McCain Nation Presidential Debate Watch Party, Walnut Creek, California.
October 15, 2008. Photo by Jon Winet
David Levi Strauss, Aperture magazine contributing editor, noted writer, and current Chair of MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department, School of Visual Arts, shares his unique perspective on the current political landscape.
Autism on the Rise
John McCain has the worst timing of any politician in recent memory. Eight years ago, he was the most popular political figure in America. Shot down by the Bush/Rove team’s dirty tricks in 2000, he was later forced, Stockholm Syndrome-style, to embrace them. Now, after eight years of a Republican administration that will be remembered as among the worst in American history, McCain and his ideas are irrevocably yoked to that catastrophic cart. His statement Wednesday night that “I am not President Bush,” echoed Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” in its bitterness and irony.
Rather than moving toward the center to convince independent and undecided voters (who used to be part of his natural constituency) to vote for him, McCain instead swerved to the right, choosing a polarizing vice-presidential candidate that can only help him on the lunatic fringe, and mounting a negative campaign that attempts to revive the cultural battles of the 1960s at a time when a collapsing economy has voters focused only on the immediate present and future, not the past.
To rely exclusively on the old Republican rhetoric of cutting taxes and shrinking government at this point, when government is the only protection against collapsing markets, indicates a dangerous misreading of political realities. McCain is fighting the wrong war at the wrong time. More and more, he exhibits an abnormal subjectivity, marching to his own maverick drummer as it leads him and his supporters over a cliff.
Watching McCain in the final debate, I was reminded of Bob Dole in 1996, another highly skilled and successful senator who was drastically out of step with the changing times, and made bitter by the knowledge that he’d repeatedly missed his presidential moment. When John McCain looks at Barack Obama, he sees the future, and it galls him. You can see it in his eyes. Bob Schieffer was trying to help McCain by setting him up for his litany of attacks against Obama, but all it did was display the older man’s desperation and impotence. McCain looked better than he has in months in the first forty minutes of the debate, but if this had been a prize fight, Schieffer would have stepped in and thrown up his hands to protect McCain an hour into it.
Filed on Friday, October 16 , 2008, after the third and final presidential debate.