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Nothing is Sewn Up Yet

By the grace of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, tonight we may know who will face off against John McCain this fall. Many were saying that by tonight we may know who our next President will be, but even though Big Media long ago declared Obama the King of the Universe, our Great Pretender has been caught saying the same stupid condescending things about rural whites that the educated white elite used to say about urban blacks. Hilary's gotten herself caught in a few gaffes herself, but she's not the naïf that Obama is and has kept herself closer to the center. It's still a tossup between them. Tonight may nail it, but it may not.

I don't do politics here very often, so I'll offer a few notes on the race so far and be done for another month or two:

  • There are clearly no such things as “private remarks” or “this is off the record” anymore. We've taught our young people for years that politics has no rules, that outright hatred of whole groups for political reasons is completely acceptable under the banner of the First Amendment and “political speech,” and that it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you win. Those striving for elected office these days have to be very careful what they say and where they say it, because the blogosphere is full of people who will gleefully publish it and by doing so make it eternal. The Internet never forgets. Better to just shut up and quietly stand on your record, if you have one.
  • Something I've noticed in talking with political independents for many years is that independents don't believe campaign promises. They understand completely that lying is legal, and that the only way to judge a candidate is to look at his or her record in detail (including—or especially—where their money is coming from) and then extrapolate linearly into the future. When you give stirring campaign speeches full of promises, you are reassuring your base, not persuading the center to move in your direction. Independents call BS on anything candidates say since they first declared themselves.
  • There is a difference between what people say to friends (and to pollsters) and what they do in the privacy of the voting booth. It's something like caucusing in the months leading up to the election: People will say the things that they think they are expected to say (like “I'm voting for Obama!”) to avoid unpleasantness and conflict within their inner circles. This is a survival tactic if you live among political tribalists from either side of the spectrum. On election day, the magic of the secret ballot makes it possible for “survival centrists” to vote their true hearts, knowing that no one will catch them out in any lies made earlier to keep their scalps intact.
  • The American electorate is still very closely divided, and it doesn't take a lot of votes to tip an election. Nobody has anything sewn up.

Some final speculation pertinent to this last point: Many across the political spectrum have already written off John McCain, but that's a mistake. McCain is not seen as a “real” Republican in some quarters on the right, but Republicans are better nose-holders than Democrats, and come November McCain will get their votes irrespective of the Democratic nominee. McCain has cleverly kept his VP spot open (and generally kept a low profile) and probably will until he is absolutely sure what he's up against. Having played the race and gender cards intensely for a couple of years now, the Democrats have legitimized this kind of tokenism in the public eye. McCain could easily win against Obama by partnering with either a black or a Hispanic. He could win against Hilary by partnering with a woman of any color. In either case, it doesn't matter who. It's sad that it's come to this, but that's how American politics is now played, and both political parties had better be ready to reap the whirlwind in unexpected ways.

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