Well that took long enough

Obama vs. McCain. Sure, we’re used to it now — but anyone who was predicting that a year ago deserves a medal for prognostication and/or damn good guesswork.

There’s already been a lot of hoohah written about the historical nature of this contest, deep symbolism, reflections of larger problems and issues, and so forth — I say hoohah not because these observations are invalid, merely that at a certain point this overwhelms the actual mechanics of what’s going down. And that’s going to be interesting on a variety of levels.

Couple of examples are these instances of paying attention to what’s behind the curtain — and the fact that these are public statements and reports means that I’d love to know more of what else is going on:

  • Mark McKinnon’s departure from McCain’s team is to me far more interesting than the dust-up over lobbyists departing from said team. Politicians might work with lobbyists when it comes to constructing and maintaining their political networks? You don’t say! They’ll be working on crafting ad campaigns with professionals in the field next. Which of course was what McKinnon was doing, and is still doing — and presumably will be doing, really:

    Last summer McKinnon, who lives in Austin, announced he would leave the McCain effort if it was going up against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama….he’s sticking by his vow that if the Democratic candidate was Obama, he would step off the McCain ad team because Obama’s election “would send a great message to the country and the world.”

    The transition will occur over the next few weeks. He will, however, continue as an informal advisor. “I’m just getting off the front line making ads,” he said.

  • Then there’s that whole money issue:

    In financial disclosure reports released Tuesday night, Obama reported raising $32 million for his primary in April and banked an aggregate of more than $9 million for the general election.

    In contrast, McCain reported raising just $18.5 million for his primary account in April and having no money set aside for the general election.

    The Arizona senator has decided to accept taxpayer financing for the general election phase of the campaign, which means he will be limited to spending $85 million between the September Republican convention and Election Day.

    If, as expected, Obama’s campaign can soon shift its focus entirely from the primary to the general election and his fundraising remains at its current pace — about $30 million to $40 million a month — he could easily match McCain’s total taxpayer-provided kitty before the Democratic convention in August.

    There’s already some pushback on this — then again, Ed Morrissey in cheerleader mode is a fairly hollow prospect at the best of times — but comments in response like “I was ready to send the RNCC some money but on the same day they voted for the bloated farm bill and so my checkbook went back into my purse” don’t exactly boost confidence, I’d figure.

  • Meanwhile, the whole flap about talking to dictators/appeasement/whatever is about to take an amusing turn given the confirmation of this:

    Israel and Syria announced Wednesday that they were engaged in negotiations for a comprehensive peace treaty through Turkish mediators, the first time in eight years that such talks have taken place.

    Senior Israeli officials from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office and their Syrian counterparts were in Istanbul on Wednesday, where both groups had been staying separately, at undisclosed locations, since Monday. The mediators shuttled between the two.

    The elements of negotiation were not made public in short official statements from both capitals that spoke of conducting “these talks in good faith and with an open mind.” But there is no question that the Syrians want to regain the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Nor is there any doubt that Israel wants to end Syria’s close alliance with Iran, hoping to reduce the power of anti-Israel groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Both benefit from Syrian as well as Iranian patronage; both are considered terrorist groups by Israel and the United States.

    Talks are talks, of course, not things set in stone; anyone assuming otherwise would be nuts. But it’s nice to see that after a few days of posturing rubbish from morally outraged people about the very idea of not using weapons when dealing with people of whom they are not fond that two governments actually IN the Middle East are engaging in this thing called ‘realpolitik,’ which I heartily recommend to people like Andy McCarthy, say. (That said, it would have been even more bizarrely impressive if it was Israel and Iran talking, if only because that would have undercut whatever was left of the neocon dream belief completely, but I suspect that’s backchannel at best.)

For all this and other things that can be said, the first point is the one that’s most interesting to me, for this reason, even if this does get into the hoohah I was just decrying a bit — McKinnon, either by clever calculation or by virtue of being the first, ended up dry testing a meme that’s been quietly running for some time at various spots on the right, namely that Obama winning the candidacy would be a very impressive thing for the country as a whole. Which it is — as a friend put it to me a couple of months back, up until this electoral cycle he figured that the Democratic Party would never actually nominate a black man to run for president, no matter what rhetoric had always been offered. But it’s when I started seeing parallells to McKinnon’s sentiment get more seriously advanced some months back on the likes of RedState that I wondered about how quickly it was being embraced there, and why.

