This feeling has been creeping up on me in recent weeks, and it’s just emerged into my consciousness in the last days. I hesitated to mention it, and it seems particularly inappropriate given the fact that people are turning out in droves to vote, but…
The election has been a real letdown for me. And I didn’t expect that.
Remember back in January, when I said that if our two endorsees for the major party nominations both made it to the November ballot, it would be a win-win proposition for the country? Well, I did say it, and I meant it. But somehow, between then and now, my enthusiasm has just dissipated, like air slowly but steadily leaking from a balloon.
Part of this is just due to the fact that I was never going to enjoy the general election campaign as much as I did the primaries, nor would I appreciate these two candidates as much as party standard-bearers. They were SO much more appealing as insurgents — McCain running and prevailing against all the diehard GOPpers, over their vehement protests, and doing it even after his candidacy was declared dead. Obama running as the alternative to continuing the vicious, pointless partisanship of the Clinton-Bush years. But the climax of this drama seems to have occurred when they triumphed over their parties’ orthodoxies. Nothing has seemed that fun or that inspiring since then.
McCain picking Sarah Palin to please the base was bad, but Obama leading the charge of the crowd pretending that John McCain was some sort of incarnation of George W. Bush was, if anything, worse. All of it was dispiriting. I first noted that during the Democratic Convention; and while there were moments in McCain’s acceptance speech where he was almost the guy he needed to be to keep me applauding, he fell short of the mark.
Beyond those factors, three things contributed to my present political ennui:
- McCain utterly failing to put his best foot — or even his second-best foot — forward. Every time he opened his mouth, I kept hoping he would explain clearly, in a way undecided voters couldn’t miss, why he was the guy. I still thought he was the guy myself, but it would have been nice if he had helped others see it. It’s like he was going through the motions ever since he upstaged himself with the Palin selection. This is a weird and unfair thing to say, but… you know those appearances he did on SNL Saturday and Monday nights? He was game, and I give him that, but… he just fell flat. It wasn’t funny. No, he’s not a professional comedian, but he can be funny — one moment when he was his old self, but I think too few people saw it, was at the Alfred E. Smith dinner. He was hilarious. His timing, and his feel for his audience was impeccable. But the SNL appearances were a letdown. Blame the writing if you will, but it was sort of symbolic to me of the way he generally failed to connect throughout the fall. Sometimes you click; sometimes you don’t. Yeah, I know that seems stupid, but what I’m trying to say is that he no more clicked as a presidential candidate during these weeks than he did on SNL. If you don’t know what I mean, go back and watch the debates. He was saying the right things, but not clicking. As I mentioned in a previous post, our endorsement was about his record, not about what we saw in the campaign. I’d endorse him again given the chance, but next time I would hope he’d help himself out more.
- That shouldn’t have mattered given the "win-win" situation I had predicted back in January. With one guy faltering, that left us with Obama. But I found myself less and less enchanted with him as the campaign wore on. He, unlike McCain, never missed a step. He was on his game at every moment of every day, with a steadiness and discipline that seemed superhuman. That wasn’t the problem. The one real up-side I saw to the future, contemplating the future with a President Obama, was that he has consistently shown such stellar abilities with the intangibles of leadership, from his general unflappability to his rhetorical talents. The problem was that I started paying more attention to what he actually had to say about some issues, and started doing so in a more critical fashion, as I pondered our upcoming endorsement. And, as I’ve said in recent days, I got really, really disturbed about some of the things he said, because they were SO off-the-shelf, liberal Democratic dogmatic. (Ironically, the debates had a big impact on me here — even as I was disappointed at McCain’s political skills on those occasions, I became more and more disturbed by precisely what Obama was saying so smoothly.) Before, I had just accepted that he and I wouldn’t agree on abortion, for instance — something I had to accept in backing Joe Lieberman or practically any other Democrat. But then I started peeling the layers, and each new layer worried me more. First, his lack of concern for the moral value of the unborn seemed to go beyond most Democrats, and I just started fully noticing that near the end. Then there was his unwillingness to consider judicial candidates who didn’t agree with him on the issue. Then there was his equating the nebulous "right to privacy" with the right to free speech. Then there was his utter dismissal of the rights or duties of the political branches to decide such issues with that "state referendums" nonsense. Then I saw similar patterns on free trade, and there was a disturbing willingness to be doctrinaire on Big Labor’s agenda, not a transformative figure at all. Combine that with the inevitability of bigger Democratic majorities, and instead of a post-partisan president, you’ve got textbook Democrat, and that set us up for more partisan warfare in the coming years, not less.
- Finally, there was the staggering economic news of the last couple of months. On a pure electoral plane, this as much as anything is what has delivered the election to Obama. But I gotta tell you, I sure wish I could be as sanguine as the Obamaniacs are about his ability to lead us through this. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think McCain could, either. It’s just that I have seen little to make me think Obama has a better idea of how to approach this. I wasn’t kidding when I said, several weeks back, that what we need is another FDR. And neither of these guys fills the bill, the way I see it. This factor has done as much as anything else to grind down my enthusiasm, day after day. Did you see the lead story in The Wall Street Journal today? That’s our reality, folks. I really, really hope that the Obama supporters are right and I’m wrong, and he WILL have what it takes to lead us to turn back the tide. But I remain worried.
Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe this is just physical exhaustion. Maybe it’s the wild ride of the past two years, all the excitement — all the fun we’ve had here on the blog, for that matter, with page views now essentially double the year before. And so on pure adrenaline, I’m due for a letdown. But I think it’s more than that.
In the last few weeks, I’ve said a bunch of times that I looked forward to this being over. But I just realized today that I won’t feel that way at all. Instead, I fear, the letdown will be complete rather than merely imminent, and I’ve just come to realize that. No, not because "my guy" lost the presidential election. It’s more because I thought it was win-win, and then I realized that it wasn’t, and that whoever won, we were going to have a mess that we still have to get through. The economy will still be a mess. We’ll still have the same problems with Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China… and ourselves. We won’t even be poised to solve our health care crisis, because even with a bigger Democratic majority and a liberal Democrat in the White House, no one will say "single-payer." The irony of that is palpable to me. (We’ll get the BAD stuff of liberal Democratic ideology — the activist judges, the intimidation of unwilling workers into unions, trade isolationism, and the like — without a National Health Plan. Sheesh.)
Basically, I realized fully, on an emotional level, that neither McCain nor Obama was going to deliver us from all that. And once the election is over, we no longer have the luxury of pretending that they might do so. So I think that’s why I’m down.
Sorry to rain on the parade. Y’all go ahead and have a nice time, though …