to 2006, or remain the shrewd pragmatist and contortionist of 2007-8; and, two, the election became a referendum on the inanities of ‘hope and change’ or the proper distance from George Bush, but hardly a honest vote on whether the US should move in the direction of the European state, as some of Obama’s unguarded, and later modified, statements clearly suggested.
PS. What was troubling about some of the Obamacons’ endorsements were not their independence and free-thinking (that was all to the good), but the sudden rush near the end of the campaign cycle when there were no new newsworthy developments in the candidates’ respective positions (other than some disturbing revelations about Obama’s views on energy), and the polls were suggesting an Obama advantage, and thus a Uriah Heep-like opening to make adjustments accordingly.
There was also a startling inability or unwillingness for many to argue why the Obama tax code, or government expansion, or likely Supreme Court appointees, or changes in US foreign policy –t o the extent one can fathom Obama’s positions on FISA, NAFTA, campaign financing, guns, capital punishment, abortion, Iran, Iraq, drilling, nuclear power, coal, etc — were preferrable to McCain’s agenda. Instead again, we heard either more of the old ‘tired of Bush’, or ‘tired of McCain’, or ‘I hope Obama does not do what he sometimes has hinted he might’, but never a systematic and detailed argument of why Obama’s platform and world view, rather than ‘hope and change’ would be better for the United States. I was hoping that at least one conservative convert would admit that he thought the European model, at home and abroad, was preferrable to our own, and Obama was thus the candidate far more likely to emulate it. That would have principled and at least made sense.