Sunday, November 09, 2008

The traditional post-election round of celebratory recriminations and finger-pointing is well under way, a festival that Democrats have become perhaps a little too well-practiced at. (Democrats tended to keep in training even during the 1990s, since you could always count on there being someone in the camp who felt guilty about Bill Clinton's victory over whichever noble Orc had just fallen to his campaigning jujitsu.) By contrast, Republicans have spent practically every waking minute of the past two years working on mastering the art of shooting their wounded dead and casting their broken heroes into the wilderness, and they still haven't really mastered it. I thought that as soon as Obama was declared the winner, McCain was going to put his hand to his forehead and mutter, "What the...where am I? Who are all these people? And where did all these balloons come from? The last thing I remember, I was on the Senate floor and Lieberman was coming towards me with his arms outstretched and his lips pooched out, and then everything went black..." This would set up the flood of stories about how the old maverick had been caught in the throes of "campaign fever" while he was shoveling all that shit and making the angels cry, and we mustn't hold any of it against him but just be grateful that we had the real McCain back with us again.

As near as I can tell, that's been mostly relegated to a brief flurry of obligatory tributes to his concession speech, which he had to deliver over the traumatized screams and booing of the extras from Mississippi Burning who had come to form his base. For the past five days, he's pretty much gone back to being the invisible man, even among those desperate for something to think about besides how lonely they feel for sulking while the rest of the planet is dancing in the streets over the passing of the free world's baton to a socialist terrorist-hugging mutt. It's already been noted here that the editorial pagers at The Wall Street Journal have set off a bizarre trend to leap frog right over McCain's redemption narrative and get to work pasting George W. Bush's face back up on Mount Rushmore. Technically, clogging up the arteries of an otherwise great newspaper with bleary condemnations of those without enough love for the torturer-in-chief isn't illegal, but Bush, even at risk of writer's cramp, really ought to include the Journal's editorial board in the list of those he grants last-minute pardons when he has one foot and four toes out the door, so they won't feel left out. They've been troupers. (Maybe slobbering over the unappreciated greatness of a boil on history's ass ought to be called "trouper-gating." Just a thought.)

Of course, the true centerpiece of all this is the defend-Sarah show. If John McCain really does love this country and if he has an ounce of concern for its future--I confess that I find it almost as hard to tell as I do to care at this point--then it must be the ultimate sick joke of his career that, having gone into this election to the accompaniment of a chorus of cheers from people who insisted that with him in the race we'd so none of that "politics as usual" crap or any pandering to the dimwit mob, he now seems in real danger that his obituary will someday read, "Senator McCain is probably best remembered as the man who introduced Sarah Palin to a national political audience. Ms. Palin, a four-time candidate for the presidency before replacing Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune, was the standard-bearer for the Republican Party, in its final years as a major American political organization before it was overtaken and supplanted by the Flat Earth Party." One excited camper has just announced "a special project: Operation Leper. We're tracking down all the people from the McCain campaign now whispering smears against Governor Palin to Carl Cameron and others. Michelle Malkin has the details. We intend to constantly remind the base about these people, monitor who they are working for, and, when 2012 rolls around, see which candidates hire them. Naturally then, you'll see us go to war against those candidates." Actually, the strangest thing about that post is the attempted slap at Katie Couric. After all, Palin may not have done the McCain campaign any favors, but she did single-handedly restore relevance and journalistic credibility to Katie Couric. I actually sometimes have occasion to visit the CBS News building, and the difference between the mood over there before and after the Couric-Palin interviews hit the airwaves was like the difference between a child's funeral and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride experienced on happy pills.

I don't know what's stranger, the idea that Palin needs protecting or the news that there are people ready to volunteer for the job. Why? She "energized the base", in the process not only driving away everybody else but making it necessary for the McCain people, who couldn't afford to be picky about who they let into their sparsely-attended rallies, get a good, steamy gawky at how scary-looking that base was. Do the people who are trying to carve her image into the permanent figurehead of the Republican Party want to boil the slice of the electorate down to the ideologically pure and the barking mad? (Now they know how I feel when I'm trapped in an elevator with Ralph Nader, last seen offending the delicate sensibilities of Fox News by asking if President Obama would be an "Uncle Tom for corporate power.") Listening to some of these guys, you have to wonder, are they really that thrilled just because a middle-aged married woman is willing to wink and jiggle her tongue at them on TV? I don't remember any of them thinking that it was worth going to war with their party leaders over the flushing of Dan Quayle, and he could actually name a book he'd read. (The book usually turned out to be The Hunt for Red October, but by God, he could name it.)

Clearly the McCain campaign bosses have miscalculated in trying to push all the blame for their defeat onto Palin's party barge. Whatever degree of resentment they feel towards her may well be deserved, but however stupid Palin is, they're the ones who were stupid enough to invite her to join their convoy, and by releasing her back into the wild with a target spray-painted to her back, they've inadvertently encouraged a lot of people to get in touch with their inner maverick and side with her against the big-shot professionals. (And how does Joe the Plumber feel about this? Will Ted Stevens step aside and let Sarah keep his Senate seat warm for him while he's pressing license plates? And will Victor call off the wedding after the paternity tests prove that Jack is the father of Ashley's baby?) The ironic thing is that they didn't need to bother trying to blame anyone. When someone like George Bush the Elder takes a winnable election away from someone like Michael Dukakis by means of dirty tricks and low appeals, it's natural for a dazed public to wonder what the hell happened, and somebody's career is going to wind up being stuffed and mounted in the lobby of The Washington Post, but right now, Obama's election has the feel of one of those magical, meant-to-be moments that confers no shame on the loser: he was fated to win (or so it feels), and somebody had to lose to him. But Republicans might not have realized that because they just don't have the practice at losing modern presidential elections that Democrats have had. Here's hoping they have the chance to get a lot better at it.

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