If recent polling data is any suggestion of what may occur on election day, then I would be forced to say that the United States is undergoing a massive political transformation. With no toss-up states, Obama has a 353-185 lead in the electoral college. In order to lose, the Obama-Biden ticket would have to drop at least one state it currently has a greater than 5% lead in as well as losing every other state still up for grabs. A supermajority is becoming an increased possibility in the Senate, with at least six to nine pickups looking likely for the Democratic party. Democrats are also looking at a possible fifty-seat swing of power in the House, with between twenty and twenty-five Republican seats being strongly contested.
Eight years of neo-conservativism in the White House is demonstrably a complete failure. From the disastrous war in Iraq to, what some writers have dubbed, an “economic 9/11” on Wall Street, Americans have started to tap into their inner empiricist. You don’t need a political science degree to know American legitimacy is in the basement and you don’t need an M.B.A to know that it’s bad when the Dow Jones drops 777 points in one day. These simple facts are being translated into very real polling data, like the one conducted earlier this week by CNN/Time/ORC, which cataloged the lowest approval ratings for the President (22%) and the Congress (15%) in the history of the poll.
The last time that a Presidential approval rating was this bad, Harry S Truman was running the country into the ground during the Korean War in 1952. Should it really be surprising that when the conservative vision of a 1950’s utopia was replicated, it failed just like it did the first time? It’s called “neo-conservativism” for a reason – it’s been tried before. A socially reactionary agenda coupled with an imperialist war abroad – am I talking about Korea and the misogynist 1950’s or Iraq and the homophobic 2000’s? It’s gotten hard to tell. Hopefully, Americans have realized that we cannot keep riding the wave of power that filled the United States after World War II, demanding this and that of the world. Our hegemonic glee has spread to every aspect of American society, whether we’re waving flags or gambling billions on absurdly dangerous derivatives or engaging in cowboy diplomacy, and it has finally – finally – come back to bite us.
Before you say that I’m acting more anti-American than an ex-patriot living in Paris, let me say this: It’s a good thing. People need to see policy options fail before they can truly move past them. From Truman to Nixon to Ford to Reagan to Bush to Bush, the last forty-eight years have been dominated by conservative presidencies and congresses. In that time, the United States has been engaged in at least eight major military conflicts including Beirut, Nicaragua, and Panama. We’ve grown highly dependent on foreign energy sources, importing the highest rate of goods in the world without matching exports. We’ve been become self-obsessed and provincial. Saying that someone is from another country is almost universally a mild-mannered insult, sparing only Britain. We proposed an amendment to ban gay marriage, while fighting two wars abroad. Unilateral ‘democracy-building’ is a Pyrrhic victory at best, a devastating loss at worst. We’ve seen it happen for a long time. People seem to be aware that it doesn’t work.
I think – maybe – things are finally going to change. The stunt-driven nature of the McCain campaign has put the desperation of the Republican party on national display, as the remnants of its philosophies are torn to the ground. What does social conservatism and American exceptionalism get you? An experienced senator, whose war-obsessed mind has made him confrontational and unpredictable, and a young, attractive robot, who is well programmed by the ideals of conservative thought and a blind ambition for power. What does the alternative provide? An inexperienced senator, who is a former-editor of the Harvard Law Review, a former law professor from the University of Chicago, and an eloquent spokesman of pragmatic politics. His running mate is a long-time senator, who is a populist orator with perhaps the most definitive foreign policy record of his generation.
Is Senator Barack Obama naive? Maybe. But, how could he not be – the word ‘experience’ is tantamount to saying that you were part of the ‘same administration’ that has held the majority of power since World War II. I’m not sure that ‘experience’ is automatically a qualification any more. There has to be foresight to accompany that experience, because otherwise you are always looking to the past, to history. People say that history is doomed to repeat itself if you forget it, but that’s not always accurate. It should be – history is doomed to repeat itself, if you only use the knowledge of it to justify standing still. The only way that populations can solve problems is by constantly solving them – the conservative paradigm stopped solving problems and it just created more. It seemed like we could hold that same stance, riding the legitimacy explosion of the United Stated coming out of World War II. We saved the world from evil. We got to define all of the institutions of the global era – the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, everything.
But then, globalization happened. All the talk of cosmopolitanism coupled with the “I vote fiscally conservative” rhetoric couldn’t hack it anymore. The global marketplace reared its head and started snapping back at American power. We probably could have maintained it, if we hadn’t acted so poorly with the reins of global governance. But, we shouldn’t be too surprised about it, as we’re just part of a long chain of countries who fell from dominance over the last few thousand years. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Mongols, the Chinese, the British, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Russians. They’ve all fallen – but they were never defined by the fall. They’ve always been defined by how they got back up. So, the question is – how will America get back up?
If Senator McCain is elected, our fate may well be decided negatively. Falling from power while kicking and screaming, clawing at the world by threatening everyone he meets, will only ensure that we will have more work to do later. McCain’s positions during the debate on Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Russia would have us at the brink of war all over the world. He still thinks that America can either yell at or ignore every other country on the planet. He hasn’t learned from his mistakes. Just look at his answer to Jim Lehrer’s question, “What have you learned from the Iraq War?” McCain answered as if he was reenacting a White House press conference during Vietnam. “We are winning!” “The surge worked!” “You don’t understand the difference between tactics and strategy!” Was that Robert McNamara or Richard Nixon talking? McCain’s stance on the economy was not much better. He acted like the Congress was a naughty teenager who stole daddy’s credit card and he was going “cut spending”/not give any more allowance until Billy worked off the debt. Meanwhile, the opportunity costs of Iraq are raging into the trillions. Did anyone else notice that McCain didn’t really understand the difference between millions and billions during the first debate? He kept deriding Obama for authorizing $813 million dollars on social welfare programs, when Obama pointed out the billions of dollars being pumped into Iraq each month. It’s a “B” John, like in the phrase ” ‘B’ecause you continue to support American exceptionalism, I will continue to campaign against you.”
America needs to give Barack Obama the chance to do otherwise. I know that he is not a lifetime politician and I know he doesn’t have the intense swagger of a military man, but the best person you can put into power in our time of shifting paradigms, is someone pragmatic and uplifting. Look at FDR and Lincoln and Wilson. Obama knows it – he tried to bring it up on a few occasions during the first debate. He drew the obvious distinction between himself and his opponent; McCain was the old imperialist, Obama was the new international lawyer. Republicans have derided Obama for being a celebrity. It’s funny, because Americans are showing, for a change, that they don’t just love people who are famous for being famous – they are genuinely interested in a man who has valuable ideas. That is the greatest paradigm shift that any population can have. Hopefully, that will be the American paradigm shift of the 21st century.