Monday, May 5, 2008

Esteemed Token

William Kristol is still whipping the rotting corpse of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, trying to keep the name of Barack Obama’s former pastor up high in the Google search for as long as he can.

Obama has now repudiated Wright because of his remarks at the National Press Club last Monday. But Wright said nothing new there. AIDS could well have been invented by the U.S. government. Sept. 11 was at least in part “chickens coming home to roost.” Louis Farrakhan deserves our respect. These views of Wright were known to Obama when he made his “I can no more disown him” speech in Philadelphia on March 18. Yet, last week, at a press conference in North Carolina, Obama claimed to be “shocked” and “surprised” by what Wright had said, and disowned him.

What really seems to have shocked and surprised Obama is what Wright said about him: “What I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing.” Later on in his press conference, Obama returned to this, saying that Wright’s cavalier dismissal of Obama as just another politician was “a show of disrespect to me.”

Some voters might think it would have been nice if Obama had been as angry in March at Wright’s disrespect to the United States of America as he was in April at Wright’s disrespect to Barack Obama.

But even Mr. Kristol has to concede that the damage to the Obama candidacy isn’t as bad as he had hoped and he will likely be the Democratic nominee. That does not bring a lot of joy to the McCain campaign.

Still, Obama is the likely Democratic nominee. Some conservatives are giddy at the thought — kidding themselves that the general election will therefore be easy, that Obama will be another Dukakis. I was struck, though, in several conversations this week with McCain campaign staffers and advisers that they’re pretty sober about the task ahead. About the Dukakis analogy, for example, one McCain aide said: If in 1988 Ronald Reagan had had a 30 percent job approval rating, and 80 percent of the voters had thought we were on the wrong track, Dukakis would have won.

Um… as Glenn Greenwald points out, in March 1987, E.J. Dionne, then reporting for the New York Times, wrote:

Asked how they would vote if the 1988 election were held now, 47 percent of registered voters said they would back former Senator Gary Hart, the Democrat with the most support in surveys of his party, and only 34 percent chose Mr. Bush….

But almost every other measure in the survey indicated a deep erosion in Mr. Reagan’s popularity.

Approval of Mr. Reagan’s handling of foreign policy was at the lowest level of his Presidency: only 29 percent of those surveyed approved; 58 percent disapproved.

So, yes, Dukakis would have won if the election of 1988 had been about foreign policy and issues. But it wasn’t. The GOP under the direction of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes made it a campaign about the pledge of allegiance, flag burning, the ACLU, Willie Horton, and Michael Dukakis looking like Snoopy riding around in a tank. This time around it will be the pledge of allegiance, flag pins, Jeremiah Wright, and Barack Obama looking uncomfortable in bowling shoes. They know that’s the only way they can win, assuming the electorate is gullible enough to be lead into the voting booth by these shiny things and the useful idiots in the press.

But if that doesn’t work, Mr. Kristol has another suggestion: John McCain should pick 36-year-old Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal as his running mate. The McCain insiders are already dropping his name.

They’re tempted by the idea of picking someone so young, with real accomplishments and a strong reformist streak.

It might also be a way to confront the issue of McCain’s age (71), which private polls and focus groups suggest could be a real problem. A Jindal pick would implicitly acknowledge the questions and raise the ante. The message would be: “You want generational change? You can get it with McCain-Jindal — without risking a liberal and inexperienced Obama as commander in chief.” I would add that it was after McCain spent considerable time with Jindal in New Orleans recently, and reportedly found him, as he has before, personally engaging and intellectually impressive, that the campaign’s informal name-dropping of Jindal began.

It’s really hard to see how this idea isn’t just another attempt, like the floating of the Condoleezza Rice trial balloon last month, to out-diversify the Democrats. Gov. Jindal is of Indian ancestry, so he presents a splash of color in the pasty-white GOP, a marked contrast to the rest of the party that doesn’t have anyone in the House or the Senate that isn’t white. Mr. Jindal may be everything that Mr. Kristol claims he is, and it would be unfair to dismiss his possibility as a McCain running mate as sheer tokenism if the people who were considering him weren’t doing it themselves. But if Barack Obama wasn’t a serious contender for the election, Mr. Jindal wouldn’t be any higher up in the running than any other young conservative governor from a mid-sized state such as Matt Blunt of Missouri. Besides, the last time the Republicans ran a young and relatively inexperienced candidate as vice president we got Dan Quayle. Enough said.