Avoiding The Temptation
I supported John McCain throughout the recent presidential election. Having written an entire column about why, there's no reason to re-plow that field.
On November 4 the voters of this great nation spoke, as is their duty every four years. This election cycle will be forever known as a time of great historical impact. For the first time in our nation's history, a black American was elected President of the United States of America.
President-elect Barack Obama generated a level of interest heretofore unseen in the history of presidential elections. Young, old, minority, and mainstream, voters of all colors, shapes and sizes flocked to polling places to grant him a four-year opportunity to bring about his much-promised change.
He raised obscene amounts of money, but not from the K Street lobbying corps in Washington. His money came from small donors, including millions of anonymous (to us, not to the campaign) donors giving less than $200 total.
The word “hope” was thrown around more than dough at a New York-style pizzeria over the last 2½ years. You'd have thought that our nation was just plain hopeless, suffering from such a hope deficit that only the invoking of the word hope in every single speech could rescue us from the land of hopelessness.
Sure, it sounds silly, but it turns out to be a brilliant political strategy, second only to the "Bushification" of Sen. John McCain, which was truly the most significant and successful (albeit untrue) strategy for defeating an opponent in recent history.
The Obama team focused on the hope/change and McCain-as-Bush strategies throughout the General Election. Every ad, communication and press release beat those same drums. Senator McCain never found his voice and never countered that effective strategy.
Team McCain tried a game-changing Hail Mary pass with the nomination of Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin. For the first week or two following the GOP Convention, the Palin pick stole Barack Obama's media thunder.
The unraveling of Governor Palin started innocently enough on an evening news interview with CBS's Katie Couric. Ms. Couric pressed Governor Palin on her knowledge of Senator McCain's own national and international policy positions, and Mrs. Palin came up lacking.
Far from incompetent, Sarah (as she was lovingly known by GOP supporters) just didn't seem ready to face the national news media. Being fair, who could? Essentially a pack of ravenous jackals, the national news media views a lifelong Washington insider like Sen. Joe Biden as a colleague, able to navigate a DC cocktail party, tossing glib asides and tossing back gin and tonics.
Governor Palin, on the other hand, looks and acts nothing like a Washington insider. She's more comfortable on the Alaskan tundra, where the only wolves are the ones watching from the woods. A plain-spoken and direct communicator, she didn't seem to grasp the fact that “not knowing” was tantamount to “unqualified” in the eyes of her inquisitors.
So, John McCain and Sarah Palin return to their pre-election lives. Mrs. Palin returns home to arms of her adoring constituents. There has to be great comfort in a governor going home to a state where three-fourths of the voters approve of her work.
If anyone thinks Sarah is going to disappear from the national conscience, they're living in a fantasy world. She'll definitely return to the national stage. Anyone who can rally thousands to attend political events and brings that much enthusiasm to a deflated political party will play a future role, have no doubt.
Senator McCain still has a role to play, too. His role won't have anything to do with his own presidential ambitions, though. This most recent defeat will end any hope he had of sitting behind the HMS Resolute desk in the Oval Office.
His most significant contribution will be to try to lead Republican efforts to find common ground with the Obama Administration. Instead of leading the loyal opposition, Senator McCain should try to find policy synergies with the new president, mostly because he (Senator McCain) felt the will of the American voters very personally and directly.
There will no doubt be disagreements between the expanded Democratic majority and the GOP loyalists in the House and Senate. Based on the numbers, Republicans have little hope of stopping the Obama policy train. Senatorial filibusters seem like their only hope, but that power will have to be used thoughtfully and sparingly.
Like the boy who cried wolf, if every single Obama policy initiative becomes the target of a threatened filibuster, Republicans will be further marginalized. John McCain will be in a unique position to work to find areas of agreement, while more typical conservatives will be looking for the fights.
Conservatives now find themselves in a position similar to a professional sports dynasty fallen on hard times. The initial reaction is anger; the temptation is to strike out at the other members of your team. Then, after mulling over it, the frustration gets directed at the other team.
Like the failed sports franchise, Republicans started blaming Senator McCain for his moderate policy positions. Then they blamed Sarah Palin for buying expensive clothes. Finally, the remaining congressional Republicans are girding themselves for battle, salivating over the opportunity to attack the Obama Administration after January 20, 2009.
Unless Republicans are longing to be lost in the political wilderness for a long time, they should resist the temptation to constantly attack the new president and his policy initiatives. It won't work, and it risks further alienating American voters who bought into the whole hope/change thing.