Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Cultural Ethos 2008

Last night's debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama illustrated a stark cultural contrast with previous presidential campaigns. There wasn't a single question about abortion, guns, race, crime, the death penalty, gay rights, religion, patriotic symbols such as flag lapels, family values or the Supreme Court. The Vice Presidential debate between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin last week contained far more wedge oriented questions. Last night's debate however with its town hall format was more reflective of the mindset of 2008's silent majority.

Indeed, Presidential campaigns are momentary snapshots of our cultural ethos. For example, while volunteering for the Dukakis campaign as a college sophomore in 1988, I was called terms of endearment such as "communist" and "nigger lover." Fast forward to early summer in 2004 and I had my first hint that John Kerry was in trouble. While phone-banking I spoke to an unemployed laborer in the mid-west who had a good paying union job under President Clinton. He told me he was voting for George W. Bush because he believed that Kerry was going to take away his gun. This gentleman also expressed to me that he thought Vietnam war veteran Kerry was a "pussy." And that was weeks before Kerry was "Swiftboated."

However, while phone-banking recently, I spoke to an unemployed gentleman in Youngstown, Ohio who actually said to me,
"You know it occurs to me I have more in common with blacks who know something about tough times than white millionaires on Wall Street."
This is not your father's presidential campaign.

My attitude going into last night's debate resembled what I feel about NASCAR racing. Watching cars drive around in endless laps is not remotely interesting but I might watch because there could be a crash. Similarly, I didn't expect to learn anything new in last night's debate about either candidate that I didn't already know. I expected both to basically deliver the same scripted lines. I did wonder if McCain would be impolite enough to engage in character assassination in the town hall format. He didn't. As for McCain's "new" proposal about the housing crisis, the bailout plan that McCain voted for already gives the Treasury Secretary wide discretionary power to address the issue.

Hence, the debate itself to me was only memorable about the questions not asked. America is a somber country these days and swing voters have little patience for issues that distract from their economic insecurity. Yes, I realize Governor Sarah Palin will make news speaking in front of partisan wing nuts.

But the political terrain of October 2008 is entrenched due to economic calamity. Only a catastrophic event will prevent Barack Obama from becoming our next President. Gods, guns and the flag will not save Republicans this year.

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