09 November, 2008

Bitterness, patriotism, and my "loser mug"

I'm trying not to be too bitter about Senator McCain's loss, and I'm failing miserably.

I'm happy for Senator Obama's victory, and his supporters' joy makes me smile. The vast majority of them are neither morons, nor socialists, nor terrorists, nor anti-Semites, nor convicted felons (have I left anything out?) but good, decent, hard-working people. They made a choice, and I respect their choice, even while I disagree with it. I hope they'll have the decency to concede likewise that I didn't vote for McCain only because I'm some sort of closet racist, or someone who hates paying his taxes. (For the record: I have, in some years, consciously paid more taxes than I had to.)

I have wanted to hammer the media for their grossly biased coverage of the campaign, and I feel no regrets for that—my outrage, vice though it may be, burns undimmed and unrepented—but it's probably gone on way too long now, so I'll try to put a stop to it.

I'll admit readily that the McCain campaign made several bad errors. I was profoundly disappointed by McCain's performance in the first debate. Readers might have caught that in this entry:

I was most impressed by Jim Lehrer's questions, especially the one asking the candidates how they'd change their priorities due to the financial crisis and the likely bailout. …The surest sign that it was a great question is that both candidates ducked it.
One reason I like McCain so much is that, in general, he answers such questions honestly and frankly. Consider the primary season: McCain told Iowans that he didn't believe the government should subsidize ethanol, and lost Iowa to Huckabee. McCain told Michiganders that thousands, perhaps millions, of manufacturing jobs that had been lost were irreplaceably gone, and lost Michigan to Romney. The same trait that lost McCain Iowa and Michigan worked in other states. One journalist, I forget who, described McCain back then as having the uncanny ability to tell people things they didn't want to hear, and to make them respect him for saying such things.

For some bizarre reason, that characteristic of McCain disappeared after the Republican convention. McCain could easily have answered Lehrer's question truthfully and honestly. He didn't, and it cost him. An insightful journalist (I forget who this one was, too) once wrote that McCain can't speak insincerely: when he does, you know it, and he knows you know it. McCain's response to that question struck me as insincere: I suspect that it struck all the viewers as insincere, and he knew we knew he was being insincere. In my uninformed opinion, that one failure doomed an otherwise brilliant campaign.

All that aside, McCain did something wonderful: for the first time in my life, I voted for a presidential candidate, rather than against one. I had to put aside the post-convention McCain and remember the old McCain, but I did it, and voted for that guy, and felt proud about my vote. I carried my McCain mug to the office the next day and walked around with it, joking with a colleague that I was sporting my "loser mug".

I'm not that unhappy to have lost. Obama has also done something wonderful, although I'd rather not resurrect the ugly barrier he broke by naming it. I do regret many of the policies he promises, and I'm amazed at the credulity of many of his fans. Unlike McCain, Senator Obama delivers insincerity with such polish and panache that I suspect his fans failed even to notice it. Usually political arguments involve an unspoken acknowledgment of a politician's insincerities, and bend over backwards to accommodate them. Senator Obama's advocates have an amazing trait: they seem not even to notice the man's whoppers.

I met lots of people like this, but rather than pick on them I'll beat a dead horse and turn again to the media. I remain flabbergasted that the Washington Post's editorial page criticized Obama one month for using the economic crisis to score political points against Bush and McCain, then a month later endorsed Obama, specifically identifying a supposed refusal on his part to use
the economic crisis to score political points—never mind their own previous reporting and editorializing to the contrary!

It may be Machiavellian to say this, but the inability to be insincere is probably a fatal flaw in a president. Senator Obama was no more insincere than any other politician in a presidential campaign—his turnabout on accepting public funds is merely one of many examples—but he pulled each one off with such polish and panache that maybe it's for the better, in a worldly sense. Perhaps his ability to lie with a straight face is what people mean by the "temperament" required to be president.

Time will tell. I love my country, so I hope he's a successful president. I'd even be happy to accept some real socialism if it would contribute to his success—but it wouldn't.

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