Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
With his decisive triumph over Senator John McCain, Senate Barack Obama made obvious history: he is the first black (or biracial) man to win the presidency. But the meaning of his victory--in which Obama splashed blue across previously red states--extends far beyond its racial significance. Obama, a former community organizer and law professor, won the White House as one of the most progressive (or liberal) nominees in the Democratic Party's recent history. Mounting one of the best run presidential bids in decades, Obama tied his support for progressive positions (taxing the wealthy to pay for tax cuts for working Americans, addressing global warming, expanding affordable health insurance, withdrawing troops from Iraq) to calls for cleaning up Washington and for crafting a new type of politics. Charismatic, steady, and confident, he melded substance and style into a winning mix that could be summed up in simple and basic terms: hope and change.
After nearly eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, Obama was the non-Bush: intelligent, curious, thoughtful, deliberate, and competent. His personal narrative--he was the product of an unconventional family and worked his way into the nation's governing class--fueled his campaign narrative. His story was the American Dream v2.0. He was change, at least at skin level. But he also championed the end of Bushism. He had opposed the Iraq war. He had opposed Bush's tax cuts for the rich. He was no advocate of let-'er-rip, free market capitalism or American unilateralism. In policy terms, Obama represents a serious course correction.
And more. In the general election campaign, McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, turned the fight for the presidency into a culture clash. They accused Obama of being a socialist. They assailed him for having associated with William Ayers, a former, bomb-throwing Weather Underground radical,who has since become an education expert. Palin indirectly referred to Obama's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who once preached fiery sermons denouncing the United States government for certain policies. On the campaign trail, Palin suggested there were "real" parts of America and fake parts. At campaign events, she promoted a combative, black-helicopter version of conservatism: if you're for government expansion, you're against freedom. During her one debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, she hinted that if her opponents won the White House there might come a day when kids would ask their grandparents what it had been like to live in a free country. At McCain-Palin rallies, supporters shouted out, "Communist!" and "terrorist!" and "Muslim!" when the Republican candidates referred to Obama. And McCain and Palin hurled the standard charges at Obama: he will raise your taxes and he is weak on national security.
Put it all together and the message was clear: there are two types of Americans. Those who are true Americans--who love their nation and cherish freedom--and those who are not. The other Americans do not put their country first; they blame it first. The other Americans do not believe in opportunity; they want to take what you have and give it to someone else. The other Americans do not care about Joe the Plumber; they are out-of-touch elitists who look down on (and laugh at) hard-working, church-going folks. The other Americans do not get the idea of America. They are not patriots. And it just so happens that the other America is full of blacks, Latinos, gays, lesbians, and non-Christians.
McCain, Palin and their compatriots did what they could to depict Obama as the rebel chief of this other un-American America. (Hillary Clinton helped set up their effort during the primaries by beating the Ayers drum.) Remember the stories of Obama's supposed refusal to wear a flag pin or place his hand over his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance? The emails about Obama being a secret Muslim? The goal was to delegitimize Obama, as well as the Americans who were moved by his biography, his rhetoric, and his ideas. It was back to the 1960s--drawing a harsh line between the squares (the real Americans) and the freaks (those redistribution-loving, terrorist-coddling faux Americans).
Barack Obama concluded his campaign for the presidency on Monday, November 3, with a rally in Manassas, Virginia. The event's location was one final sign that Obama has made good on his promise to expand the electoral map for Democrats — Virginia has not voted for a Democrat in 44 years and yet Obama holds a five point lead going into Election Day. The supporters Mother Jones found appeared touched by the unique appeal that may allow Obama to win red states like Virginia tonight. They were convinced Obama would heal the nation's wounds, end the nation's wars, and fix the nation's economic troubles. When asked for a way a President Obama might disappoint them, few could think of anything to say.
In September 2003, I published a book immoderately titled, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. Its contention was a simple one: that Bush had gone beyond the normal boundaries of presidential spin in using falsehoods and misrepresentations to skew the public discourse on many fronts: stems cells, global warming, tax policy, and, above all, the invasion of Iraq.
