By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
I. McCain-ism Explained (Sort of. Provisionally.)
John McCain had his Sister Souljah Moment on Monday. Just as Bill Clinton traveled to a meeting of the Rainbow Coalition in 1992 to denounce African-American racism, so McCain traveled to Pat Robertson’s hometown to excoriate Robertson and Jerry Falwell as agents of bigotry.
In a sense, McCain‘s journey was a good deal more politically risky than Clinton’s. Clinton knew that he was still the candidate with the clearest claim on the black vote, Sister Souljah or no. McCain has no such assurance: He now faces a nomination contest in which the Christian Right will redouble its efforts to defeat him, and likely sit on its hands next November should he win the nomination. (According to exit polls, McCain lost the religious right to George W. in Tuesday‘s Virginia primary by an 8-1 margin.) He has, in one grand gesture, both pushed the Republicans to repudiate the fruitcake bigots in their midst and driven a political wedge straight into the party’s heart. McCain has now drawn a line between the GOP‘s Protestant fundamentalists on one side and its more-establishment Protestants, its Catholic traditionalists and its Jewish neo-conservatives on the other. For the nation, his repudiation of the Christian Right -- in the name of Republicanism -- was an overdue instance of moral recentering. For the Democrats, however, it was also a moment of strategic opportunity: GOP presidential candidate attacks GOP activist base.
McCain is the occasion for a good deal of Democratic glee these days. And of all the emotions that John McCain touches in both the Democratic and the decent heart, the most powerful, I suspect, is schadenfreude -- the German word meaning pleasure at another’s pain. It is impossible to watch Robert Novak, cringing on CNN at each successive McCain victory, or to read of the anguish of all those GOP fat-cats who bought heavy and early into W., or to imagine Trent Lott‘s bowels in the aftermath of another McCain upset, and not be filled with innocent merriment. If you love a politician for the enemies he’s made, John McCain has to be a major crush.
The Democrats‘ dalliance with McCain, of course, is just a spring swoon. If McCain should actually upset Republican primogeniture and wrest the nomination from W., it’s Al Gore‘s bowels that will be growling. From the Democrats’ perspective, the best possible McCain outcome would be for him to dog W. straight to the Republicans‘ Philadelphia Convention -- and there, stage a bitter but losing credentials fight for the California delegation, assuming Bush holds onto the Republican vote here next Tuesday while McCain wins the beauty pageant.
The McCain phenomenon, as many have noted, seems as much about psychodynamics as conventional politics, though politics at the presidential level is often largely about psychodynamics. What exactly the McCain psychodynamics are -- other than electorally compelling -- remain fairly fuzzy, but I’ll venture one thought: John McCain is the first political figure I can recall who manages to personify both rebellion and authority. He campaigns against the political establishment and for a renewal of national values; he‘s the jerk-off flyboy redeemed by suffering; he’s Spencer Tracy with a streak of James Dean -- a father figure in touch with his inner son.
None of this is to say that he genuinely is what he comes across as, or, even if he were, that he‘d make a good president. It is to say that Al Gore had better hope he ends up running against Boy George.
II. West Wing (Woebegone) Wannabe
During the late ’30s, a sportswriter asked Bill Terry, the player-manager of the perennial powerhouse New York Giants, to assess the chances of the lowly Dodgers -- then about two-thirds of the way through a 21-year stretch in which they didn‘t once win the pennant. ”Brooklyn?“ asked Terry. ”Are they still in the league?“
Now, by all the evidence, there is a presidential election going on right now, but Bill Bradley’s viability, and visibility, are about as dim as Brooklyn‘s in the ’30s. His name is still on the ballot, alongside Al Gore‘s and Donald Trump’s. For much of the past week, he‘s been campaigning in Washington state, which had a non-binding preferential primary among Democrats on Tuesday, alongside a very real Republican contest. But in Washington, too, Bradley ended up on Tuesday well behind Gore.
Bradley has really spent the month of February in a media black hole. It was John McCain, not Bradley, who upset his party’s front-runner in New Hampshire on February 1, and it‘s been John McCain who’s dominated the headlines ever since. Partly, that‘s the result of the election calendar: February has been one loopy roller-coaster ride of Republican primaries, in South Carolina, Michigan, Virginia and Washington, while the Democrats have had no real (that is, delegate-apportioning) contests at all. Partly, that’s the result of the media‘s pack instinct, their incapacity to cover more than one big story at a time. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold simultaneously two conflicting ideas and not succumb to paralysis. And while no one in decades has accused the media of even remotely resembling a mind, first-rate or otherwise, this February has demonstrated yet again that the media cannot hold two ideas that are distinct, let alone conflicting.
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