Friday, September 12, 2008

The Year of Change

Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain had pulled off some stunts prior to and during the Republican National Convention that had just concluded last Thurs in St Paul, Minnesota. Since then, the newly revived Republican campaign and dynamics has dominated much of the discussions and commentaries by inquisite media that created the appearance of momentum.

First and foremost, Senator McCain has chosen to dance to the same tune of “CHANGE” that has propelled his Democratic Party opponent Barack Obama, passing the powerful “EXPERIENCE” candidate Hillary Clinton, from near-obscurity to where he is in short 18 months. McCain had obviously recognized and concluded that there is no hope to fight the waves and thirst for change by majority of American people. Instead of fighting it, he figured out correctly that a better strategy is to join and ride the Change message. In the best case, he may steal the message since change is a rather illusive term; in the worst case, he would at least neutralize Obama’s advantage and headstart. Of course, this is easier said than done. Every marketing people know in order to execute such a strategy, one still needs to differentiate McCain’s “Change” message from Obama’s. Further, for quite sometime, McCain’s has had difficulties to separate and distance himself from the Bush administration and at the same time to get material support from the conservative Republic base.

I have to say McCain and his team did manage to come up with a brilliant solution of which the nomination of Sarah Palin (or someone like her) for VP candidate is the lynchpin. First, it further differentiates McCain’s “Change” from Obama’s by doubling down on his “Reform” brand. It allows McCain play up anti-establishment image without naming names and thus dis-associate himself from whoever and whatever voters dislike about current and past Republican politicians including George W. Bush at one fell swoop. Secondly, it shores up, as expected, the support of conservative Republic base including the Evangelical Right. Salin Palin scores very high on several critical issues of concern to those for which McCain has been perceived to be too moderate. The nomination gives those conservatives just enough excuses to vote for the ticket and overlook their objection to McCain. Thirdly, with a white woman candidate on the ticket, it may just give enough excuses to some unconscious racists and feminists to vote for the ticket; few outspoken feminists (or reverse-sexists) already voiced their support without knowing much about Sarah Palin. Fourthly, being from Alaska, a sparsely populated state, her rural small town background could project a connection with many rural areas in the lower 48 states.

But can McCain really be an effective change agent and get the country onto a different and better direction? What change is he talking about? Or is it just a semantic and labeling game? Does he have visions or just dabble around some myopic reform issues with guts driven conviction? Can he persuade sufficient number of people to follow him and to chart and implement the changes needed? Is his character as strong and righteous as he likes us to believe? Or is it more like what Ted Rall wrote in his Feb 2008 article that “… McCain knows what he ought to do. He starts to do the right thing. But John McCain is a weak man who puts his career goals first”?

Yes, I do believe McCain is a decent, loyal citizen and credible career politician. With his upbringing and being born to a highly successful and decorated Navy Admirals father and grandfather, Senator McCain does appear to have a much more than average sense of honor and shame (which is good by Eastern philosophy and experience) than many typical politicians. He was ashamed of his signing of the prepared confession by North Vietnam captors after being captured, jailed and severely tortured repeatedly. As a result, he worked hard to redeem himself and demonstrated with his extreme loyalty and patriotism. He is also one of the very few Republican politicians who called for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and did stand up against Bush’s policy on water-boarding and torture of terrorist suspects. He was ashamed of being one of the Keating Five in mid 1980s and has worked hard to redeem himself with campaign finance reform efforts. He was ashamed of abandoning and divorcing of first wife Carol McCain after she was severely disfigured and crippled from an auto accident, as evident from his answer to Pastor Rick Warren’s question “… what would be the greatest moral failure in your life…?” during the interview in August 16th Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency. Only thing I am wondering is how and if he has been redeeming himself for this sin of his?

But courage and patriotism can only carry you so far and is not enough. It is one thing to be a maverick in congress by disagreeing with your party and pushing alternate legislations. It is quite another to create and lead with visions and to set direction and drive a massive government machinery with stability. At the end of the day, you don’t hear congressmen or executives being called maverick when their policies got implemented and legislations got passed. Has he been over-generously rewarded by the media for his failed attempts? Reform promises in campaign often end up being just promises and pipe dreams. Sarah Palin’s resume is also too short to prove her skills and ability. To be successful, as candidate Obama often reminds us, change needs to come from below, not from above. It has to be a sustaining grass root effort backed and worked by many with a visionary leader. For the answer to the 64 billion dollars question: which vision of change is more real and promising, I would definitely take Obama-Biden’s.

This year’s presidential election dynamics is an intriguing one. With less than 8 weeks to go, this is a dangerous time for Obama-Biden as Obama’s Change message gets diluted and blurred by McCain-Palin’s and the discussions get more and more focused on the character, personality and image. The danger is if the campaign continues to move down the path of contesting for being a more attractive populist, McCain-Palin can indeed pull off a big upset and surprise in November. I don’t know about you, but it is surely scary for me when I saw on TV many voters including the pundits form instant opinion of a candidate like Sarah Palin based on superficial sound bites and images. Am I asking too much of the media and people to learn, think and then make an informed choice?

Talk to you soon!

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