John McCain, in a masterstroke, has chosen the perfect candidate that will complement his presidential ticket. Barack Obama with his transcendent quest of hope and change has been beaten. A couple weeks ago I would have predicted another nail-biter to be decided on election night by a couple teetering counties, but not anymore. It’s McCain/Palin in a walk. Here are the reasons.
An unlikely source recently pointed out that in nearly every general election for president, the candidate who more embodies the warrior has won. Brent Steenberger , on his trading website, recognized that Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush have all been characterized as the "manly" man, either younger, taller or swarthier, in the election and each have won. I would add that John Kerry's warrior persona, the decorated hero, necessarily had to be attacked and discredited for him to lose, and it was. This attraction to the fighter may be a universal trait for all cultures with the warrior held in high regard either on an overtly conscious level or a subconscious reptilian level. George W. Bush landing on the air deck in his flight suit, while silly in the extreme, achieved a lasting emotional impression of the warrior. And this phenomenon transcends gender: Margaret Thatcher, a woman, would have certainly been considered the more "manly" of the candidates in her day.
Located deep in our primitive mid brain the fight or flight response is sequestered, and it comes to the fore in times of great importance-- such as crisis, or an election. Such basic impulses of tribal preservation will short-circuit the higher cerebral functions every time. McCain is the consummate warrior whose life story exudes the ethos of sacrifice for the sake of comrades and country. Someone will be quick to ask why, then, did John McCain lose to the draft dodger Bush in the Republican primary of 2000? The warrior ethos principle only works in the general election. When the average voter gets down to the "nut cut" and is alone in that booth for the general election, a transformation takes place. The primaries are all about vague ideas of hope and transcendence; the general is about our very survival.
The interesting thing that the John McCain saga demonstrates is the self-replicating nature of the warrior ethos. McCain was the son and grandson of military academy-trained career warriors. He fought in a war that was unnecessary, ill-conceived, probably illegal, and escalated by a testosterone-addled Southerner (LBJ) not unlike the current Iraqi incursion. The Vietnam war produced the POW hero McCain who then called for and supported another unnecessary, ill-conceived, and probably illegal war. And now his career is about to be advanced because of the similarly poor prosecution of said war. What if the Vietnam war had never occurred, or at least had never been escalated? Answer: There would have been no POW McCain, no celebrity status, no Senate career, no presidential run. Lt. John McCain, who graduated in the bottom 2% of his class, would have finished out his career in Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, pickling his brain with gin and lathering his genitalia with trollops. McCain's career has been part and parcel the self-perpetuation of the warrior ethos.
Palin is tough: she shoots, skins, and eats caribou. She is disciplined: raising five kids with a major career. She lives her values: she has a Downs-syndrome baby that she refused to abort. She has the image of the ideal conservative mom: pretty, perky, feminine, Bible-toting, and fitting into the ideal conservative family. And she fits the stereotype of America as small-town America. It is Reagan's morning-in-America image.
Sarah Palin is a self-described pit bull who is unashamed in espousing her unblinking desire to take on the entrenched powers in Washington, stare done the Russians and tackle the daunting economic crises. This will be looked upon very favorably by right wing social conservatives who see her as the point person in the war against the liberal valueless society. Also, she will be viewed positively by white suburban and small town mothers, actual knowledge and experience are far less important. Palin's life story is compelling and this was slammed home to me a few days ago at work. Three female co-workers of mine, all mothers and one a grandmother, are very favorably inclined to Sarah Palin as vice-president, and I know for a fact that two of these women are quite liberal socially. One said, "I like that she's a hockey mom like me." When I asked how hockey moms are viewed versus soccer moms, she kidded that, well, soccer kids are derogatorily called "foot fairies" by the "brick headed" hockey kids. Warrior ethos, baby. Obama's soccer moms don't stand a chance. Another remarked, "Yeah, I think she [Palin] would kick ass, which is what they [whoever "they" is] all need." All three of these women would have "no problem" with her as vice-president or even president, as a half-smile erupted over each of their faces.
Furthermore, these arguments, if they can even be called arguments, were made midweek, before we knew anything substantive about Sarah Palin. This is a gut emotional reaction, and it's not just favorable-- it very favorable. Senator Obama, whether he likes it or not, has been cast as the pointy-headed east coast liberal, and this is a tough persona to shake. Joe Biden, while he has extensive experience in foreign policy, is equated with the entrenched Washington elite and is strongly associated with the status quo. This is my impression, but I'll stand by it and it's no wonder to me that Obama/Biden have lost their poll advantage to McCain/Palin.
Emotion versus Substance.
Issues are lost on the vast majority of voters, and elections are decided on the emotional power manifested in the candidate, not the substance of the issue. Voters are famous for voting against their own best interests time and time again. Let's take taxes as an example. The two candidates have presented tax revisions that are fairly equal for the great mass of taxpayers, not that there is any chance that either plan would pass unchanged into law, but let's consider them.