What had happened at such right-leaning sites and blogs — in between all the usual ‘pass. the. popcorn.’ yawnsomeness regarding the extended primary battles that passes for deep thought at many — was this rather too glowing idea about ‘isn’t it great that we’ve reached a stage where a black man and a woman can be competing for the candidacy of a major political party’ without turning the gaze in on their own party too much, a odd bit of weird self-congratulation without substance. It can be argued — and it has been, tendentiously, by themselves — that the whole idea of the institutional right is that they are aiming at the truly color-blind society and the like, happily borrowing Martin Luther King’s noted phrase ‘the content of their character’ as needed. Cute misdirection from the bunch that came up with the ‘Southern strategy’ and all, it must be said.

But more telling is this story:

Just a few years after the Republican Party launched a highly publicized diversity effort, the GOP is heading into the 2008 election without a single minority candidate with a plausible chance of winning a campaign for the House, the Senate or governor.


“In 1994, when I first ran, we had 14 African-American Republicans running for Congress. … I was the only one that won that year, but we had 14, and we had some good candidates,” said former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, one of the party’s most recognized African-American voices. “I am grateful for what Ken Mehlman did when he was RNC chairman, but I knew that wouldn’t last — that was one person. I’ve never gotten the impression that it was institutionalized.”

So who’s to blame for this diversity deficit?

Jack Kemp, the former Republican congressman and vice presidential nominee, says the culprit is clear: a “pitiful” recruitment effort by his party. “I don’t see much of an outreach,” he said. “I don’t see much of a reason to run.”


Watts, for one, rejects the argument that Republicans can’t compete for minority votes or successfully recruit minority candidates. He argues that the party simply hasn’t tried hard enough.

“Unless you have an infrastructure to build off of, it’s all throwing mud at the wall and hoping that some of it sticks,” said Watts. “There’s an entire infrastructure that needs to be thought through, and it seems to me no one is interested in building that.”

Let us speak frankly — there is no point in claiming that the Democratic Party is magically the home of perfect and well-rounded reflections of society as a whole in terms of all its makeup, its groups of interest, its main players and money sources. Only the naive think that. Similarly, only the naive think that the Republican Party is home to nobody but crusty bigoted old white men being crusty etc. That ain’t life, that ain’t reality.

But intent means a lot. Some sense of recognizing the time is extremely important. And the 21st century time is one where the divisions and biases in society are familiar but the dynamics and possibilities are much, much greater than ever before. Watts, I think, nails something simple and obvious, which has been directed at the GOP the entire year — they can’t stay frozen in place and hope for success, they actually have to make a concerted effort to build, create, and maintain. What there is of the loyal base can kvetch and kvetch all it wants, but that base isn’t enough, and will decrease over time by natural attrition.

I’ve commented before on how William F. Buckley’s famous definition of being conservative — standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’, to summarize it — is by definition defeatist, because it implies history is going to run you over anyway. Talk isn’t enough, talk is cheap, and can mean nothing. (He says, while writing this blog entry!) Personally I’m not interested in helping the GOP or the cause of the right — its tethering to a reflexive social conservatism I do not agree with is its own burden to bear, and I am quite happy to see it suffer as a result. But as a matter of political observation and dynamics, it is perversely fascinating to watch a slow suicide in this fashion.

What Watts is talking about is only one factor of many, this isn’t a tipping point per se, and it’s not like the GOP is suddenly going to up and disappear in November. But to get back to McKinnon’s inadvertantly made point — the GOP can either be the party simply talking about how nice it is that their opponents are showing what a good thing the opportunity for a range of potential voices and backgrounds in their candidacy process is for America, or they can be the one putting something into place allowing for that in their OWN process as well. They want to keep shooting themselves in the foot, they’re more than welcome. At some point, though, they might discover that all those gunshots kinda hurt their ability to stand.

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2 Responses to “Well that took long enough”

  1. nariposa Says:

    I saw that McKinnon story and thought it noteworthy too, though I don’t understand why you’re so cynical about it. Even if its only a symbolic gesture, I think it speaks to Obama’s ability to inspire bipartisan excitement, and also to the importance of this moment. It’s not just that he may be the first black president, it’s that he’s the first multicultural candidate, and a true renaissance man. Both of those things are the embodiment of American ideals. Makes me wanna dab a tear with the stars and stripes.

  2. Ned Raggett Says:

    McKinnon I’m not as cynical about…at least, not completely (I mean, we ARE talking about someone who did high level ad work for Bush not once but twice, so call me a bit suspicious). But my brain is tuned into the Sparks concert right now so all further thought is being subsumed into Russell singing “Under the Table With Her” with a full string section. 😀

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