The race between McCain and Obama is tighter than one would think should be the case. I needed some help in figuring out why, so I got a coded message to "Shallow Throat " — the high-ranking GOP mole in the Bush Administration with whom I've consulted often.** We met under some shade trees at a public park in Alexandria.
"I'm confused by what's going on," I said to Shallow Throat, who was wearing a new wig and wraparounds. "Obama should be wiping the floor with McSame, but the race reminds me too much of 2000 and 2004: so close that Rove and his minions could once again steal it."
Shallow Throat smiled. "Don't get too nervous, Bernie. Your guy should win. McCain, a catastrophe waiting to happen, makes even the plutocrats nervous. They're doubling down by sending money Obama's way as well. He may not be their first choice, but he's not radical and they can live with him.
"Besides, what you're witnessing now, before Labor Day, is just the usual jockeying for position. Trying out themes and ideas and ads. See what works, what sticks. Trying to brand your opponent, etc.
"In a few weeks, the name of the game starts to shift: It'll be G.O.T.V. (Get Out the Vote) time, and here your Democrats should do gangbusters. The Republicans are fractured; the far-right ultraconservatives and many of the fundamentalists don't trust McCain; there's not the same kind of passion for the GOP candidate that energizes the Democratic legions that will be sending money to and walking the streets and making phone calls for Obama."
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MAD-AS-HELL HILLARY SUPPORTERS
"You may be right," I countered, "but the Democrats have their own fissures and fractures. Many progressives, for example, think Obama's little more than a center-rightist, beholden to the same corporate interests they've fought for decades. Plus, many of Hillary Clinton's dedicated supporters have said they won't support Obama and may even vote for McCain or, at the very least, stay home."
"Don't go drinking that rightwing Kool-Aid, sonny," said ST. "Sure, there were and are hard feelings among many Hillary supporters, but a good share of those are frustrated voters, many of them women, who, once they examine McCain's positions on abortion rights, stem-cell research, health-care and the like, will never be able to vote for him. True, some women may sit out the 2008 campaign and not vote for or work for Obama, but not as many as you may think. (Will be interesting to see what Bill Clinton says at the convention, whether he goes all in for Obama or continues to foment trouble among his wife's supporters.)
"The point is that progressive Democrats want to win this year, and in their hearts know that despite whatever reservations they may have about Obama, he's their guy this time out. For without the presidency, the possibility of passing liberal, let alone progressive, legislation goes down the tubes. The Dems will win big in the Congressional races, maybe even big enough to create a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but if McCain were to reside in the White House, his veto-pen could cause untold damage to the Democratic agenda, and his picks for the Supreme Court would be disastrous for social progress. I'm not even mentioning his reckless fascination with war as a first-choice option. So virtually all progressive Democrats, even if they wish someone else were their candidate, will vote for Obama."
WHY IS McCAIN SO CLOSE?
"I sure hope you're right," I said. "But I'm still caught up in the politlcal puzzle: The Republican Party is so distrusted and disliked in the country, Bush's favorable ratings have been in the low-20s for a year or two, McCain is tied tightly to Bush's failed policies, and he's such a terrible campaigner, such a crotchety old dude who may even be approaching the outskirts of senile dementia — given all this, how in hell is McCain doing so well in the national polls?"
"Come on, Bernie, you know at least part of the answer. In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of folks out there, especially in the Republican Party, and especially in the states of the Old South, who won't vote for a black man, period. And in states like Florida, there are plenty of old Jews who've swallowed the dirty-tricks GOP email circulating widely that falsely proclaims that Obama is Muslim and anti-Israel. In both cases, as you can see, racism is still alive and well and living in America, even among some Democrats."
"But surely the percentage of those who think that way is no more than, say, 10% of the voting population. What's leading so many others to McCain's camp?"
Shallow Throat gave me a "you-dummy" look: "Wake up and smell the numbers, my friend. Ten per cent in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Virginia and Florida and Michigan and Indiana can give those important states to McCain. Plus, from where I see it, McCain comes into the election with a running start — 25% of voters are fundamentalists, evangelicals, HardRight extremists — so, right off the bat, he's got 35% of the vote in his pocket, more if our estimate of the 10%-racist vote is low, especially in specific states.
"Let's talk national numbers. In my rough estimation, Obama's got a built-in 40%, McCain's got a start-off base of 35%. So Rove is roughing up Obama right now, and it's working. McCain is within a point or two of Obama, which is right in Rove's wheelhouse. Even if he can't push McCain's numbers any higher, Rove can maneuver to manipulate close elections in key electoral states the same way he did it in the first two Bush races and in 2002 in Georgia and elsewhere: by cheating and theft.
"But, as I say, the key in November 2008 is G.O.T.V. With a large enough motivated turnout, and by running up enormous voting totals, the Democrats should be able to swamp any attempts at shady vote-tabulating — even though the McCain campaign no doubt will try. They're already trying to purge hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters in various states; are requiring photo IDs from poor and minority voters; and no doubt will have their U.S. attorneys file phony 'voting fraud' charges against Dem voting-registration organizers. Plus, let us not forget that Republican-leaning corporations control the secret software inside the easiy-hackable voting machines and, more importantly, control the vote-tabulating software on Election Night — and that there's considerable evidence that they've manipulated the totals in past elections.
