Learnin’ Something New…


As an amateur wonk and activist, I’ve heard the basics of the Obama and McCain stories a thousand times, and could probably tell them as well as any journalist on the cable news (though that’s not saying much). Yet, I couldn’t resist the lure of yet another bio as I sat down with leftover saag tonight, despite my intention to seek out some new drama to rot my brain for an hour. PBS’ award-winning Frontline was running a two-hour documentary on both presidential candidates, filling in the gaps for those who haven’t yet memorized Obama’s 2004 speech to the DNC or which years McCain was a P.O.W.

And I managed to learn something.

For instance, I knew that Obama had a relatively short political career, with a coreographed succession of moderate outreach and subtle idealism. What I had not realized, however, was that Obama has yet to win a serious contest in his political career. His greatest struggle up to this point was probably running for President of the Harvard Law Review back in law school. His first office was won after each of his opponents had their candidacies dismissed for invalid petitions (not my favorite way to win an election, and another quiet little hint that Obama might be worse than the Arab-Muslim-Terrorist-Black-Nationalist-Late-Book-Returner his opponent’s supporters believe him to be–he might be one of those god-damned politicians. You know, the kind Barack Obama wants to take Washington away from. Anyway, once he was the incumbent, re-election came easily. In 2000, Obama ran for Congress and lost 2-1 in the primaries against a popular incumbent. Obama’s 2004 election to the U.S. Senate came easily after his original opponent was embarassed out of politics by sex-club allegations from his ex-wife, Seven-of-Nine. Improvised opponent Alan Keyes was flown in from Maryland to establish residency and be black, but was laughed all the way home by 73% of the electorate.

As for McCain, I learned that I’m not the only person who thinks he has changed since his 2000 primary run (I want to call it “maverick”, but no… just… no…). Frontline laid it out there, how McCain stumped for W’s re-election in 2004 and came to support policies he had once opposed. Apparently, every presidential nominee since Reagan (and possibly before) has been an establishment statesmen who stands in party-line and waits his turn for the party’s nod. For McCain to get that nod, he had to get publicly close to W. And even as W’s poll numbers had bottomed out since the 2006 mid-term elections, the president still had the power to make McCain the party’s next statesman or denounce him to eternal maverickdom. Whether because he feels he needs the power to do some good (let’s hope this is Obama’s rationale for playing politics so well), or because he’s grown tired and wants to retire in four years, or because he has a Clinton-esque sense of entitlement, John McCain sucked it up and kissed a lot of ass to get where he is today. It’s too bad, really. I liked that 2000 guy. Moreover, I respected him.

Fortunately, there is still some hope that this election won’t be like the last few… dozen. That two decent, upstanding men will carry on a respectful, meaningful discussion of our country’s direction by focusing on those elusive issues and not on character assassinations, even when their own supporters call for blood. Is it so dumb to think maybe the guy who loses could wake up on November 5th and just say, “Well, we did our best and we did justice to our values, it just wasn’t our time…”?

Of course there’s always 2012…

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