Monday, April 7, 2008

Another Gaze into the Kristol Ball

William Kristol once again dons his swami robes and reveals the future of the presidential race. He sees Hillary Clinton graciously conceding the primary race by mid-May and the Democrats all joining together for a love-in at the convention in Denver where “Kumbyah” will be sung by children’s and gospel choirs and Barack Obama will be anointed as the Messiah, the True Leader who will vanquish the neocons and bring Peace, Love, and Harmony to our benighted nation. Meanwhile, John McCain will struggle to get fund-raising going and disconsolate Republicans will mope around their country clubs and NASCAR tracks, waiting for the November election the same way the foreclosed homeowner waits for the sheriff to come and evict them.

But wait…

McCain’s comeback should begin just after Labor Day, on Sept. 4, with a strong acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The presidential debates will also provide an opportunity. Expectations for Obama will be too high, people will forget he isn’t as good a debater as he is a speaker — and McCain could well rise to the occasion.

More fundamental will be the question of the discrepancy between the image of Obama the uniter and the reality of Obama the liberal. That hasn’t been much of a problem for Obama in the Democratic contest, since Clinton hasn’t attacked from the right or even the center.

But Republicans will. Last week, over drinks, one Republican strategist not affiliated with the McCain campaign mused about how an independent advertising effort against Obama might work. “Barack Obama: He’s not who you think he is” would be the theme. The supporting evidence would come from his left-wing voting record in Illinois and Washington, spiced up with fun video clips of Reverend Wright.

In other words, the Republicans, who can’t run on their record or rely on the sharp memory of their candidate (Shia? Sunni? Iran? Al-qaeda?) or his plans for revitalizing the economy (ready for more cake?), will do precisely what they’re best at: attack their opponent and try to scare the crap out of the electorate without offering anything more than platitudes, nostrums, and the firm assertion that John McCain is most assuredly not George W. Bush; he just plans to do the exact same things he did but without the fake Texas drawl.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the Republicans will do exactly what Mr. Kristol predicts; that’s a given, since it’s worked so well the last couple of times. But Mr. Kristol’s record for predicting the future is also well-known. He’s one of the bunch that said that we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq, that the war would last a couple of weeks or months, that it would pay for itself with the oil revenues that we’d get, and that our influence and model of democracy would turn Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia into the Iowas of the Middle East with freedom and McDonald’s springing up on every street corner from Riyad to Damascus. With that kind of record, it really makes you wonder why anyone gives serious attention to anything he says other than to hold it up for mockery and derision.

In truth, there is another aspect to this kind of soothsaying, and that is the element of creating excitement for an event where the outcome runs the risk of being a study in foregone conclusions. There’s a lot of pundit points to be scored by saying that the Democratic primary race could go all the way to the convention, and the inside baseball chatter about pledged delegates versus claimed delegates versus super delegates versus delegates who used Trident chews up a lot of air time on cable TV and lets the geeks with the charts and the chroma-key maps play with their toys.

Mr. Kristol, like all pundits, has to keep predicting that a blow-out will be a squeaker, much like the folks who still say that Mondale could really pull it out in 1984 and Barry Goldwater almost beat LBJ. It’s his way of keeping some job security, and you can bet that he’s already working on a column for post-election November that will excoriate the losers for not listening to him back in April when he told them how to win the race.