HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

August 25, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


The American Prejudice
August 19, 2008

I've heard considerable commentary on the two candidates' responses to Rick Warren's question about evil. A common theme has been that Obama's answer was thoughtful whereas McCain's was presidential. These are seen to mark a strong contrast. They are also seen to represent a decided advantage for McCain.

You'll recall that McCain said he would defeat evil. After all these millennia of human history, with millions working to combat evil, we now have a potential leader who will not merely struggle against it but will do it in. I guess we ought to snatch him up, and in the process beg him also to banish death and disease.

Somebody could write a great book about how it came to be in American politics that in a response to a question the more simplistic answer is the more presidential. Thinking is something that non-presidential persons do. Great presidents, by contrast act. They don't have to think. Consequently, a person who's incapable of thought is best suited to occupy the White House. That seems to be the core message of McCain's campaign. No thought would ever sully the brain of President McCain.

It's difficult to see how the promise can be appealing, yet journalists continue to tell us that it's a powerful and popular stance. Wielding it vigorously is like slashing away with Excalibur.

It remains to be seen just how sharp it will be this season. I suspect we'll see it used as violently as possible by the Republicans, and the outcome may turn on whether Obama will seize the opportunity to point out, with a proper seasoning of sarcasm, that the idea of thoughtless president is pure silliness.


Seizing Opportunity
August 21, 2008

So now the Republican candidate doesn't know how many houses he owns. This may be the essence of Republicanism. If the Democrats and Obama can't make use of this instance of McCainiana, they may as well withdraw from the presidential race.

American history is rich with irony but there can scarcely be any greater instance of it than the public's supposed ability to identify with McCain while feeling put off by Obama's background. I wonder what percentage of the American public is unsure about the number of houses they possess. Guess what? I'll bet Obama knows how many houses he has. In that, he's just like the rest of us.

I don't hold with the notion that the president should be just like the average guy walking down the street in Peoria. If that were the case, why go to the expensive bother of a presidential campaign? Why not just send an FBI team to Peoria to scoop somebody up? On the other hand, it probably is useful for the president to have some sense of the lives led by the people he presumes to serve. If he doesn't, his concentration will be directed at goals which have nothing to do with the health of the people. And that's exactly what we see in John McCain. When he thinks of the United States the people who inhabit the country have almost nothing to do with his concepts. For him, the United States is a power structure whose only purpose is to gobble up more power. Keep in mind, victory is all he cares about. But victory for whom? Not for the people who live here.

In thinking of McCain, the people have a clear choice. Do they want to surrender themselves to someone who wants only to use them? Is a McCain-like notion of national grandeur ample recompense for a ground-up social structure, wasted lives, diminishing opportunity for young people, an emptied-out dollar, and streets made up mainly of pot holes? If that's what they want they've got their man, although they may have trouble finding him among his many houses.


Surety
August 22, 2008

If there's any political fact that should be established in a sentient person's mind, it is that when Republican candidates talk about taxes, they lie. Perhaps they deserve a twinge of sympathy. They have no other choice. If they didn't lie they would lose. Consequently, their message about taxes has to be addressed to the portion of the population who knows virtually nothing about government. After all, any Republican who is halfway informed knows his party's message about taxes is false. He likes it that way because he wants the results that rise from the deception. So, the party in its message isn't after him. Instead, the target is the voter whose decision is determined by vague sentiments and defective syllogisms. They're after the guy who will say, "I don't want my taxes raised and the Republicans are against raising taxes so I'll vote for them." If you told him that the Democrats are not going to raise his taxes and, besides, that failure to collect adequate funds for needed public services will cost him more in the long run, he would find that too complicated.

Democrats are frustrated by their inability to craft an argument that will thwart Republican falsity. Their problem is, they are mistaken about what they need. They shouldn't be seeking to point out the illogic in the Republican argument. Rather they should simply turn to the statement that Republicans lie. Democrats shouldn't say it aggressively. They should never appear to expect a challenge.  They should present it as simple, commonsensical, everyday fact, as though they were noting that if the sun shines tomorrow, it will be warmer. This is the tactic that will, gradually win over the voters the Republican have been addressing. Republicans lie when they talk about taxes. That's who they are. That's what they do. Period. End of story.

If every Democratic candidate would make that statement every time he appears in public between now and November, the outcome of the election wouldn't be in much doubt.


Empty Predictions
August 23, 2008

Need it be said that ABC-Washington Post news polls are idiotic?

Already, just a few hours after Obama announced he had chosen Joe Biden as his running mate, the poll concluded that "Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate is unlikely to shakeup the presidential horse race." This is based on the finding that three quarters of voters say Obama's choice won't make any difference to them.

How do they know? They haven't observed the campaign; they don't know who McCain will pick; they don't know how the two vice presidential candidates will compare to one another in debate; they don't know anything about Biden's influence.

Polls like this are nothing but popping off. Yet, they are announced as though their findings are virtually oracular. In fact, news has become little more than the announcement of more and more popping off, and news analysts spend most of their time pontificating about it.

The practice empties the campaign of substantive political meaning. It turns us into a nation of bobble-heads.

We hear more and more expressions of disgust over the facile nature of polling. Yet no one seems to know how to defang it, and not very many want to.


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