Sunday, October 19, 2008

IMMEDIATE ANALYSIS: On Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama

Gov. Colin Powell's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama was mainly a rejection of the Palinization of the Republican Party.

For too many years, and with increasing intensity, we have been seeing the cultural conservatives becoming a more powerful, more incluential figure in the Republican Party. With the choice of Gov. Sarah Palin as Vice President, Sen. John McCain made it clear that he was tilting his hand toward the cultural conservative side of the party.

This saga has been a tragedy for Sen. John McCain. Here is the fellow that Independents, and even many Democrats, cited as a Republican that they felt very comfortable with. This was the Republican that people in the middle raised in contradistinction against the cultural conservatives.

This trip down the cultural conservative road marks McCain's following Buchanan in the path from the Republican Party of Richard Nixon.
Gen. Colin Powell (ret.), in his endorsement of Obama, did not reject John McCain as much as he rejected Sarah Palin, McCain's choice of Palin, and the low-road travelers of the Republican political machine. While Powell did upbraid McCain's reaction to the economic crisis as unwise, the majority of his indictment of McCain's candidacy dealt with the unclean direction of the McCain campaign and many Republicans.

Why did McCain choose Palin? He was grasping for the cultural conservative voters. But Palin embodies the cultural conservatives in a way that brings up too many embarrassing or unsettling hallmarks of cultural conservatives: her insistence of no quarter for abortions, even in the case of rape or incest (see her interview with Katie Couric), her belief that people shared the planet with dinosaurs (suggesting a literal reading of the Bible), her super-patriotism about God granting us fossil fuels.
Moreover, the selection must have tremendously offended the many Republican women that could have added strength to the ticket. Imagine the strength and wisdom that Condoleeza Rice or Kay Bailey Hutchinson could have added to the ticket.
The selection of Palin raises additional concerns about McCain. What is his conception of the role of the Vice President? However anyone wants to dress up the position, it is an understudy position. The understudy is someone hired to be ready to perform, should an actor be indisposed. The Vice President immediately steps in, in the event of the death or the temporary incapacity of the President. Now, we know that McCain's first choice actually was Sen. Joe Lieberman. Lieberman, despite plenty of mythology to the contrary, has a solid voting record on most issues, other than military policy. What was his reason for choosing Lieberman? Was it leadership qualities, personality? Was it related to whatever assumed demographic coattails a Lieberman role was presumed to bring along?
The VP pick is usually read as giving hints about the management or policy course that a candidate would take as president. Yet, the contrasts between Lieberman and Palin couldn't be more stark. Lieberman is a liberal; he would be useful for hoisting along moderates and some liberals to vote for McCain. Palin, as a conservative, is useful for shoring up McCain's conservative credentials and making conservatives a little bit more likely to forget about McCain's positions on immigration and campaign financing. The Vice President is supposed to, most of us would believe, carry on the ideological and leadership tendencies of the president. Just how would McCain govern, should he get elected? Along liberal lines, as the initial Lieberman choice suggests? -or as a hard-core, true-blue conservative Republican, as the Palin choice would suggest to us? The ideological direction of this latter choice is the direction that is turning off moderate Republicans, as Gen. Powell pointed out in his own view of the party's direction. This is not the Party of Teddy Roosevelt; this is the Party of Goldwater (recall his contempt for the United States' east coast, and his openly wondering if "just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea"). (With Palin we get that eastphobia redux, with her paranoid, blaming snipe against "East Coast politicians.")

This election, should McCain lose, will result in a big shake-up and a long moment of self-reflection for the Republicans. They will need to loosen their strong ties to the cultural conservative right. As David Brooks noted, the Republicans have lost the affinities of many voters in affluent areas along the two ocean coasts. (See his column, "The Class War Before Palin.")
Columnists hypothesized earlier this year that McCain stood to lose the support of the anti-immigrant crowd. The Republican ticket this year stands to lose the support of many moderate thinking Republicans this year. The Palin selection sealed indecision that these moderates would have about the ticket. This Powell endorsement of Obama will finalize the flight of moderate Republicans from the party's ticket this year.
(Of course, EVEN MORE DAMAGING, we should note that this endorsement, with all of the weight of Powell's gravitas, will give further encouragement to Independents to also join the rush to Obama.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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