03 November 2008

Please let it be "Good Morning America" on Wednesday

Well, after what seems like the majority of this year's blog posts, we're only 26 hours away from the US election night coverage. I'll be staying up for the duration, maybe with a vodka martini in my hand, probably writing the odd blog post. This is a long post, as we're at a turning point in world history. Turning points make me nervous... I get verbal diarreoaha. (A word I can't spell). Sorry kids.

I was going to be at a party in Oxford tomorrow night but work pressures make it inadvisable for me to take the required amount of time out of my schedule to get over there and back again (really sorry, Chris). In fact I'm probably being a damn fool staying up to watch it tomorrow night - but f*** it. This is history in the making.

Democratic presidential victories have been thin on the ground in my lifetime. I was born about a month after the disastrous landslide defeat of the excellent George McGovern by the crook Richard Nixon in 1972, and was too young to remember anything about Jimmy Carter's victory in '76. There then followed three crushing defeats. It was the 1980s, and by definition, the height of Bad Politics (and Fashion).

I got luckier in 1992 with Bill Clinton; I remember frantically trying to finish an essay late at night (this was a very common occurence in Oxford, almost as common as being whacked out of my brain), I turned on my little black and white CRT TV, and there the bastard was. Difficult to tell a 'red state' from a 'blue state' in black and white (and does anybody else get confused by the fact the blue party is the 'left' party? Who came up with this lunacy?) but I knew from the commentary that Clinton had done it. That, plus the stupid Republican American woman (that old Guess Who song just came into my brain - "American Woman" - some nice guitar distortion there, folks) crying in the college bar. Her misery was our ecstasy - at least until it transpired that Clinton was barely more able to get major legislation through Congress than was Jimmy Carter, and while he managed to get re-elected (which Carter sadly didn't, despite being up against a lunatic with Alzheimer's) he spent most of his time passing crap legislation given to him by Newt Gingrich, and getting impeached. OK so he was there, which meant that a Republican fascist (or Ross Perot) wasn't there, but it was still a big disppointment.

Then we had 2000 - perhaps the biggest downer of all time. A denial of democracy - a stolen election. Banana Republic, USA - not just A Department Store. Al Gore - cast out into the nether regions ( where he eventually returned as a remarkably effective environmental campaigner). The "child-president" as Hunter S Thompson called him (shit, Hunter - why did you pull a gun on yourself, you stupid f***wit? You would have been bloody LOVING it by now, mate. It's a drag being an atheist 'cos I can't say "hope you're up there watching all this unfold" with a straight face...) GWB - Grand Dubya Bullshit. The plundering of America's assets for defense contractors and the super-rich. Environmental disaster. ANOTHER stolen election in 2004. OK, John Kerry was no way the greatest presidential candidate ever, but what in F***'s name was George Bush? a human equivalent of those polystyrene wotsits that come in couriered packages. Cheap filler for others to exploit. Jeez, in November '04 things looked fuckin lame x 2 million... Hunter, on 2nd thoughts I can understand why you pulled the trigger, mate.

But then, just when Not Expected That Much, events took a good turn in America. Iraq was the Vietnam Mark II that so many of us had predicted. Bloody awful for any of the poor bastards from Iraq itself, Britain or America that were out there, but good news for US politics. Bush's 2nd term fell apart in ways that made Clinton and Reagan's 2nd terms look like perfection itself. In 2006 the Democrats recaptured Congress and the Republicans disowned Dubya. Predictions were that any likely Republican challenger would get his (and it always was a 'he'...) ass kicked come the Nov 08 presidential election.

Then, in 2008, events played out damn weirdly. Firstly, who's this sophisticated young punk from Illinois challenging Hillary Clinton's husband-given right to the Democratic nomination? Step forward Barack Obama and the most powerful grassroots campaign in known history, outstripping even the gigantic efforts of McGovern in '72. Building on the inspirational groundwork of the Howard Dean '04 campaign, which failed, but which showed the way forward in terms of building campaign finance and momentum through millions of small donations rather than relying solely on huge handouts from big corporates. It took months and months, but Clinton's more traditional campaign was beaten off, and Obama went forward to the national stage.

Meanwhile, in the GOP ("Grand Old Party", apparently - surely the most pretentious party nickname in the world?) strange things were storing. A genuinely charismatic dingbat called Mike Huckabee made the early running in New Hampshire before being swept aside by John McCain, who, in mid-07, had looked all washed up. The brief window of apparent success for the Iraq "surge" strategy which McCain had backed all the way, temporarily transformed him into some kind of apparent visionary and there he was, winning primary after primary, with Huckabee in a fairly distant second and the others - Mitt Romney, ex-actor Fred Thompson, the laughably inept Rudy Guiliani - off the map.

I got a bit bored with the contest in the summer - between the end of the primaries and the conventions - because no-one over here seemed to be covering the damn thing anyway. But I came back with a jolt when Sarah Palin got the V-P nomination for the Reps. The initial surge in the polls for the McCain/Palin ticket made a lot of people over in the UK very scared and for a couple of weeks it looked as if history was about to repeat itself - and we were in for another Ronald Reagan style triumph of reactionary fears over progressive hopes. Fortunately, normality ("normalcy?") reasserted itself as we discovered that even in the USA, being an ignorant gun-toting fascist is no automatic guarantee of success in a post-Nixon, post-Reagan, post-Bush landscape. (And that was just John McCain...) The more Sarah Palin was revealed to be a fucking MORON, the more ecstatic I was. The more John McCain came to resemble Michael Foot's evil Yankee twin, the more happy I felt.

So here we are, on the threshold of one of three options:

1) a new dawn for America. A bit like what they got with FDR, got to some extent (although with the huge F***-off mistake of Vietnam with JFK/LBJ), and should have got with Carter - (if he had had half a clue about how to run his administration without pissing off just about everybody in Congress who was supposed to have been on his side). And like they were never going to get with Clinton.
2) Jimmy Carter Mark II. I'll expand on what I mean by this in future posts if Obama really does win, but briefly: I think his biggest danger is that he ends up not being able to pull enough strings to effect major policy changes in the notoriously sclerotic American political system. The worst scenario would have a demoralised and distant Obama having his ass kicked by Huckabee or, god help us, Palin, in 2012... kind of a sick repeat of 1980... but let's not worry about that for now.
3) Civil war in the US. This is the most extreme what awaits if McCain somehow contrives to steal the election despite being 6 or 7 points down in the popular vote. More likely of course is that FOX news comes up with some conservative academic to explain that there's been a massive "Bradley effect", there are a few demonstrations in New York City, some people get shot and the US resigns itself to President McMugabe and Vice President Michael Palin.

Let's hope for all our stakes it's option 1. If you're a US citizen and you're reading this it probably means you were enough in agreement with the basic thesis presented here to make it to the end, which means:


(see, I've even color-coded it for you. And used your spelling of 'colour' - I'm a considerate chap. )

As George Clooney once directed:

Good night, and good luck.

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