Obama's plan will lower income taxes for the great majority of taxpayers, but will raise taxes for those making over $200,000 and will raise total tax revenues. McCain's plan lowers taxes across the board and will likely lower total tax revenues paid into the treasury, notwithstanding Arthur Laffer's curve. A colleague of mine who is certainly in my tax bracket and hovers around the upper 5% income earners has voiced unconditional support for McCain because, "if Democrats get elected, they'll raise my taxes and my family will be living in a cardboard house." When I pointed out that, according to a rundown the two plans, our income taxes would likely be unchanged, she was unconvinced. I further argued that the wars started and mismanaged by the current Republican leadership are the main reason we are wallowing in such budget debt now, which is necessitating oppressive taxation in the future. No dice. The emotional trigger is that Democrats are associated with higher taxes, nobody wants to pay taxes, so there is no way someone in a higher bracket is going to vote for a Democrat-- even if there is substantively no difference to their bank account.
Even on issues that do represent significant differences between candidates, the voters will ignore their own preferences. Health care is persistently at the top of peoples' lists of probelms that need solving, and when presented various solutions, they usually prefer the universal health option over the fee-for-service employer based model. Regardless, voters do not vote in their best interests when it comes to president.
Another item: voters that I have come in contact with have offered an emotional defense in deference to Sarah Palin when issues of experience and education are broached. One colleague noted that she herself, like most of us on the medical staff, went to a state medical school which would not be considered "elite" by Obama's Harvard credentials, yet she considered herself an excellent physician, and furthermore, she knew one student in her med school class who was "an idiot" and "he came from Harvard." Palin's University of Idaho communications degree after attending four nameless schools in four years goes unquestioned because to do so would also put her own state school credentials in question. See, smart people can certainly come from state schools, so there, and it follows that Sarah Palin must be one of those smart people.
Along these same lines is an emotional anti-intellectual sentiment which is very alive in the hinterlands. In fact, staunch rural Bush acolytes who support the Iraq war, the global war on terror, guns, god and abortion restrictions, have all but blamed Bush's east coast education for the general lack of success in his presidency and certainly the specific sub par prosecution of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. McCain and Palin, neither with an advanced university degree, are viewed as change agents from the status quo, a concept which acts in their favor. Obama, after all, went to the same school as Bush, so why should we believe that he'll perform any better than Bush did? And Biden, the lawyer? Please. What we need is the PTA mom and the POW who know how to get things done, dammit. Never mind that the POW owns several houses whose net worth is hundreds of millions of dollars while the supposed "elitist snob" was raised by a single mother on food stamps. Substance matters not.
Sarah Palin stated in her interview with Charlie Gibson that her foreign policy credentials are burnished partly because (and I'm not making his up): "you can see Russia from Alaska." Now, I can see the moon from my kitchen, does that make me an astronaut? While Palin is technically correct that Russia's possession, Big Diomede island, is visible is from Alaska's Little Diomede island in the Baring Strait, the argument is just one drop of silliness in an entire ocean of silliness represented by the Charlie Gibson-Sarah Palin interview (everyone should watch it in it's entirety.) While Palin's argument is substantively bankrupt, the emotional power of some isolated US island staring down the Russian goliath is powerful.
Other emotional issues are guns (will Democrats really take away my guns?); abortion (overturning Roe vs. Wade would likely not prevent one abortion); gays (call it a civil union, equate it with marriage, and move on); God (doesn't even deserve a comment in this context.) Sure, Democrats may vote their emotions on these issues, but the Republican spin-meisters have been masterful in turning each and every one of these issues to their favor.
Attitude versus Veracity
Sarah Palin gave a rousing acceptance speech, spewing half-truths and lies off the tele-prompter; she never stopped smiling and won acclaim by every talking head on television. She showed that spunky attitude we all love! My take is that the media literati were so surprised that a rube governor from the Arctic could string together more than a few sentences that they immediately became enamored with the personality of Sarah Palin, forgetting the vile substance of her "speech", and that affection was quickly transferred to the viewers at home. In a tremendous tactic by the campaign, Palin was then sequestered behind the rhetoric, repeating talking points by day and learning more talking points by night, certainly under the tutelage of a Rovian lieutenant.
Obama and Biden have been back on their heels, unable and unwilling to attack for fear of being perceived uncouth. When Obama uttered a cliche about "lipstick on a pig" a few days later, referring to Republican policies, McCain himself came out and chivalrously demanded an apology for his lady running mate and the campaign ran an ad chastising Obama for the remark, even though Obama never mentioned Palin his entire speech in question and the always gracious Obama obviously had no ill intent. Senator McCain, on the View later in the week, disingenuously and categorically stated "Senator Obama always chooses his words carefully and I know what he meant." Really? We all knew McCain was full of shit, but the image-- the attitude-- of the paternal senior statesman standing up for his vulnerable female partner was priceless, and even the liberal leaning women on the View gave him a pass.
