Every day (or close to it) until November 4, a series of writers and thinkers will discuss the election over instant messenger for nymag.com. Today, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi and New York's Michael Idov discuss why John McCain is “one of the worst” presidential candidates ever, Russian glee over American's problems, and what happens after a possible President Obama is hammered for what he doesn't manage to achieve (and how that relates to The Wire).
M.I.: So, will Ayers work? In terms of getting some "undecideds," of course, not just ginning up the rabid base.
M.T.: I don't think so. And I think they're working on other avenues of attack right now. They seem to be pushing this campaign-contributions story pretty hard now.
M.I.: Right, and that there's early-voting fraud in the states where Obama (coincidentally) leads the most.
M.T.: The thing is, Republicans in the last 40 years have ALWAYS gone the race route when things got tight. Nixon did it with his "law and order" commercials. Reagan used "welfare queens." Then there was Willie Horton, the immigration debate … so they're doing it again, but it won't work this time, and that's historic.
M.I.: I agree. I am most struck by the anecdotal evidence that the same people who don't hesitate calling Obama "n****r" also say they're leaning toward voting for him. That's pretty much it in the nutshell, isn't it?
M.T.: Right. This financial thing just wipes away all of the usual effectiveness of dirty politicking. People are more scared of being broke than they are of black people. In terms of "undecideds," this is a disaster for Republicans, because they picked Palin — had they gone the more moderate route, they might have had a chance to campaign against the Bush administration more. But now the ticket is firmly associated with the same kind of right-wing politics that got us here.
M.I.: The other truth that I think we haven't even realized yet is that people don't really give a shit about "terrorists" anymore. For most of America, 9/11 is just some historical thing that you're forced to remember once a year.
M.T.: Right on the terrorists thing. Again, it's all about fear. The typical election-season choice is between the candidate who plays on your fears (i.e., Bush warning about terrorists) and the candidate who plays on your sense of optimism (i.e., a Clintonian type). But now the crisis has taken the fear card away from the Republicans. Their tactics are trumped by circumstances. The real world, the crisis, is just more scary than their fake goblins.
M.I.: So let's look past the Obama victory. How vicious will the 2010 congressional race be, when the Republicans will be able to hit President Obama for FAILING to "deliver on his promises" (i.e., get us out of a massive depression in one year — the promise that no one's actually making right now)?
M.T.: That's hard to say on 2010. If Obama actually pulls us out of this somewhat — or if it just happens on its own, which I think is possible — he might do okay. But they're going to punish him hard in the advocacy media no matter what happens. It'll be like '94 probably.
M.I.: That's what I'm afraid of. Although, of course, with a Senate super-majority a not-unrealistic prospect, the Democrats should be able to ram some things through fairly fast.
M.T.: Again, the problem they have right now is that even Rush Limbaugh has almost no material to work with. When there's an Obama administration, they'll be hammering every last thing. And of course mistakes will be made. What kind of things do you think they'll ram through?
M.I.: Energy. Probably not national health care: There's just not going to be the money for it. Bush will have spent it all on banks.
M.T.: Yeah, it'll be like the mayor in The Wire. Gets elected and finds out the government is fifteen trillion in debt, can't do any programs.
M.I.: Speaking of energy — here's something I'm surprised McCain is not hitting Obama on: Obama is more emphatic about weaning us off Middle Eastern oil and less enthusiastic about domestic drilling. That leaves Russian oil, no? So McCain can slip into his comfy Cold War shoes on that one. But I haven't seen him make that argument.
M.T.: And Venezuelan oil. The Obama people would argue the issue is (a) domestic consumption and (b) lack of investment in alternative energy. McCain's would be a bit of a tough argument to make — i.e., I think it's hard to argue that weaning us off Middle Eastern oil puts our balls on Russia's chopping block. The issue is being dependent on oil generally.
M.I.: I hope that's the case. Yesterday I had an interview with some woman from Komsomolskaya Pravda [a Russian newspaper] who was practically delirious with glee at "the end of the American hegemony."
M.T.: They wish. I remember being with Russian journalists during the Florida mess in 2000 and everybody was just so psyched that America was falling apart. I tried to explain that America never goes away; we just keep fucking up upward.
M.I.: That's what I usually say in these situations, too. Except Russia has become a political buzzword in this cycle, so it's harder to explain to them that Obama and McCain don't actually wake up at night in cold sweat thinking of Putin.
M.T.: The really embarrassing thing is that Bush has made Putin look like Bismarck. Putin has played things almost perfectly since 9/11. Russia was 50 years away from being a superpower again at the end of the last century, and now they're five years away. And the Russians are even going beyond just exporting resources now — they're manufacturing again, while our economy is just dying.
M.I.: They have earned a bit of Schadenfreude. Especially now that we're nationalizing banks, etc. Hey, GM is near bankruptcy — maybe by next year it will be Gosudarstvennoe Mashinostroenie [Government Machine Works — Rus.]. They can keep the acronym.
But let's bring it back to our dear friend Ayers. So we're in agreement that it won't work? And when the next week shows a slight bump for McCain, we won't have heart attacks about it, right?
M.T.: I don't think McCain gets a bump. I think he goes into freefall and it's a landslide.
M.I.: Ooh, tell me more.
M.T.: He's been a terrible candidate, one of the worst ever. And the press hates him. His people treat the reporters like cattle — even worse than usual. That revolt over the pool and Sarah Palin shows you where the heads of everyone in the media are. They're tired of McCain's bullshit, and they're going to let him have it in the last weeks. (For readers who didn't hear, the McCain camp tried to prevent a reporter from following Sarah Palin at the U.N., because they didn't want her exposed to questions. The traveling press refused to cover her if they didn't back off and go back to the usual policy on pool coverage.)
M.I.: So one last thing: The current inhabitants of the White House don't seem to WANT McCain to win. Obviously, Bush would be toxic as a campaigner, but they still have enough juice to manipulate an event or two to "validate" some of McCain's points. An orchestrated statement from Iraq or Afghanistan endorsing his positions. Something. Yet the Bushies won't lift a finger. What's your take on that?
M.T.: Bush's name is like the Marburg virus on the campaign trail. The McCain people won't even mention him, let alone appear with him.
M.I.: Sure, but I'm talking about more subtle ways of helping. Does Bush hate McCain enough to genuinely prefer Obama? That's a mindfuck the Palin base might not recover from pondering.
M.T.: I think Bush is just cooked and politically isolated right now and what he thinks is irrelevant. You might remember he once said something about how the presidency sucks because there's so much work that you don't have time to just stare at your portrait and worry about your legacy. Well, he's about to have that time now, and he's not loving it. I do think you're right, though — he seems to genuinely dislike McCain. As do a lot of Republicans. I talked to one congressman this summer, a Republican, who said to me, "McCain is an officious prick."
A lot of Washington guys think he's a grandstander and an ego case. They remember stuff like the time he passed a bill yanking the special parking spaces for congressmen at Dulles.
M.I.: It's endlessly amusing to think Huckabee might have been a better bet. (At least he wouldn't need a Palin.)
M.T.: Huckabee wouldn't have won either. But at least he could have done a Goldwater, i.e., run a pure ideological race that sets the stage for something even bigger later.
M.T.: But it would have been fun to see all those old fatty pictures on the Web.
M.I.: So our Wonkette-style takeaway is, Obama wins, things still suck for a while, the end.
M.T.: Sounds good.
M.I.: I can live with that.
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.