As of now, it is clear to any sober political observer that most college students in the country are likely to break for Barack Obama, who in their eyes is hipper than an MTV reporter, more sexually charged than Dan Radcliffe in “Equus” and able to distill complex policy issues into a single (abstract) noun. Moreover, Obama’s claim that John McCain is four more years of President Bush carries special weight at colleges where the student body frequently votes 75 percent for the Democratic Candidate and 25 percent for the Green Party Candidate, according to an article in the U.S. News & World Report. In other words, it’s tailor made to render McCain the moral equivalent of Satan in the eyes of every Wesleyan student.
I can understand where these students are coming from. As of now, I can spot two different groups of people who favor the Obama campaign over that of McCain. The first believes that the past era of partisanship has been nothing but trouble, and that a “new tone of respect and bipartisanship” as well as “a clean break from the recent past” are needed. They find Bush’s economic policies repellant because they believe that “when someone’s hurting, government has to move.” They temper this compassionate impulse with the understanding that pure socialism creates a “poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things.”
The other group worries about the impact the Bush Presidency will have on their future, and firmly disagrees with McCain’s tax proposals because we must “not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents, and other generations.” Both these groups firmly agree that “free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don’t attack each other.” It is on the basis of these deep-seated beliefs that the thought of McCain is unthinkable to such students, since McCain is four more years of Bush!
I’m sure my readers find it very easy to identify with at least one of these two groups, which is why I believe that when it comes to choice of candidate, they are seriously barking up the wrong tree. Of the quotes listed above, one is a quote from Barack Obama, and the rest are quotes from George W. Bush, and whatever the Obamaphiles may believe, it is no accident that the Obama quote is almost impossible to tell apart from the Bush quotes. This is because despite Bush and Obama’s vastly different policy positions, the tone of Bush/Cheney 2000, Bush/Cheney 2004 and Obama/Biden 2008 is exactly the same.
For some, this will not be a problem. After all, there has always been a liberal contingent which despised Bush only because he had the gall to use moral language in support of what they saw as the wrong moral cause. The idea that you should try and read your opponent out of the debate using moralistic platitudes doesn’t trouble this group. However, given that Bush’s pigheadedness, stubborn refusal to engage with his opponents directly and abuse of Manichean rhetoric is a classic staple of the Youtube generation critique of Bush, I think a much larger group would find the idea of four more years of this sort of politics to be frightening. After all, that’s why they were supporting Obama in the first place, to get beyond this sort of nonsense!
I will even admit, shamefacedly, to having been one of their number at one point. Before the Republican nominee had been decided, and we were facing the prospect of Mike Huckabee as our candidate (a true second Bush if ever there was one), I was seriously considering throwing my vote to Obama (should he gain the nomination) out of protest against the sickening avalanche of self-righteousness which would have resulted from Huckabee’s nomination.
Huckabee’s nomination did not come, but the sickening avalanche did, and shockingly enough, from the post-partisan candidate’s followers! To his credit, Obama did not join in this cascade of masturbatory moralism until his convention speech, but that didn’t stop his cult from behaving much the same way towards any Obama criticizer that people like Ann Coulter behave against any Bush criticizer.
I raise this point because it is precisely John McCain’s inability to inspire a cult-like following which I think makes him the antithesis of four more years of Bush. Bush has, throughout his presidency, tried to cast himself as a visionary leading America, Iraq, Afghantistan and the entire bloody Middle East into a peaceful, neoconservative land of milk and honey. Obama, despite disagreeing with Bush’s choice of route, ultimately doesn’t disagree with this notion that a president can guide America up the steep and thorny path to heaven—it’s just that it’s a liberal heaven to which he’s leading us.
By contrast, McCain’s run for the presidency has nothing to do with a vision and everything to do with serving his tour of duty in the Oval Office. McCain sees himself as serving America with the least fuss necessary; Obama sees himself as an electoral “little engine that could,” constantly huffing and puffing “I think I can” as he attempts to railroad his messianic aspirations up the vertical slope of reality, with all of us along for the ride whether we like it or not.
And to quote his running mate, “That’s not change, that’s more of the same!”