This is about the time most voters' eyes glaze over in apathy with the false determination that "ah, they're all the same; both sides lie to benefit themselves. It's all just BS." This could not be further from the truth, and has been promoted with Obama's relatively polite campaign contrasted with the festival of lies that is popularly known as the Republican Convention. The same was true with the 2000 Al Gore character assasination that went unanswered and the 2004 Swiftboating of John Kerry. Neither of these men showed enough deference to even defend themselves from salacious lies and the voters see this as either weakness, inattention or apathy, any of which is a death sentence for a candidate. The venom from the Democrats pales in comparison to that from the GOP. I believe Democratic voters hold their candidates to a higher standard as evidenced by the defeat of the less than credible, but certainly more venomous, Hillary Clinton.
I would have liked to hear Obama exert more attitude on the issue, and I think it would have served him well with voters. In other words, get pissed my man. What he should have said was, "Listen, I never engage in childish veiled name-calling, that's never been my style, and when the time comes that I call my opponent a pig, they'll definitely know it." Instead, Obama tried to take the high road and muttered some polite musings about the proper decorum of a campaign, or some such rubbish. Where's the warrior ethos? Where's the attitude? Doesn't he know that if the meek are going to inherit the earth, they're going to have to kick ass for it?
The other controversy this week was the McCain campaign advertisement stating that Barack Obama wants to teach explicit sex education to kindergartners. This was a canard first presented by the wild-eyed Alan Keyes in his failed US Senate race against Obama and is based on a bill Obama had presented and passed in the Illinois state senate regarding K-12 education. The bill required age-appropriate education and called for 5 and 6 year-olds to learn about inappropriate touching in order to protect them from sexual predators. What kind of a deviant would try to turn this into a campaign issue? Obama, instead of showing the proper outrage, let the controversy die a slow death-- but the damage is done in the eyes of the voters-- and I can just see his legion of stalwart campaign workers gasping for air as they march door to door with the image of their withering beacon of hope in tatters.
Again, I would have liked to hear Obama show a little more attitude. What he should have said was, "I don't know what kind of cretin could write a commercial like this, but I need to know who wrote this script. I am stating right now that I require the script writer and the narrator to take the stage with John McCain during a prime time televised event to explain the text of this ad. I will not debate Mr. McCain until I personally settle this matter in front of the public." This would immediately catch fire in the media and the raging inferno would live longer than the usual nanosecond spark of most issues, thus exposing the McCain campaign for the charlatans that they are. Every day, the media whores who live for the red meat of the debates would fear the loss of the ad revenue, and they would ask if it were true that the debate will be canceled, and every day Obama would steadfastly say, "Yes, unless and until the morons who wrote and recited this crap come forward and face me like men (or women) and take personal responsibility, I will not participate in this charade. How can John McCain consider this egregious lie honorable?"
Check and mate, motherfuckers.
Perhaps Democrats are biologically unable to project the necessary attitude, emotion and warrior ethos to win national elections, a conclusion presented by Jason Rosenhouse who happens to be an evolutionary biologist, so he should know. Republicans are hard-wired, as Sarah Palin characterized it, to take on these challenges without blinking. And blinklessly they will march out and dictate our foreign policy across the Baring Strait and bail out more banks and brokerages as our economy fragments further. Onward!
In my next post, I'll explain that while many may find this thesis disconcerting, a McCain/Palin administration would not be predictably better or worse than an Obama/Biden presidency. In as much as we can predict the defining events and issues of the next four years (we usually cannot), knowing a priori how a president will perform is nearly impossible (except, I would argue, in the case of Bush/Cheney, who were predictably an unmitigated disaster.)
Most of my current coterie of friends and co-workers view me as a knee-jerk Democrat and they may be surprised at some of the opinions I have in the follow-up piece. The fact is that I have cast ballots for both Republicans and Democrats in my nearly 30 years as a voter. My recent persona, however, is shaped by my rabid negative sentiment towards George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney, who I view as immensely stupid (or, in my more compassionate moments, demented ) and evil, respectively.
The current election has many of the same themes as previous ones, but it's always different this time. Even so, given the reasons outlined above, the Republicans are a lock to win it. If Bush/Cheney can win twice, then McCain/Palin, using the same tactics, will win walking away.
The only caveat: My cynical opinion that the media despise landslides and they will make every effort to have this election as close as possible. If the Republican ticket gains too much advantage, the media powers will likely attempt to even the field. In the end, however, the McCain/Palin juggernaut will prevail.