Friday, October 10, 2008

What Happens When the Subtext Becomes the Text

A current feature of my workplace these days is that we frequently pop into each other's offices to discuss the state of the presidential race. Did someone miss a poll somewhere (Obama's up in Virginia!)? Has something happened in the last forty-five minutes that someone who didn't have the foresight to sign up for news alerts needs to be filled in on?

Today, for instance, our topic was the lynch mob that the average McCain/Palin rally has turned into (although it seems like there may be a bit of at least perfunctory dialing back, ads notwithstanding). Specifically, what in the world are they trying accomplish with this "he's a traitor, a terrorist, a Muslim, a foreign interloper" tack? Who in the world, except for the ignorant, the angry, the racist--the already converted, in other words--is buying this? And how in the world are you going to move the polls by alienating everyone else? Good questions, indeed.

My view goes back to a conversation I had a couple of months ago. My friend A tends to be pessimistic about everything this campaign, mostly because he's still feeling shell-shocked that the rest of the bozos in our country would vote for Bush twice. I remember talking to him when Palin was picked, and he was concerned that people would really warm to her in personal terms. I thought it was a catastrophic error on McCain's part, because he just lost his moderate facade.

The Republican Party's Faustian deal with the Religious Right is that they fall behind their candidate and work fiercely to turn out the base. At the same time, they also keep a low profile to allow the candidate to make gestures of moderation to woo the moderates and independents. Hence, crucial to this set up is that they trust that the candidate is sympathetic to their agenda and/or they receive assurances in the form of coded language and dog whistles; remember the baffling (to the rest of us) G. W. Bush Dred Scott reference? It's a delicate balance requiring trust, the proper language, and a bit of plausible deniability.

Enter John McCain. He isn't a true believer like Dubya. And he has had the bad taste to, for example, blame the Religious Right for the 2000 smear campaign against him in South Carolina. Remember the Huckabee surge in the primary? In short, there was no way that McCain was going to be able to consolidate their support with subtle gestures, so he was forced to make some major concessions to get them onboard. Thus, Sarah Palin. The base was mollified, and more so, ecstatic; however, the moderate mask that would allow McCain to get to the crucial 50+1 was dropped. He didn't have much choice, and there was always the hope that people would be so dazzled by Palin's personality and "authenticity" that they would assume that she couldn't possibly be extremist, or just not care that she is, because she seems so gosh darn nice (given precedent, it wasn't an unreasonable hope).

But since Palin's favorables are dropping like a stone, McCain's in a pickle. If he tries to dust off his moderate maverickyness, he alienates the base, which he just sold his soul to placate. If he embraces full wingnut mode to rile up the base, he alienates the moderates. Since the base is the larger, more reliable chunk, with some grassroots and fundraising machinery he desperately needs, his only hope is to cast his lot with them, maximize turnout on his side, tamp down turnout on Obama's side (One of the benefits of a nasty, negative campaign for Republicans is that it drives down turnout; they do best in low-turnout elections because their base votes reliably), suppress the vote, and hope for the best. It won't be enough, but McCain is nothing if not one to gamble with long odds.

The incitement to violence at the rallies then becomes incidental to the mission and has the added feature of planting seeds of Obama's illegitimate presidency. The troops need to be rallied to another impeachment fiasco! God help us, and let's hope some wackos don't try violence against Obama or minority voters at the polls.

No comments: