Jewish World Review
Dec. 28, 2007
/ 19 Teves 5768
Let's put it to a vote
A week is a long time in politics, as a British prime minister once said. This is true for our current election season in two senses. First, a week of the same partisan pandering and vacuous sound bites rehearsed for TV makes a week seem like an eternity. Americans are so repelled that roughly 75 percent think the country is on the wrong track.
Second, with deep unhappiness slowly fading over Iraq, anything can change the focus in a few days in '08: a recession, a deeper credit crisis, fears of inflation, a terrorist attack, or something out of left field.
Until then, the candidates are more or less running campaigns based on their personalities and biographies (with deletions, evasions, and double talk to appease the base, notably from Mitt Romney and less so from Rudy Giuliani: They were for it before they were against it). All of them are smart, ambitious, and competitive, with huge egos. But what the public seeks is somebody whose moral values it can respect. Sen. John McCain's late spurt is entirely due to his sticking to his guns while others wobble.
Indeed, this is the year of the wobble. Sen. Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite, but the air started to leak from her campaign when she flip-flopped on a plan by the New York governor to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. She still has formidable assets: a unique appeal to women, national recognition, an established political machine, what seemed to be a comprehensive grasp of the issues. But she has yet to overcome the feeling that she is scripted and calculating. She brings to mind the good student, resented because she worked overly hard to achieve.
And then there is the fact that her marital asset, Bill Clinton, became a loose cannon, demeaning the credentials of Sen. Barack Obama, attacking the media for favoring Obama, asserting that he had been opposed to the Iraq war, contrary to everything he had said earlier to so many people.
Dubious endorsement. As bad as it was, it got worse in one of those you-could-not-have-made-it-up moments. Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young recommended Senator Clinton to the black community by asserting that "Bill is every bit as black as Barack," then following up with: "He's probably gone with more black women than Barack." Who wanted those associations with the White House to be brought back? All this only reminded voters of the Clintonian capacity for negative campaigning and polarization, just when the country was looking for a better message.
Simultaneously, Obama has continued to grow in public standing as he focuses on the need to do things differently. His message has gained traction as he heads into the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, in part helped by his support from Oprah Winfrey and her popularity with women and African-Americans, crucial demographics in Democratic primaries. Obama is presenting himself as the anti-Clinton, putting forth his ideas in a noncontroversial way and limiting his political attacks. This tone has been well received in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
On the other side, the Republican Party is in a wide-open race with three different candidates leading in four different states: Mike Huckabee breaking through in Iowa because of his ease and humor, combined with religious conservative credentials; Romney in New Hampshire; and Giuliani in Michigan and Florida. Giuliani has long led the national polls, based on his crime fighting and his image as the Gen. Ulysses Grant of the 9/11 tragedy. His campaign has been seriously weakened recently as the media focus shifted to his personal life. He is hoping to survive the early primaries and then do well in Florida and Michigan before hitting the big-state primaries of February 5.
Romney was at first seen to be Giuliani's major competitor. But Romney's campaign has gained little traction. Republicans, especially conservatives, are naturally suspicious of his shameless flip-flopping on a wide array of issues: abortion, stem cell research, gay rights, and an earlier lack of support for President Reagan. Since his conversion to the faithful has come at a time of political convenience when he decided to run for the presidency he's being seen as a salesman devoid of any heartfelt commitment. Because of his tactic of pandering to his supposed base at the risk of losing national support, his advantages of movie-star good looks and persuasive speaking style now suggest a kind of plasticity. Party insiders call him "Multiple-choice Mitt."
Fortunately, this depressing and distressing campaign is about to be transformed by actual primary votes. Not a moment too soon, we can all be relieved to know what the people think and not what the media think.
The nation still yearns for a political leader who will let the future in.
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© 2005, Mortimer Zuckerman