Chris Berman? CHRIS BERMAN??!!
Truly one of the most bizarre spectacles ever to grace our screens on the eve of a presidential election.
But that’s a footnote to history now, destined for well-deserved obscurity, aside from its enshrinement in the Chris Berman Video Archive.
What I really want to talk about today is a few of the factors that helped decide the election. They fall into a couple of major categories: 1) Factors beyond the candidate’s control; and 2) Factors within the candidate’s control.
Running From a Ghost
This was beyond either candidate’s control. The ghost I refer to is the incumbent, President Bush, or rather, his shadow. Bush himself has virtually disappeared in recent months. I cannot recall another election in my life in which the sitting president was 1) less involved in actively campaigning for his party, and 2) more employed as a weapon against his own party. This was the loss of a major tool for the G.O.P. No Republican wanted to be associated publicly with Bush, even to their fellow Republicans. He has become synonymous with unpopular military policies and uninspired leadership. This probably played a significant role in getting McCain the nomination – on the one hand, he was no favorite of the party’s right wing, but on the other hand, this gave him a certain distance from Bush, enabling him to be viewed as potentially electable by many party members. In the end though, the distance was not great enough, and it cost McCain dearly.
One could debate how much of this was within the candidate’s control, but the final nod in this area was emphatically on Obama’s side. Both candidates were far more articulate than the incumbent, but if McCain was holding a king, Obama was holding an ace and won the hand every time. Obama is an exceptionally effective speaker, which helped gain him the popular nod in the debates.
The Calculated Risk
That would be the selection of Palin as McCain’s running mate. It was apparently done to try to balance the ticket – to throw a juicy bone to the Christian Right, many of whom were unenthused by McCain. It seems to have backfired badly and may have cost McCain the election. At the very least, I think it cost him a lot of votes. I think McCain’s team was fearful of people from the Christian Right going over to Obama – or more likely, staying home on election day, so they selected a running mate that the group would find philosophically attractive. If that’s the case, I think they made a mistake. Yes, I suppose they would have lost a few votes here and there from that group, but the greater portion of them would simply have held their noses and voted for McCain. Palin, meanwhile, alienated a lot of people with her ill-advised remarks. Her grasp of many issues of national and international importance seemed so lacking at times that I think she probably drove away far more people than she brought in. I personally know at least two lifelong Republicans who regarded Palin as an embarrassment, and who told me they were going to vote for Obama.
This was the final X-factor – these two men, up for the top job at this moment in history. It was in some ways beyond either candidate’s ability to control. Look at it this way – for most of our nation’s history, what do you think the outcome would be if we were choosing between A) a respected long-time senator, white as paste and a war hero to boot; and B) a black man, regardless of any additional description? We know the answer, and while some people probably wish the mention of race would disappear from this equation, it would be willfully ignorant to pretend it isn’t a factor. America had reached a point where this outcome could happen, and it did. No matter who you supported in this election, I hope you can appreciate the power of this moment as an indication that we can grow out of the chains of our past – both the real ones and the figurative ones.
Having said that, one must agree with Obama’s declaration in his acceptance speech that his challenge is only beginning. He will be subjected to an unprecedented level of scrutiny as his term begins, with some people rooting for his failure and others regarding his failure as a foregone conclusion. We shall see. I’m reminded of an incredible moment in the film Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) has been lectured repeatedly by his Arab guide who frequently begins by saying, “It is written…” after which he offers some piece of desert folk wisdom. Finally, Lawrence cuts him off as he begins a lecture by vigorously declaring, “NOTHING is written!” Aside from a few neglected documents, such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I hope Obama bears that notion in mind during the next four years. The challenges to come are going to demand original and unprecedented approaches – not only from our leaders, but from you & me as well.
The preceding is certainly not an exhaustive analysis of the factors that led to tonight’s result, but considering the lateness of the hour, it will have to do for now! I hope that all of you are either A) happy with the election results, or B) able to make your peace with it. And now, nothing (more) is written.