Wednesday, June 11, 2008

U.S. political winds

'back in Seattle for the week: it's cold and rainy here, almost more like January than June.  The snow level is down to 3000 ft, which is causing unseasonable blizzards at the Cascade Mountain passes and frigid, gusting winds here in the lowlands.  My daughter graduates High School this evening: I visited a friend last night to share a celebratory single-malt and laugh about stories of our daughters' growing up.  As my mother always said, we forget the bad times and remember the good. Thankfully.

The past few days, as I've visited with family and friends, watched and listened to the media, I'm getting back in sync with the mood here in the US.  It's been six months since my last visit, and it's always a jump to catch up to where conversations and opinions have evolved.

The main topic is still the US presidential campaign: the primaries are finally over, and nobody seems very happy with the outcome.  John McCain, the Republican nominee, is widely seen by liberals as a second incarnation of George Bush, and by conservatives as a candidate who doesn't truly support their causes.  People admire his patriotism, integrity, and conviction, but say that his policies are badly out of step with their war-weariness and economic difficulties. The radio pundits hammer him mercilessly, others say that he may appeal to the Hillary's lunchbucket voters, but I don't find any of them willing to vote for him.

The women who backed Hillary are deeply disappointed and disillusioned.  They seem frustrated most by the unfairness of it all: she offered so much, was so close, and didn't deserve the outcome.  My mother gets tears in her eyes talking about the concession speech last week: many women I talk with similarly felt related to Hillary's candidacy even though they disagreed with her on issues.  It's been hard for them to watch her struggle and they are proud that she left with dry-eyed dignity.

Obama worries people that I talk with.  Friends have moved past the first telegenic impressions of a fresh face offering real change, and now they are asking what an Obama presidency will really mean.  Is he experienced enough, connected enough, to get things done? Is he a smart person who will be paralyzed when confronted by the world's gritty reality?  People refer back to the example of Jimmy Carter, also elected for many of the same qualities of optimism and book-smarts, but who ended his term with a never-ending hostage crisis, withdrawal from the Olympics, and a darkened Christmas tree.

There are no Bush defenders left anywhere across the political spectrum, not one.  Everyone feels embarrassed by the ignorance and betrayed by the actions; they just hope that they can ignore him for a last few months.  The core political question in this election year will be whether the US takes a short or a long step away from Bush's policies. Either way, the era will end, discredited.

Finally, and with justification. 

Everywhere, there is good, level-headed discussion of issues and alternatives, not shrill accusations around superficial distractions.  Attack ads have been swiftly countered: nobody will be "Swift-Boated" this year.  However, in response to the questions I hear being raised, Obama needs to reassure people worried about his inexperience, working-class empathy, and ethnic loyalties; McCain needs to answer questions of age and of specifically how he would change Bush's policies.

The Dutch forever ask who I think will win: I believe that Obama is likely to take the popular vote by a wide margin.  The electoral vote will, unfortunately, be much closer, especially if more manipulation of uncertainty in the results takes place, as happened in Florida and Ohio in 2000 and 2004.  People are already losing faith in the integrity of the electoral system,and it would be seriously bad if lawyers and political operatives step in to decide the result for a third time.

No comments: