April 14, 2008

For bitter and for worse

[img id="80475" align="alignleft"] ...And John McCain wins the election.

In the extended run-up to November’s presidential toss-up, it has appeared inevitable to many that after eight long years a cleansing blue wave will sweep over the crimson that has stagnated in the White House since January of 2001. “The Bush Administration has been so disastrous, and Republican Congressional rule so complicit and corrupt, that it seems to follow, ‘as the night the day,’ that the Democrats must take over just to staunch the bleeding,” Paul Abrams recently wrote for The Huffington Post. Gas prices will go down, the economy will bounce back, and perhaps the Cubs will even take the World Series. All we have to do is wait and nod every once in a while at the universal understanding that the GOP had been walked so far down the gallows via airport bathrooms, Sadr City, and what must now be the Valerie Plame wing of Dick Cheney’s vice-presidential estate that there was no way for the election to go anywhere but left.

But it’s finally happened: The Democrats have bungled it at last, and it’s looking like it might just be time for McCain to start writing his victory speech.

At a private fundraiser in San Francisco on April 6, Democratic sweetheart Barack Obama remarked on the subject of working-class voters who have become disenfranchised with the state of economic affairs that, “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

It was a few days before news of his comment broke to the outside world, but when it did, it was clear that both McCain and Hillary Clinton saw an opening to the underbelly of Obama’s campaign. “It shows an elitism and condescension toward hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking,” a McCain adviser said. This was followed not long after by Clinton’s own condemnation. She deemed the words “elitist and divisive” and declared it “an important moment for Democrats.” She’s right about that—it is most definitely an important moment for Democrats—but maybe not so much in the way that she would like to think: Obama’s comments and the ensuing backlash may well cost the Democrats the election.

It’s not fair, however, to say that Obama’s bitterness controversy has single-handedly given the presidency to the Republicans. Besides, there’s still time for a Jeremiah Wright–style recovery or for McCain to choose a running mate who might somehow, unlikely though it is, torpedo the ticket. But what do sound eerily like funeral bells are the number of articles popping up in just about every newspaper that detail Obama’s and Clinton’s every swing at one another. Obama’s jab at small-town bitterness may turn out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it’s increasingly clear that the karate chop that ends it all will come, if it hasn’t already, from the hands of Obama’s own party.

For over a year now, the Democratic Party has been engaged in brutal civil war. While McCain has spent the last two months since Romney dropped out curled up in the lucrative safety of the warpath gondola ride, Clinton has worn Obama down and Obama has worn Clinton down and now, finally, they are both ragged and bruised. If even Obama’s vast charm and eloquence—an eloquence so fantastic that it is treated by his followers as an almost tangible entity—could fail him, what hope can there possibly be for the Democrats?

“Shame on you, Barack Obama,” Clinton chided at the end of February. Now, Obama has issued his own “shame on her” statement, to which the Clinton camp creatively responded, “The shame is his.” What neither side seems to realize is that whether they’re flushed red from anger or from embarrassment, they—and the nation after them—are still flushed red, and this is the sort of red that crosses over to ballots.

If Clinton wants to see the election go Democratic in November, she needs to realize that, if polls and early elections are any judge, Obama is quite possibly the only one capable of achieving victory, and then she needs to bow out gracefully and begin helping patch up the holes in the boat that she’s spent months drilling. If she’s looking for a Republican White House, she should by all means continue doing precisely what she’s doing. With polls now showing McCain leading both candidates by progressively wider margins, it’s clear that it’s working.

Claire McNear is a first-year in the College majoring in international studies and economics. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.