“McCain vs. Obama/Clinton? It’s Why We Play the Games”

            In the world of sports, there’s an old saying that some experts like to invoke whenever a big upset occurs: That’s why we play the games.  In early November of 2008 we might hear this phrase applied to the world of Presidential Politics.  The Republicans seem to be working against almost every disadvantage—the economy keeps getting softer, gas prices keep getting higher, George W. Bush has been pretty low in the polls for a long time, and then there is John McCain.  He’s very…seasoned, chronologically-speaking; doesn’t inspire some conservatives; and has been as passionate about the war in Iraq as he has been dispassionate about the economy.  But lately things seem a little different.  The news out of Iraq doesn’t look as bleak, and his idea to suspend the gas tax over the summer looks like a sure vote-getter.  Liberal complaints about him have even quickened the pulse of a conservative or two.  In the minds of these conservatives, if liberals are concerned then he must not be so bad.

            Still these things shouldn’t matter given what the Democratic candidates can offer, which is the idea of change to a public that seems to want that.  This makes it all the more frustrating for liberals that neither Barrack Obama nor Hillary Clinton can take care of their primary business, and they’re weakening their party’s chances for success in the process.  What should be especially maddening for Democrats is not so much the damage they’re inflicting on each other, but the damage they’re inflicting on themselves.  It makes sense that they’re going to bruise each other a little as they go for the prize, but their self-inflicted wounds have been hard to understand, much less defend.

Exhibit A is the Clintons and the sniper story.  One could fairly argue that honesty has always been a question mark with the Clintons.  But many were tempted to look the other way, as long as the economy was good, Bill Clinton’s charisma was so evident, and Hillary Clinton was the pinup, um, person, for the Modern Woman.

            But Hillary is running for President now, and Democrats are not at this point putting all of their eggs in the Clinton basket, so hard looks can be taken.  Hillary lied about being under fire in Bosnia in 1996.  She told the same lie several times and only recanted when video showed the truth.  Bill Clinton reopened the can of worms when the press was starting to move on.  He defended his wife, which was nice, but he lied while doing so.  He said she “misspoke” once.  First of all, both Clintons seem to possess a rather creative interpretation for the meaning of the word “misspoke,” which of course brings back memories of the former President’s unique definitions of other, more common terms like “sexual intercourse” and “is.”  This is not the kind of help his wife needs.  The second problem is with Bill Clinton’s statement that she only told the story one time, which recycled press reports that she told it several times—at different times in the day—then when she finally backpedaled, she said she was tired.  His lies put her lies back under the microscope.  Finally, Clinton suggested that her lapse was related to the fact that she was sixty years old.  That was his defense—that she’s getting old and forgetful?   I thought he wanted to get back into the White House.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Exhibit B is Obama explaining to (presumably anti-gun, secular-minded) rich San Franciscans that blue collar workers are mad about the economy, so they cling to guns, religion, and anti-immigration/racist attitudes.  You know, the idea that people worried about their job security don’t want to compete with a rising number of immigrants sounded logical.  The notion that a bad economy makes people want more liberal gun laws is truly baffling.  It sounds like the kind of thing one says about outsiders when one is surrounded by people sharing a common prejudice.  In other words, it really does sound, as Clinton and McCain both said, “elitist.”  Finally, saying that bitter people cling to religion, while not 100% inaccurate, is really just a negative stereotype.  Hillary Clinton’s comment that she is religious but not because she is bitter could be “amen-ed” by literally millions of Americans.  And, as with Bill Clinton’s take on the Bosnia story, Obama’s comments give legs to yesterday’s news.  Maybe Obama believes that bitter people cling to the church because for 18 years he listened to the pastor of his church, Jeremiah Wright, preach bitter sermons.

The bottom line is this: the two Democratic candidates are taking attention away from their strengths and in the process have turned a supposedly sure victory into a toss up.