"But in one sense, I think Rove sees the electoral handwriting on the wall, as he did in 2006 when the Democrats took back Congress. Even though he'd love to steal another one and put McCain into the White House, that may prove impossible and he may scale down his definition of victory as keeping the Dems from reaching a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, making sure there's a way for the Republicans to block Obama's policies from that chamber."
JOE BIDEN AS THE ATTACK DOG
"Do you think Rove can succeed?" I asked.
"I think he has a shot in the Senate," said Shallow Throat, chugging a Dos XX, "but if the Democratic campaign's Get Out the Vote drive is successful, Obama's coattails can help the Dems take the Senate big. And putting Biden on the ticket was a good move in that regard. Joe really knows how to get under McCain's skin, maybe even enough to provoke McCain into exploding into embarrassing tirades.
"I've heard a lot of negative murmuring from progressives about Biden as Obama's running mate," I said, "you know, 'yet another Establishment Democrat who voted for the Iraq war and accepts the premise of the U.S. as an interventionist superpower, and a 'liberal' senator who voted for the bankruptcy bill and for other issues unpopular with the Democratic base. Plus, he's too full of himself, shoots off his mouth too often, and doesn't bring a big state's electoral votes to the table'."
"Biden's not everybody's cup of tea," said Shallow Throat, "but he's a dynamic campaigner, has a good sense of humor, a powerful biography, and balances out Obama's weaknesses in the experience/foreign-policy/national security areas. Plus he'd probably make a decent President, if it came to that. Again, most Democrats, despite whatever misgivings they may have about either Obama or Biden, will stick with the ticket all the way. It's their only shot."
"Who do you think McCain will counter with?" I asked.
"If he's dumb, he'll choose Mitt Romney — two older, ultra-wealthy, extremist white guys, out of touch with the problems and desires of most of the country. If he's smart, he'll choose a woman, maybe Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas or, despite her own serious 'issues,' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With Rice, he would get a two-fer: black and female. Take that, Obama. Maybe even rub the Hillary supporters' still-smarting wound to the point where they'll stay away from the polls on Election Day."
OBAMA MUST START SCRAPPING
"Obama," I said, "seems so cerebral and nuanced in his approach to his opponent that I worry that he's about to do a Kerry — turn off voters who really want someone who will put up a fight against the down-and-dirty campaign being waged by Rove for McCain, which has reached the scoundrel depths of questioning the patriotism of his opponent.
"Yep," said Shallow Throat. "That's where Rove wants to fight, since they're well-aware that Obama would win on the issues. So McCain is down there in the mud, even though at times he sure does look uncomfortable taking Rove's low-road approach. But the point is that McCain voluntarily is on that road, which makes him look desperate, mean-spirited, a typical ambitious politician who'll do anything to get elected — a far cry from his somewhat independent 'maverick' reputation that attracted so many people to him years ago. The Obama campaign should start 'branding' McCain with that soiled image — attacking, put McCain on the defensive — and hammering McCain on energy, the economy and his affection for wars and confrontations.
"I think the professionals running the Obama campaign know that after the convention, the gloves have to come off and some bare-knuckles fighting has to take place. That's not Obama's style, but Biden's a master at it. Let Barack be Barack, and let Biden be Biden."
UNDOING THE CHENEYBUSH DAMAGE
"You're a Republican," I said to Shallow Throat, "albeit a traditional moderate Republican. Why are you not supporting the GOP candidate?"
"I thought it was obvious by now," said ST. "My party is in the hands of dangerous extremists. And McCain, who once was a politician one could respect even when disagreeing with him, sold his soul to the devil a few years ago as he geared up for his final presidential race. He's nothing but ambition and seething anger at this stage. He's willing to walk all over the Constitution, foment wars (even against a nuclear-armed Russia, if it comes to that!), scuttle the economy, continue to let the treasury be looted by corporations, appoint HardRight extremists to the Supreme Court and appellate courts, etc. etc.
"In other words, CheneyBush would get a third term, and the country and the Constitution, after what we've been through the past eight years, cannot afford more gross misrule and unnecessary wars abroad. Like many traditional Republicans I know, I'll be voting for the Democrat this year, hoping Obama can start the process of undoing the damage and getting the country back on track.
"One last warning. None of my, and the Democrats', optimism will be realized unless the Obama campaign is ready to fight ferociously in the courts for the right of everyone to vote and to have their votes counted honestly. And there will be no victory unless the voting turnout for Obama is absolutely humongous. So you guys have a lot of work in front of you in the next two-and-a-half months. Go do it!"
And with that, Shallow Throat jogged out of the park, leaving me dazed but somewhat elevated in mood.#
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: email@example.com .
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