By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
The race between McCain and Obama is tighter than one would think should be the case. I needed some help in figuring out why, so I got a coded message to "Shallow Throat "-- the high-ranking GOP mole in the Bush Administration with whom I've consulted often.** We met under some shade trees at a public park in Alexandria.
"I'm confused by what's going on," I said to Shallow Throat, who was wearing a new wig and wraparounds. "Obama should be wiping the floor with McSame, but the race reminds me too much of 2000 and 2004: so close that Rove and his minions could once again steal it."
Shallow Throat smiled. "Don't get too nervous, Bernie. Your guy should win. McCain, a catastrophe waiting to happen, makes even the plutocrats nervous. They're doubling down by sending money Obama's way as well. He may not be their first choice, but he's not radical and they can live with him.
"Besides, what you're witnessing now, before Labor Day, is just the usual jockeying for position. Trying out themes and ideas and ads. See what works, what sticks. Trying to brand your opponent, etc.
"In a few weeks, the name of the game starts to shift: It'll be G.O.T.V. (Get Out the Vote) time, and here your Democrats should do gangbusters. The Republicans are fractured; the far-right ultraconservatives and many of the fundamentalists don't trust McCain; there's not the same kind of passion for the GOP candidate that energizes the Democratic legions that will be sending money to and walking the streets and making phone calls for Obama."
MAD-AS-HELL HILLARY SUPPORTERS
"You may be right," I countered, "but the Democrats have their own fissures and fractures. Many progressives, for example, think Obama's little more than a center-rightist, beholden to the same corporate interests they've fought for decades. Plus, many of Hillary Clinton's dedicated supporters have said they won't support Obama and may even vote for McCain or, at the very least, stay home."
"Don't go drinking that rightwing Kool-Aid, sonny," said ST. "Sure, there were and are hard feelings among many Hillary supporters, but a good share of those are frustrated voters, many of them women, who, once they examine McCain's positions on abortion rights, stem-cell research, health-care and the like, will never be able to vote for him. True, some women may sit out the 2008 campaign and not vote for or work for Obama, but not as many as you may think. (Will be interesting to see what Bill Clinton says at the convention, whether he goes all in for Obama or continues to foment trouble among his wife's supporters.)
"The point is that progressive Democrats want to win this year, and in their hearts know that despite whatever reservations they may have about Obama, he's their guy this time out. For without the presidency, the possibility of passing liberal, let alone progressive, legislation goes down the tubes. The Dems will win big in the Congressional races, maybe even big enough to create a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but if McCain were to reside in the White House, his veto-pen could cause untold damage to the Democratic agenda, and his picks for the Supreme Court would be disastrous for social progress. I'm not even mentioning his reckless fascination with war as a first-choice option. So virtually all progressive Democrats, even if they wish someone else were their candidate, will vote for Obama."
WHY IS McCAIN SO CLOSE?
"I sure hope you're right," I said. "But I'm still caught up in the political puzzle: The Republican Party is so distrusted and disliked in the country, Bush's favorable ratings have been in the low-20s for a year or two, McCain is tied tightly to Bush's failed policies, and he's such a terrible campaigner, such a crotchety old dude who may even be approaching the outskirts of senile dementia -- given all this, how in hell is McCain doing so well in the national polls?"
"Come on, Bernie, you know at least part of the answer. In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of folks out there, especially in the Republican Party, and especially in the states of the Old South, who won't vote for a black man, period. And in states like Florida, there are plenty of old Jews who've swallowed the dirty-tricks GOP email circulating widely that falsely proclaims that Obama is Muslim and anti-Israel. In both cases, as you can see, racism is still alive and well and living in America, even among some Democrats."
"But surely the percentage of those who think that way is no more than, say, 10% of the voting population. What's leading so many others to McCain's camp?"
Shallow Throat gave me a "you-dummy" look: "Wake up and smell the numbers, my friend. Ten per cent in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Virginia and Florida and Michigan and Indiana can give those important states to McCain. Plus, from where I see it, McCain comes into the election with a running start -- 25% of voters are fundamentalists, evangelicals, HardRight extremists -- so, right off the bat, he's got 35% of the vote in his pocket, more if our estimate of the 10%-racist vote is low, especially in specific states.
"Let's talk national numbers. In my rough estimation, Obama's got a built-in 40%, McCain's got a start-off base of 35%. So Rove is roughing up Obama right now, and it's working. McCain is within a point or two of Obama, which is right in Rove's wheelhouse. Even if he can't push McCain's numbers any higher, Rove can maneuver to manipulate close elections in key electoral states the same way he did it in the first two Bush races and in 2002 in Georgia and elsewhere: by cheating and theft.