Political Hay

The Bitter End?

A doleful summing-up.

By 11.3.08

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TAMPA -- The time left for the presidential race to take final shape has diminished from months to weeks to days, now to hours. Those who say the stars will align before tomorrow for the non-socialist, non-pacifist candidate in the race sound increasingly Pollyannaish and out of touch.

American politics is ever full of surprises. So the old fighter jock might still pull it out. Stranger things have happened. But it would take a while to think of one. Supporters of the conservative (relatively) alternative in this campaign are beginning to look a little desperate waving their frayed copies of the "Dewey Beats Truman" headline and nattering on about the "Bradley effect."

McCain is well behind in the national polls and trailing in a number of states W won in '04. He's even two to four points behind in red Florida (Florida!), without which state and its 27 electoral votes McCain has about as much chance of winning the presidency as I have of hitting a Scot Kazmir fastball (I'm 66 and wear trifocals). McCain boosters and campaign officials insist the business is "within the margin of error" in Florida. But ever since the economy tanked Obama has been on the up side of that margin in almost every poll in a state where McCain led by 10 points in the summer.

The other frail reed McCain supporters cling to is the hope that the polls are just wrong. Their case goes in this wise: When designing their samples, pollsters may be giving undue weight to the large numbers of new voters the Democrats have succeeded in registering, an undetermined but quite possibly large fraction of whom won't show up to vote tomorrow.

OK, there may be something to this. It's a more difficult business these days designing poll samples than it has been in the simpler past. And if the sample doesn't represent the universe being measured, the poll is worthless. There's been quite a variation in numbers arrived at in many of the polls taken during this race. Unfortunately for the McCain side, the variation has been mostly in how big Obama's lead is.

Pollsters have been gloriously wrong in the past. I can clearly remember the morning of Election Day 1980 when the pompous Walter Cronkite in his stentorian tones, and David Brinkley in his more down-to-earth and pleasing Carolina phrasings, told us the election was "too close to call." Of course it wasn't close at all. The Old Cowpoke beat Jimmy Bob that day by a hair under 10 points. It was a rout and the pollsters as well as the pundits missed it. Could they be this outrageously wrong again?

McCain boosters also point out that historically presidential elections get closer at the end, elephantine leads shrinking to more seemly proportions. This is true. But there's a world of tightening to be done in a lot of places for McCain to have a chance.

It is written that the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong. But that remains the smartest way to bet.

So it appears that, barring a miracle, America is safe from the dreaded third Bush term Barack Obama and his surrogates keep threatening us with if we don't vote for him. What we're in fact in danger of is something like a second Carter administration. (Remember malaise, double digit inflation and interest rates, Americans in prison in Iran, a shrunken and emasculated military, Andrew Young America's voice in the UN?) If this happens, I can predict that before Obama is in office a year America will be suffering from the most acute collective case of buyers' remorse in its history.


SO HOW DID we come to this peculiar point? Always before the Democrats have helped a fairly inept, un-energized, and sometimes aimless Republican Party by coughing up some liberal hair-ball of a candidate who not only whooped up leftist policies most Americans don't fancy, but who was also a downright peculiar character.

Michael Dukakis, aka Zorba the Clerk, tried to claim competence as his qualification. But voters sported him for a hopeless, lefty nerd and George the First succeeded the Gipper. Then recall Al Gore, who some of his own supporters described as "a man-like creature." Then there was the even more off-plumb, French-appearing Jean-François Kennedy Heinz Fonda Kerry. So how come Obama, essentially out of the same mold, is going into the final days with a solid lead?

The nearest answer to hand is that he's slick where the others were clumsy. I won't make the mistake others have made of describing Obama as eloquent, or even articulate. Both of these words imply substance. But he's certainly glib. And that's taken him a long way. Plus he looks good in a suit.

Obama has crooned all the right notes while running an effective but dishonest campaign. He's claimed to be a reformer who will bring a new day to Washington. But for the total of his political career to this point he's been nothing of the sort. He oozed up out of Chicago politics, perhaps the most corrupt and in-need-of-reform politics in the nation, where he got along and went along, causing his dodgy sponsors no inconvenience.

Obama claims to be the post-partisan healer who will produce the political ecumenism he claims Americans yearn for. Yet In Illinois and in Washington he's voted the straight liberal Democratic line and has never cooperated with Republicans on anything. He claims to be the post-racial candidate who will eliminate the racial divide, yet he's been a consistent supporter of the racist policy of affirmative action and has spent decades in the pews of the church of an anti-white bigot (20 years is 1,040 Sundays on which not to hear what the Rev. Wright was saying).

At least partly because the left-stream media, who treat Obama as a beloved pet, have not breathed a word about the yawning disconnect between the saccharine persona Obama has constructed for himself and the man's very real history, a majority of Americans have bought into the scam. Apparently the public's right to know does not extend to the fact that Obama is a palpable fraud.

As the poet said, past is indeed prologue. But thanks to the left-stream media, not one American in ten knows Obama's past. P.T. Barnum said there was a sucker born every minute. With the help of the national media, Obama has gotten that down to about 30 seconds.


MCCAIN, ON THE OTHER HAND, has predictably run a lame campaign. He seems to have borrowed too many strategies and techniques from the 1996 campaign of Bob "Bob" Dole, who foolishly put aside character issues when running against a vulnerable Bill Clinton. McCain this year foolishly put the outrageous Rev. Wright and his anti-America church out of bounds for the campaign. Then late, when people were worrying about an economy in free-fall, he tried to make a federal case of Bill Ayers, a great issue for last summer but one that got limited traction this fall. At least McCain is not referring to himself in the third person.

The Sarah Palin choice for VP was a master stroke, and even in the event of a loss on Tuesday she, along with other young stars like Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal, adds some bench-strength to a party that really needs it. A test: Name three long-time Republican elected officials who would make good national candidates or inspiring party leaders. OK, name one.

Neither side is acting like this one is over. They'll be campaigning down to the final hour, with a remarkable fraction of that campaigning in Florida. All the candidates and countless household-name surrogates are here, madly crisscrossing the state in search of audiences and TV cameras. This isn't just because the weather in Florida is better this time of year than in most of the rest of the country. Though future auditors of campaign expenditures on this one will surely puzzle over why so much was spent on sunscreen during the final month.

The McCain campaign is here because they know if they lose Florida it's back to the Senate for John for the remainder of his political career. Obama and friends are here because they know a win here is the coup de grace, and an Obama win in Florida, despite the political wisdom last summer, is clearly possible, though by no means assured.

So if you want to watch McCain strut his stuff one more time in the campaign, you can see him at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa this morning. Gates open to the public at 0600. Obama is in Jacksonville at Veteran's Memorial Arena today, gates open at 0830. But then tomorrow is for counting, and tomorrow night for victory parties for one pair of candidates. The chances that a frequent song at those victory parties will be "Anchors Aweigh" seem to be circling the drain. If this turns out to be so, we can only hope that America's first socialist government, for all the damage it will certainly inflict on us, will have immunizing effects.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.