A Hinge Election

June 6, 2008 on 9:04 am

Well, it looks to be a hinge election after all. Only two things are now necessary for this to happen. First, Sen. Obama has to pick a running mate other than Hillary Clinton. Second, John McCain has to continue to distance himself from the hard core conservative elements of his party.

Incredibly, neither party ended up with a baseline player. With McCain, the Republicans will ride a maverick to November, a man distrusted and disliked by many in his party. It is Obama, though, who has really shaken things up. While the Clinton Machine was not ultimately up to the task, it was the closest thing in either party to a genuine centripetal force and Obama dismantled it. And in tracking the super delegates steady migration to Obama from early February, despite his reverses in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it appears that mourning for Machinus Clintonius will be brief.

Though a declining force since the early 1970s, the political parties, both Democratic and Republican, now seem truly to be shells of their former selves. Where are the bosses? Where are their anointed ones? Well, there aren’t any of the latter because there are none of the former. For the Democrats, the Clintons are in decline, if not gone, and their retainers with them. DNC Chair Howard Dean, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid comprise the Democrats’ structured leadership, with Kennedy, Byrd and a handful of others at their side, and a freshman Senator with the party nomination in hand. Hardly the trappings of an Establishment.

And the Republicans? They have a radioactive incumbent, a Vice President whose casual utterances distance him further from the citizenry, certainly those in West Virginia, a congressional leadership whose only certainty is a diminution in its numbers and a virtually anonymous national chair. Oh, then there’s the cacophony of radio jocks claiming to be its soul, but whose distain for their party’s nominee approaches the vulgar.

We are on fresh ground here. It is, indeed, a pundits’ paradise. Speculation upon speculation will fill the airwaves tracking what might be the most important five months in the nation’s recent history for neither candidate is a truly national figure. McCain, as maverick, has lived in contrast to others. He is, in fact, more of an exception than a rule. And Obama? There is not a political figure in living memory, perhaps even our history, who has taken himself to such heights from such obscurity in so short a period of time. 

And, perhaps as never before, much of what each will bring to their presidency will be the product of the campaigns they run and lead, and the ground they traverse in the process. We don’t know who they are yet because they are not quite done yet, quite turned out. We are going to watch as they become who they are to be. How we react, by acclamation or silence, in awe or disappointment, will literally affect who they are to become. While each has a center of gravity and a political soul, they will be burnished and sculpted by us, by the media, and by the pressures and turns of the campaign.

Even now, for all the negativism from some Republican quarters, there is emerging a sense that McCain may, in fact, be the best of their available candidates to hold the White House. There is a practicality in this that is refreshing. It speaks of a loosening of the ideologue’s grip and an appreciation of the maxim that politics, after all, is indeed the art of the possible. And for the Democrats, its hard to reflect on Obama’s success and not sense that there was within the party a core dislike or distrust of the Clinton Machine, if not the Clintons themselves. As much as many wanted George W. Bush out of the White House, there seemed to be something inside that held them back from puting the Clintons back in it. Indeed, there is reason to argue that her popularity with blue collar Democrats in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky during the last weeks of the campaign was more a rejection of Obama than a preference for her.

Renewal, it would seem, is in genuine prospect - for Republicans and Democrats alike. We could be on the cusp of a new political time, even era. If Obama is in fact who so many hope him to be – a new political force who will return partisanship to its productive purposes – then his prospects in the campaign are strong, perhaps certain. For the nation, there can be nothing in this but gain and good. Similarly, if candidate McCain can find his voice, can show himself to be a uniter, that which Bush has so cynically and ruinously showed himself not to be, then here, too, there is naught but gain and good for the nation.

The issues, of course, remain. However, the very purpose and role of government in a democracy is to resolve issues. This nation’s first need is a better functioning democracy and the prospects of such seem suddenly brightened. It does, indeed, seem to be a hinge election, and perhaps a Perfect Election as well.

I can’t think of a better time to be an Independent.