Tomgram: Ira Chernus, Will Culture War Overshadow Real War in 2008?

All agree that this is (or should be) the year of the Democrats. But with candidate Barack Obama still leading, on average, in national polls by only about two to five percentage points, depending on the day, and the media proclaiming “oil” now a “Republican” issue, there’s certainly a long way to go to that prospective Democratic victory on November 4th. Still, in retrospect, this last week may be seen as the one in which Senator McCain’s campaign concluded that this might not only be the year of the Democrat, but of the Obamacrat as well, and went for the jugular.

Gallup polling, for instance, shows Obama making small but significant gains in every kind of state (red, purple, and blue) over the last two months. At the same time, Obama’s world tour — the one McCain and the neocons practically egged him into taking, with all those online tickers showing just how many days since he had last been to Iraq — left the McCain camp in full and bitter gripe mode. In the imagery of advisor and former Senator Phil Gramm, they had become a campaign of “whiners.” Meanwhile, the Berlin bounce finally showed up in the polls.

While Obama was wowing the Europeans, McCain managed to get an offshore-oil photo-op in the Gulf of Mexico wiped out by a somehow overlooked advancing hurricane. Instead, he ventured into a grocery store aisle in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, prepped on rising food prices, where he met a “shopper planted by the local Republican Party” and experienced an unfortunate “applesauce avalanche.” (The Daily Show version of this is not to be missed.) Not surprisingly, by week’s end he was decisively skipping the “issues” and heading for “values” — that is, directly for the throat in the style which Republicans have, in recent years, made their own.

Earlier in the week, he had practically declared his opponent treasonous for supposedly putting his political campaign ahead of victory in Iraq — “It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign…” — and launched a classic Republican campaign attack on Obama’s “character.” His latest ad, which attacks Obama for supposedly going to the gym rather than visiting wounded American soldiers in Germany, typically ends: “McCain, country first.” (Versus… uh… Obama, country last?)

It’s not exactly surprising that candidate McCain headed for what he hoped was potential “values” and “character” pay dirt (emphasis on “dirt”) in tough times. As Ira Chernus — canny TomDispatch regular and author of Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin — points out, it may be his only chance. The question is: Will it work?

Will “character,” the culture wars, and security fears help elect the most woeful Republican candidate since Bob Dole — and in a country that not only increasingly doesn’t think much of Republicans, but has never cared to vote old? (Ronald Reagan was the exception to this rule, always running young and vigorous, whatever his age.) McCain, in a golf cart being piloted by 84-year-old George H.W. Bush, actually looked older than the former president. And, gee, you might go for the jugular early, too, in a year in which the Republicans don’t even control the political machinery of the state of Ohio.

Now, let Ira Chernus take you on a magical mystery tour of the strange world of American “values,” American “value voters,” and a mainstream media that values the value-voter story above all else. Tom

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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