In his previous 2000 campaign and throughout much of his political career, I liked John McCain. He was indeed The Maverick, and a war hero who had sacrificed so much for our country, and I gave him a lot of credit for who he was. Even while I could see how he was going ‘right’ during the primaries to win over the Republican base, when McCain won the Republican nomination, I viewed him as the most tolerable of that group.
And then, things changed.
For starters, John McCain got nasty. And very negative.
As so many in his own party noted with disapproval during the course of the campaign, McCain’s pandering to the red-meat base extended to the ‘fringe’: the true ‘haters’. Both parties have them, but oh man, did Sarah Palin incite them. The campaign had a pervasive negative vibe to it; I watched the Republican rallies every day on the news, and the crowds that attended were in stark contrast to the multi-generational and multi-ethnic attendees of the Obama-Biden events. The boos, the signs, the shouts from the crowd, it was often ugly and hateful.
John McCain was pummeled in 2000 in South Carolina when 527’s went to the airwaves and made outrageous accusations about his family. He was outraged back then, and vowed to run a ‘high road’ campaign when he began the run for the Presidency in 2007.
But then he completely reneged on that, and it made him look inauthentic and feckless. I acknowledge that both campaigns engaged in negative campaigning. Negative ads usually work, so I get it from a ‘business model’ perspective why campaigns invest in them. But in my mind it is indisputable that the McCain-Palin ticket went ‘over the top’. John McCain and Sarah Palin have engaged in outrageous behavior far beyond the ‘norms’ with an end result that cheapens our democracy. “Palling around with terrorists”? And they paid for it: voters got turned off by the incessant negativity of the campaign. Our nation, in 2008, is changing: the Lee Atwater-Karl Rove style of sleaze politics that was so successful in past years will not work as well in the future.
John McCain’s ‘nice’ behavior during specific points of the campaign (such as the black tie dinner in NYC, and his appearances on SNL), as well as his gracious concession speech, do not offset or make up for the deplorable, fear mongering rhetoric that took place over the last few months. I am not in the 'all is forgiven’ camp, now that the campaign is over. What John McCain and Sarah Palin did on the campaign trail was disgraceful. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t work for me.
There were other aspects of Senator McCain and his campaign that become increasingly troublesome:
1. His zigzagging and erratic, self-dramatizing behavior (does anyone really think McCain truly suspended his national campaign?) seemed so out of character. Or was it? John McCain’s unnerving behavior during the financial crisis was extremely disappointing for so many moderate Democrats (and now, as the polls suggest, moderate Republicans) who had held him in high regard over the years.
And beyond that, as I noted in a previous post, when you evaluate John McCain, you have to at least acknowledge the well-documented anger management issues of John McCain. There was a fascinating short film on YouTube of previous Senators, Congressmen, generals and others who speak about Senator McCain’s anger, and his challenges to keep it in check. It wasn’t pretty.
It is one thing to accept the fact that McCain can at times be on edge, cranky and even downright snarly. Can we understand the post-trauma that might occur after you are a POW in the Vietnam War for over five years? Of course, we can. But to ignore the reality – that Sen. McCain has serious, serious anger issues—in considering him to be the leader of the free world?
2. There is another aspect to this: the military experiences John McCain has had over his life have shaped the way he looks at the world. He frames his world as a ‘fight.’ Wars are to be won and lost. He is a ‘fighter’ in a long line of McCain fighters. He looks at the world as good vs. evil. I don’t have any delusions about the amount of evil in this world; but I am very drawn to the calm, firm hand of Barack Obama wanting to ‘engage’ our adversaries and work toward raising our statue in the world once again. I believe that this new approach, in contrast to the eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration, will have a dramatic, positive impact on our foreign relations and will reduce the threats to our country.
3. I am very much bothered by the way the Senator McCain and the Republican ticket tries to take command of the American flag and the ‘military’ and the battles that have been fought and the sacrifices that have been made to protect our freedoms. “Putting Country First” does not mean it is OK to create a whipped up climate that instills fear and frames your opponent as “not one of us” and who “pals around with terrorists”. And then have surrogates introduce you and your vice presidential nominee with inferences of your opponent being a terrorist or an Arab. In my view it is simply disgraceful.
From the election results, there is a real dichotomy that’s taking shape within the military ranks that I think will surprise many: the ‘older’ military guys are huge supporters of McCain, but the ‘younger’ guys –the guys fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan—have had it, and a very significant percentage of them voted for Barack. Feel free to check out websites like VoteVets.org and search for Congressional Report Cards, and you will see that John McCain has a remarkably mixed voting record regarding supporting military guys and their families. With this new dynamic of no longer ‘owning’ the military vote, Republicans are in a pickle.
In closing, perhaps what is most upsetting is how many mainstream Republicans, good guys in my ‘golf’ sub-community, looked the other way and do not repudiate the tenor of the Republican campaign. And Palin’s lack of qualifications to be Vice President. There were so many national high profile conservatives who put the McCain-Palin scare tactics under the bus: George Will, William Kristol, Peggy Noonan, Colin Powell, to name a few.
For these country club, high net worth guys, some of them good friends, it was ALL ABOUT TAX AND CAPITAL GAINS RATES. Everything else didn’t matter. One of my friends made an obnoxious scene at a restaurant, furious that I would be going to the Denver Democratic Convention and supporting the Obama-Biden ticket. Nothing mattered but that his tax rates would be going up.
Well, guess what, guys? You guys were in the minority for your income group.
Obama won 52 percent of the vote among those with family incomes of more than $200,000 a year, according to exit polls. That’s a 17-point improvement over Kerry in 2004.
Those people saw a lot of other things about Barack’s candidacy. It speaks volumes of his appeal as a transformational leader.
And I feel just great that I voted for him. Karl Rove can say whatever he wants about diminishing the bigness of the Obama victory. Despite claiming that Obama’s win was no bigger than the Bush victory in 2004, the facts tell a different story: Barack got over 6 million more votes than Bush did. He got 365 electoral votes. He won over 65% of the fastest growing segment of our population, Hispanics. He captured a huge majority of the new, younger voter.
It was the most important vote in my life.