Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Act II

The headlines are pretty much the same everywhere: OBAMA WINS.

The primaries are over, and like the long first act of a Wagnerian opera, the audience is thankfully released into the lobby to take a deep breath, go to the bathroom, get a drink, and brace themselves to endure the rest of the interminable.

A lot of the commentators on MSNBC were reveling in the moment of what they termed as one of the most historical events in American history: the nomination of the first black man by a major political party to be their candidate for president. And while it seemed that the commentators were more impressed with their presence (“Look, Mom, I’m on TV in the middle of something really important!”), it will take a while for the reality of the moment to sink in. But when it finally does, in many respects it will be larger than the election itself.

Senator Obama seemed to be very aware of it, though, and his speech went beyond the moment, and then some. As Andrew Sullivan noted, if this is a portent of what’s to come in the campaign from Mr. Obama, it’s going to be on a completely different level than anything we’ve seen in the last forty years.

In a small way, I feel sorry for John McCain. He didn’t bargain for being on the opposite side of history…at least this history. He and the rest of the GOP were planning to run a campaign against Hillary Clinton and all the dynamics that such a race would be heir to. Now instead of running against the first woman to be nominated by a major party to be president, he has to be the one to carry the message that America can’t be trusted in the hands of what he calls an inexperienced young man who thinks he’s entitled to the office. I do hope that in light of the last eight years, I am not the only one who sees the irony in that kind of statement; John McCain could have used it in 2000 when he ran against an inexperienced young man who thought he was entitled to the office.

The Republicans have their work cut out for them. They have to play the bad guy in an election that will stand out in history, no matter the outcome. They also have to make the case that John McCain, in spite of massive evidence to the contrary, will be nothing like George W. Bush. They will point out the three or four times that Mr. McCain differed from the president on everything from tax cuts, the war in Iraq, and warrantless wiretapping — except that Mr. McCain has changed his positions that it’s a little hard to keep track. They’re going to get desperate: “At the July 4th weenie roast, Bush had mustard on his hot dog; McCain had onions and relish. He’s such a maverick!” And if Mr. McCain’s speech last night was any indication of how he’s going to campaign, it’s going to be almost pitiful. You could smell the desperation that was seeping out from the room.

As is the case with all long nights at the opera, the intermission will be all too short. The conventions are in August and the campaigns aren’t going to stop between now and then. So brace yourself; the fat lady doesn’t sing until November.