At the time, this was not--in certain circles--a well-received argument. Conservative pundits, pointing to my book and others that came out at the time (Al Franken's Lying Liars, Molly Ivins' Bushwhacked, written with Lou Dubose, and Joe Conason's Big Lies), declared a new phenomenon was at hand: rabid, irrational Bush hatred. MSM commentators, ever looking to reside within the comfortable, above-it-all middle, observed that the left was now mirroring the extreme rhetoric of the Limbaugh-crazy, Coulter-loving right. I noted some examples of this dismissive reax in a recent Mother Jones essay. The New York Times' Matt Bai, citing my book, wrote, "the new leftist screeds seem to solidify a rising political culture of incivility and overstatement." Conservative columnist David Brooks proclaimed that "the core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves." (Yes, I was more dangerous than George W. Bush.) What few of these commentators of the center and right bothered to do was to evaluate the case I (and the others) had put forward. That is, to confront the facts I had presented. Their aim was to discredit the very idea of anyone going so far as to call the president of the United States a liar. And National Review editor Rich Lowry opined, "I don't think the public is going to buy the idea that [Bush is] a liar."
Lowry got it wrong. By Election Day 2004, polls showed that a slight majority believed that Bush was not honest and trustworthy. Still, Bush managed to best John Kerry in an election that was something of a referendum on Bush's first term. But that election came too early. Had it been held a year later--post-Katrina--any Dem would have thrashed Bush and Cheney at the polls. And now about seven out of ten disapprove of his presidency, and most of the public agrees with the premise that Bush deliberately misled American citizens about WMDs and the threat supposedly posed by Iraq. Bush is heading toward the door widely regarded as a failure: Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown. He has become the vanishing president. Hardly seen. Barely relevant.
Bush's style of politics, his policies, his political party--it's all been discredited. Whatever happens in the presidential race, the GOP is poised to take a beating in congressional races. He has led his party to ruin. The battle over the W. story has been won by his critics--at least in the short run. The view that Bush has been a dishonest president and bad for the United States has become the majority position in the United States. If John McCain somehow manages to win, it will be in spite of Bush.
Many presidents are elected as reactions to the previous president. George W. Bush's (faux) victory in 2000 was a reaction to the Bill Clinton soap opera. And a Barack Obama triumph would be the natural reaction to the W. years. Obama is the most progressive (or liberal) Democratic nominee since FDR ran for reelection. He is black (or biracial). He is an intellectual. He is no child of privilege. To sum up: he is the opposite of George W. Bush. Not only has Bush started two wars he couldn't finish, presided over a government that lost a major American city, and did little as a financial tsunami hit the nation; he has (I am guessing) created a yearning among many Americans for a non-Bush. And within the realm of conventional U.S. politics, Obama is about as non-Bush as it gets. No wonder Obama has a strong chance of becoming president. He spoke (endlessly) of change; he is an antidote to the Bush presidency.
By december 2007, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) had been toiling on environmental and clean-energy legislation in Congress for three decades—and for the past few years, the task had increasingly come to feel like pushing a boulder up Capitol Hill. But that was then. Now Markey, a garrulous lawmaker with a thick Boston accent, was elated. As chairman of a new committee on energy independence and global warming set up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he had helped pass a groundbreaking energy bill that would cut greenhouse emissions and boost fuel standards for the first time since 1975. The new standard—35 mpg by 2020—would eventually eliminate 190 million metric tons of global warming gases, the equivalent of getting rid of 28 million cars and trucks. The bill also required utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020, increased building efficiency standards by 50 percent, and shifted tax breaks from Big Oil to renewables. With all this, Markey notes, the United States would have met 35 percent of the Kyoto Protocol's greenhouse targets by 2030—not bad, considering that Markey's global warming committee was less than a year old.
One of the duties of a campaign manager is to spin--that is, not tell the truth. I remember that on Election Day 1992, Mary Matalin, a top aide for President George H.W. Bush's reelection campaign, went on television throughout the day and said that the campaign was going to win. But its internal polls showed Bush I was heading toward a loss to Bill Clinton.
On Friday, Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, offered a similar whistling-past-the-graveyard stretcher. In a conference call with reporters, he talked up Sarah Palin, claiming she was an asset to the GOP ticket. It was a tough day for doing so. The New York Times had front-paged a poll showing that 59 percent of voters believe that Palin is not prepared to be vice president--up 9 points since the beginning of October. A third of the voters polled said that her selection would be a major factor in picking a president--and those voters favored Obama. Can you say, "drag on the ticket"?
Davis couldn't. He told reporters:
Governor Palin's crowds are huge. In fact, she was in a location last night, the same general vicinity of Senator Biden. He had about 800 people at his event, she had 20,000. So, all the talk that we see on television and the newspapers about what a drag Governor Palin is on our ticket can't be further from the truth. She's electrifying crowds all across the battleground states, and we really appreciate the hard work she's putting in.
So Palin is helping McCain? Davis and the McCain crew seem to be alone among the politerati in believing this. No one should call the election before the votes are counted, but it does seem clear (assuming polls mean anything at all) that if McCain does manage to win it will be in spite of--not because of--Sarah Palin.