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PERSPECTIVE:

Poor John Kerry...

by Firmin DeBrabander
For the first time in nearly a decade, "Joe" is prepared to vote in line with his economic self interest, instead of against it, as Karl Rove miraculously pulled off in 2000 and 2004.
Throughout the recent presidential debates, Obama was praised for his remarkable calmness and steadiness. Against McCain's many onslaughts, Obama explained the rationale of his positions patiently and repeatedly. He did not accept McCain's invitation to sling mud in return, but largely kept a gentlemanly distance from such boorishness. Obama could have gotten mad—and many liberals sorely wished their man had ripped McCain on numerous occasions—but he resisted. Obama is better than that, his reticence told us.

Obama bet on reason and virtue, and the polls suggest that his bet is paying off.

Throughout the debates, suspecting that Obama would likely be rewarded for his gentlemanly behavior, I kept thinking to myself: poor John Kerry; he never had the luxury of reasoning calmly, politely with the American public.

Kerry tried to reason with us, wanted desperately to reason with us, but then jumped on the frenzied bandwagon of the War on Terror, and launched reason out the window. Poor John Kerry had to resort to that ridiculous roll call with his fellow vets at the Democratic convention in 2004, and "Report for Duty!" Democrats knew that the many-fronted War on Terror was a misguided, treacherous, costly sham, but encouraged their candidate to pile on anyway.

Poor John Kerry tried to be bigger than the dirty election Karl Rove launched upon him. Kerry did not stoop to acknowledge the dubious Swiftboat allegations. He professed his faith in the American people, that they would give him the benefit of the doubt, or that they had the basic know-how to detect political prevarication when it arose.

Boy, was he wrong.

So what exactly is different this election, that Obama can employ careful logic and gentlemanly aloofness where Kerry could not? The answer clearly must be the economy.

The financial crisis has shocked American voters into appreciating patient reason and modest virtue in their candidates. Or rather—and this is more to the point—the meltdown has prevailed upon Americans to vote according to their economic self interest, and they see this as a vote for Obama. This sudden realization on the part of voters is an accurate one, I believe, though the causes of this epiphany are worrisome.

Thanks to Obama's intention to cut taxes for the middle and lower classes, and reinstate higher tax rates for the wealthy and for corporations—and thanks to his party's traditional preference for financial regulation—his presidency is indeed economically preferable for the majority of Americans. This is made all the more clear by the failure of two grand Republican experiments pushed relentlessly over the past eight years: deregulation of several industries, especially the financial one, and supply side tax policies that have widened the gulf between rich and poor. Bush's economic legacy is greater prosperity for the rich, income stagnation for the rest—and now, thanks to Paulson's bailout package, financial security for the Wall Street barons whose gambles drove their deregulated industry, and our whole economy, over the edge. Obama and the Democrats promise to halt or reverse the Bush legacy on all of these accounts, and precisely in the favor of "Joe Six-pack."

For the most part, "Joe" sees this; he accepts that the Democratic platform addresses his financial plight. And so, for the first time in nearly a decade, "Joe" is prepared to vote in line with his economic self interest, instead of against it, as Karl Rove miraculously pulled off in 2000 and 2004. It has boggled Democrats' minds—and driven them practically mad—how Rove's Republicans enticed the American voter to disregard his economic self interest and obsess, rather, about non-issues like gay marriage and guns rights. Finally, the Democrats must be telling themselves, "Joe" has come back to his senses.

But I think we can draw a few cautionary lessons from these political developments. First of all, look what it took to bring "Joe" back to his senses: a financial catastrophe unlike anything we have seen since the Great Depression, one which Princeton economist Paul Krugman thinks has the potential to get even worse and perhaps derail the entire global economy. This should give the Democrats pause in their self-congratulations.

The Democrats would do well to worry about a security issue of any magnitude rearing its head in the last days of this campaign.

For, secondly, if the Democrats' success is indeed driven by a veritable meltdown in the economy, we should never underestimate the power of a perceived security threat to sway a democracy. The economic stars were already lining up in Kerry's favor in 2004—the economic offenses of the Bush administration were broadly recognized in that election—and he still could not cash in. The Democrats would do well to worry about a security issue of any magnitude rearing its head in the last days of this campaign.

Thirdly, we might meditate upon the capricious nature of the American voter. Who could have ever imagined that only four years removed from an ugly election won largely on fear and hostility directed against parts of the Muslim world, we might elect our own Hussein? Indeed, the American voter has come far—astoundingly far—in four years, that he now listens attentively and hopefully to Barack Hussein Obama, instead of dismissing him outright, as I believe Rove would have prevailed upon us to do four years ago.

Poor John Kerry must watch from the sidelines seething as the voters, recently prone to Bush's irrational advances, magnanimously open their hearts to Obama and hang on his every wise word. This is an amazing turn of events indeed—but the Democrats and Obama should worry that this magnanimity may well vanish as quickly and as surprisingly as it materialized.


Firmin DeBrabander is Professor of Philosophy at Maryland Institute College of Art.



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This story was published on October 23, 2008.