Late reflections on Obama vs. McCain, round 1

1 Oct

From what I can tell, the general consensus is that last Friday’s debate between Obama and McCain was a draw.  And while I’m prone to explode with frustration when the undiscerning public, along with the pundits who do most of their thinking for them, judge a point-for-point knockout to be a wash (the 2004 Kerry-Bush debates come to mind), this time I basically concur: no clear victor, at least from a political vantage point. From a college debate-style evaluation of the arguments presented, I’m inclined to give Obama a marginal win. That said, he got hit with so many impressive-sounding, but utterly bogus attacks from McCain with little more than half-hearted quibbling for counterpoint that it‘s hard for me to even care.

Obama knows that the vote of self-identified American liberals, along with anyone to the left of them, is secured.  After Ralph Nader was (unfairly) blamed for dividing the left and thus giving Bush Jr. the White House in 2000, it has become taboo for all but the most radical leftists to vote for a third party candidate (even Noam Chomsky advises swing state voters to support the Democratic Party ticket).   Embittered Hillary supporters might be an exception here, but I imagine their vote will ultimately be decided by factors other than Obama’s debate performance.  So at this point, Obama is focused on winning over undecided independent voters, i.e morons. Consequently, he strives to make his points echo what he imagines they want to hear, constrained only by fear of flip-flop accusations.

Consider the Iraq war.  When John McCain spews crowd-pleasing nonsense about honor and victory, Obama can’t help but dishearten anyone who takes opposition to the occupation seriously. He won’t make the obvious (and well known) arguments against McCain’s view of the war (i.e. that the surge is a farce, that “victory” is an extremely problematic concept in this case, that the American people don’t want the war and can’t afford it anyway, that we should respect the Iraqis when they ask us to withdraw sooner-rather-than-later, etc.) because he’s afraid of giving jingoistic independents the impression that he’s a pessimistic, unpatriotic pussy.  This is doubly bothersome because his unwillingness to question the “success” of the surge allowed a loud-mouthed simpleton like Bill O’Reilly to make him look foolish

Obama tries (and I’m sorry to say, largely succeeds) at appeasing liberals against the US military presence in Iraq by arguing that we should focus on blowing up more of Afghanistan instead. So the soldiers won’t come home, and the American people will continue to put off seriously asking themselves whether all this violent, imperialistic nation building is really a good thing. The average American liberal is, it seems, too unsophisticated, or just too afraid of persecution, to question the war in Afghanistan–after all, the Afghani government attacked us or something. Obama will thus continue to seize on the ideal position: being pro-war, but vaguely against the unfashionable one.

Given all the excitement surrounding this guy’s candidacy, I can’t help but feel disappointed.  I suppose there’s a possibility that if he wins the presidency, a more principled and authentically liberal Obama will emerge.  I don’t have my hopes up, though.

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