October 2008: Nobody asked me, but…

Five campaign questions, VW’s tasteless ads, a few Nov. 4th predictions, and other observations

With a tip of the fedora to legendary New York columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

HERE ARE FIVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE 2008 CAMPAIGN worth further consideration:

1. What does this past year tell us about American racial attitudes? Whether or not Sen. Barack Obama wins the presidency on Tuesday (and it looks like he will), his meteoric rise proves that Americans want to live in a meritocracy–where candidates are judged on their potential to lead and personal qualities and not on their skin color. Obama’s presence at the top of the Democratic ticket has to be seen as a sign of racial progress. It doesn’t mean America has solved the problem of racism, personal or structural, but it does represent a huge and welcome step forward, no matter the outcome Nov. 4th.

2. Will Obama’s brilliant and well-managed campaign translate not only into victory on Tuesday, but also into effective governance if he reaches the Oval Office? Admirers of the Illinois Senator argue that his management of a multi-million dollar campaign effort demonstrates previously untapped executive ability. This, they argue, will serve Obama well in any putative presidency. Yet it’s not clear that the skills called upon to win an election are the ones needed to make policy decisions, foreign and domestic (see: Karl Rove and George W. Bush).

3. Whatever happened to campaign finance reform? That is a question with an answer: it died a quick and relatively quiet death when Obama decided to forgo federal funding. It has proved to be a masterful strategic decision ($150 million in September fundraising alone!), but problematic for those who fear the corrupting influence of big money. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies: “I think Democrats are going to rue the day (Obama) did this. Republicans are not going to let this happen again.”

4. Will McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate cost him the election? Conventional wisdom has been that American voters make their decision based solely on the top of the ticket, with the elections of 1968 (Nixon and Agnew), 1976 (Carter and Mondale), and 1988 (Bush and Quayle) proving that a presidential candidate can win with a less-than-stellar vice presidential selection. This campaign may be different. The continuing debate about whether Palin would be ready to assume the presidency hasn’t helped McCain with independents, according to several polls. And McCain’s choice of Palin was cited by a number of prominent moderate Republicans as one of their reason for endorsing Obama. On balance, Palin has to be considered a significant net minus for McCain.

5. Will Saturday Night Live prove to be more important in shaping public opinion about the candidates than any traditional news program? Yes. SNL’s impact on both the Democratic primaries (first raising the issue of the media swoon for Obama) and the general election (with Tina Fey’s defining caricature of Sarah Palin) has been much greater than that of any of the network nightly news. That’s fitting for what the Boston Phoenix’s Steven Stark has dubbed the American Idol Election.

WHAT ON EARTH COULD VOLKSWAGEN BE THINKING WITH ITS BIZARRE “ROUTAN BOOM” commercials, fronted by Brooke Shields? The ads suggest American women are getting pregnant to justify buying VW’s minivan (the Routan) and the tagline of this lame campaign is “Have a Baby for Love, Not German Engineering.” Advertising agencies can make memorable commercials (see Nike Football’s “Fate” for an example), but that requires creativity, not lowest-common-denominator vulgarity.

THE UNBEARABLE DARKNESS OF BETRAYAL? Did the Czech-born novelist Milan Kundera inform on a fellow countryman to the Communist secret police in 1950? He has denied the allegation, and is threatening to sue the Czech weekly that reported the story. Miroslav Dvoracek, the man who Kundera allegedly turned in as a Western spy, served 14 years in prison. His wife commented: “He [Kundera] is a good writer but I am under no illusions about him as a human being.”

JEFFREY GOLDBERG OF THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY HAS A DEVASTATING CRITIQUE OF AMERICAN “AIRPORT SECURITY” entitled “The Things He Carried,” which exposes the sham of “security theater.” Current security practices are designed to reassure travelers and catch “stupid terrorists,” Goldberg concludes, something evident to any frequent flier.

A FEW PREDICTIONS FOR ELECTION DAY: expect lots of delays at the polls, problems with confusing ballots, misleading exit polls, and the broadcast and cable news networks holding off on declaring the winner. For the record, my prediction for the Electoral College outcome: Obama/Biden, 297 electoral votes; McCain/Palin, 247. Obama will win by moving the 2004 red states of Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico into the Democratic fold in 2008.

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM FROM AMERICAN HEARTLAND POET CARL SANDBERG (1878-1967): “A politician should have three hats: one for throwing into the ring, one for talking through, and one for pulling rabbits out of if elected.”

Copyright © 2008 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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