Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pre-electoral nausea

This is long but worth the read. The "vomit" analogy is right on. From Andrew Sullivan in The Sunday Times (London):

What’s at stake is saving the US from the incompetent, reckless fanatics now in control

It is difficult to look into the future when you are going through what America is going through. All I can say about the atmosphere in the United States right now is that it feels as if the country is about to vomit. The nausea is there; the vote is imminent; and the purge necessary. And yet it hasn’t happened yet. Americans are still staring at the porcelain. And those who desperately want a change — as I do — have to wait. But there are some things that this election has already decided. Several national careers have ended; and the presidential race for 2008 — the most open in decades — has been winnowed.

Not so long ago the leading candidate to replace George W Bush for the Republicans was the Virginia senator George Allen. Allen is in a tight race for re-election. He may still win. But even if he does, his presidential hopes are over. In an incident captured on video, he called a dark-skinned supporter of his opponent “macaca”. It means “monkey”. When told he had a Jewish grandmother recently, he complained that people were casting aspersions in his direction. He is no longer a serious candidate.

The same, I fear, may be happening to the Republican senator John McCain. McCain’s selling point for years has been that he is a man of integrity — hence his appearance at the Tory party conference in Bournemouth last month. He wasn’t broken under torture by the Viet Cong; he fought the religious far right; and he voted against much of the insane Republican spending spree at the federal level. Yes, he loyally backed Bush in 2004. But those of us who differed felt that he was just doing what he had to.

But then, this autumn, McCain caved in on the question of allowing the CIA to torture military detainees. He surrendered habeas corpus to Donald Rumsfeld, the incompetent maniac running the Pentagon. He went to Jerry Falwell’s university to make nice with the religious right. He is even now appearing in advertisements to amend the constitution of his home state, Arizona, to strip gay couples of legal rights. In short, he’s become a compromiser on issues that cannot be compromised on — torture, honesty, honour — and his brand of integrity has been badly damaged.

The big winner for the Republicans is also clear: Mitt Romney. Romney is the Republican governor of Massachusetts and has been able to stay largely out of the fray of this dirty, ugly campaign. He has quietly been building a national campaign based on the religious right. He is vociferously against embryonic stem cell research, abortion and acceptance of gay couples as equal citizens. Right now, the Republican race is between him, McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.

For the Democrats, Hillary is still there: sane on the war, smart on the issues, carefully honing a centrist message. She has lots of money — but not much enthusiasm. Some say she may not even run, preferring to become Senate majority leader. And she sees, as we all do, another light on the horizon.

That light is Barack Obama, a 45-year-old first-term senator from Illinois. He is the son of Barack Hussein Obama of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Kenya, and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas. They met while his father was in Hawaii on a foreign student visa. In the middle of this election season, Obama’s manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, has been No1 for weeks. Its title tells you why. He was just on the cover of Time magazine. And he just pointedly said he has “thought about the possibility” of running for president in 2008.

Earlier this year he gave a superb speech on how faith and politics can intersect while keeping their distance — the central issue in American politics. He’s a centrist and a brilliant speaker who electrified the Democratic convention in 2004. If America is yearning for a cultural and racial healer, Obama looks like one.

Click on Comments to read the rest--

1 comment:

E said...

But this election is not a presidential one. That race is still a long way off. What’s really on the ballot is the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s conduct of it. The result on Tuesday could therefore change a huge amount — or not much at all.

The awful truth is: whoever wins will be unable to alter the fundamental dynamic in Iraq. The project for a peaceful, democratic future in that country is dead. On Friday two core neoconservatives, Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, acted as coroners. Adelman told Vanity Fair that “the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world”, is dead. Both define neoconservatism. When they have abandoned it, like Monty Python’s dead parrot it is truly pining for the fjords.

So what happens? We found out last week what the options are. One of the most astonishing things came out of the mouth of an American president in my lifetime. He declared that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had both done “fantastic jobs”, and that both would stay in office till his last day in 2009. No, I’m not making that up. The man responsible for what has happened in Iraq has, in Bush’s view, done a “fantastic job”. That’s how deep the denial goes. But then Bush also said that the man tasked with responding to Hurricane Katrina had done a “heckuva job”.

If the Republicans somehow manage to defy expectations and retain control of House and Senate, this dangerous denial will be empowered and enhanced. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld will be all the more convinced that they are right and all the more determined to pursue their manic dream of remaking the world. They will be like Nixon, the last to realise that their own fantasy has ended — but, unlike Nixon, with a Congress of their own party they will be able to drag the entire country with them. If that happens, the centre in America will not hold. And we will be facing severe strife within America itself — as well as a potential disaster in the Middle East.

That’s one option. But if the Democrats win and win handily, then the political tectonic plates will shift. Bush — for all his bravado — may be forced to fire Rumsfeld and face reality.

A huge and bloody battle for the soul of American conservatism will then take place. The neocons and religious fundamentalists, libertarians and fiscal conservatives, foreign policy realists and domestic policy pragmatists: all of these Republican factions will be scrambling for advantage, argument and candidates. And that will be a good thing. My own profound hope is for a resounding victory for the Democrats. That’s not because I agree with them on every issue. Far from it. But I can recognise incompetence, fanaticism and recklessness when I see them; and right now, all three have seized the White House and the Republican leadership. It will be good for the Republicans to lose this election. They need to lose as badly as the Tories needed to lose in 1974 and 1997. As they spend and spend and borrow and borrow and throw the American military against a brick wall like a broken toy, they have forgotten even the most basic principles of conservatism: competence, accountability, limited government, and prudence in foreign policy.

America’s founding fathers constructed a system so that if the president would not change a disastrous course, another branch of government could force him. A Democratic Congress would simply put a brake on the Bush express train. It could force the president to start vetoing some spending bills; it could encourage him to appoint moderate justices to the Supreme Court; it could demand an end to torture and a restoration of habeas corpus; it could compel him to be finally accountable for failure in Iraq; and it could investigate some of the many abuses of power that have accumulated during one-party rule.

Whether it does any of these things will be up to the Democratic leadership in both or either House. But that is a good thing too. Especially for the war. The Democrats need to be forced to take responsibility for the war on Islamist terror, to make the hard choices it demands. With a Democratic victory, we may — finally — have a serious debate about how to do triage in the ravaged country of Iraq, how to grapple with America’s dangerously growing debt, and how to defang the growing menace of Iran. Bush may even have to go back to some of his father’s wise men again, hire a new defence secretary and listen to a military leadership that wants a decent outcome in Iraq.

We may get, in other words, sane conservatism back again. And it may require a big Democratic victory to do it. Given the level of denial in the White House, this is not really an election. It’s more like an intervention. To save Republicanism from Bush, to save Bush from himself, and to save the world from impending crisis.

But this is a democracy. Only the voters will decide. And we must wait.