Monday, October 20, 2008


I don't buy the notion that John McCain is an innocent victim of his campaign -- I think he's perfectly comfortable with its gutter nature. It makes him feel young and vigorous; it makes him feel like a brawler who doesn't quit. I don't think he worries at all about the lies his campaign is telling or the toxins it's introducing into America's body politic -- all that is trumped by his desire to either win or go down swinging.

But I wonder if his motivations are exactly the same as those of his campaign managers (and running mate).

Steve Schmidt, his campaign guru, is a Rove protege; Sarah Palin is just a plain old underinformed wingnut. They've spent their political lives in a Republican Party dominated by "movement conservatives" -- radicals with no real goals other than the amassing of power and the destruction of liberalism and the Democratic Party.

Like revolutionaries in the jungle, movement conservatives are fighting a long war. And I think they're philosophical about losing an election if they can make gains in that long war. Right now, they may actually be making some gains.

Look at how we're talking about taxes. The notion of progressive taxation in America goes back a century or so -- it was championed by Teddy Roosevelt, reportedly John McCain's big political hero. Suddenly, though, adjusting the tax code in ways that would replicate Clinton- or Reagan-era rates is being denounced as "socialism" -- not by back-bench GOP crazies or talk-radio blowhards, but by the Republican presidential nominee and his running mate. This has breathed new life into "socialism" and "socialist" as political smears and given them a new political acceptability. Now the words will be deployed at the highest levels of the GOP if Obama wins and tries to make even the moderate tweaks in the tax code he's promising. That's a legacy of the McCain campaign.

More frightening is the talk about "voter fraud." At the Huffington Post, Christina Bellantoni of The Washington Times has posted video of early voters in North Carolina (nearly all of them African-American) who have to walk through a gauntlet of (mostly white) protestors (some yelling "Cheaters!") in order to cast perfectly legal votes. It's now mainstream to suggest that every Democratic victory at the polls may be the result of voter fraud, or that every black voter in America is illegally registered unless proven legal. That's another legacy of this campaign.

So the election may be a battle the GOP loses. But in the long war, ground may have been gained.

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