Some people like John McCain. I have gotten your attention with a disruptive exclamation, rather like shouting sex! in a quiet room. Lets be honest, the 2004 election wasnt nearly this interesting. The prospect of another four years of Bush seemed ominous and slightly annoying, but there was nothing to be feared but more of the same. Besides, the only real opposition to the inept incumbent was an unpalatable beneficiary of the ketchup dynasty.
And yet this current election cycle is different. It is riveting. I cant help but check the Gallup poll ten times a day, even though I know its fundamental flaws (after all, its only a poll). I cling to each Palin gaffe, each Biden gaffe, each Obama and McCain un-gaffe (they both have an amazing ability to avoid the dreaded gaffe).
What is driving the unusual interest in this years election?
Perhaps issues of race and gender, implicit to each ticket, are fueling round-the-clock commentary. But I have my own personal reasons for tuning-in for each debate: The philosophical distinction between conservatism and liberalism, and between unilateralism and internationalism, has never been less clouded by party lines.
Somehow, this election is a morality play of the two opposing sides of my upbringing: the conservatism of my parents, and the liberalism of my education. I come from a red conservative village in a sea of blue a former mill town in northern Rhode Island. When I began my undergrad education at Brown University, I felt a deep contempt for the East Coast Liberal. I strongly believed, and its partially true, that the majority of my peers grew up in a la-la land of legacies, land-wealth and privilege. I had a chip on my shoulder; I felt I was one of the few who made it alone.
During that time, one thing fueled my conservatism: contempt for privilege.
This might sound odd after all, isnt it the Republicans who are most entrenched in the corporate interests of America? Isnt it McCain who doesnt even know that he owns eight houses?
Yes, yes and yes. But extend the definition of privilege to unfair advantages, whether those advantages are income-based tax breaks, affirmative action or government bailouts on bad mortgages. Entrenched in the propaganda of the GOP is an unfaltering faith that a free market provides equal opportunity for all. The idea that hard work should be rewarded (the idea behind competition in the business, health care and education sectors). Meritocracy as the true Americanism. It isnt all that bad of an idea, really.
The problem is, individuals do not inherently have the best interests of society at heart. Systems of governance are established for a reason a good reason.
Yet the Republican Party oh-so-easily distills nuanced Democratic platforms on gun control and health care through the lens of the individual (leaving troublesome individual rights issues such as abortion to be distilled through the lens of Christian moralism, circa William Buckley).
These overarching faiths in the individual and in a unified American moral vision are chronically overlooked by Democratic candidates. Obamas best-received comment of the last debate was on how parents need to take individual responsibility for improving their childs education. But that comment was right in line with the ideals of the American middle class.
While Obama has gained solid ground, comments from the GOP camp have demonstrated just how out-of-touch Republican leaders have become. As a member of the middle class, what do I hear when McCain camps uses terms such as "Joe Six-Pack," "Hockey mom," "Joe the Plumber"?
I hear disrespect. I hear a patronizing contempt for the middle class.
am you, Sarah Palin shouts from her podium. I am like you. I do not know what the Bush doctrine is, and why should I? Barack Obama, on the other hand, is not like you.
McCain chooses to pursue the culture war in more subtle ways. Take his examples of Christmas ornament earmarks. During the debates, the two earmarks he chose to highlight were a study of bear DNA in Montanaand a Chicago planetarium. He could have chosen to highlight, oh, perhaps the $500,000 requested by his running mate for public transportation project in Wasilla. But he chose to attack science, and trust me, it was a calculated choice.
After the final debate, a CNN republican pundit derogatorily called Obama professorial. Obviously that sort of talk educated and rational will not appeal to average Joe Six-pack and hockey moms.
As much as Republicans hate the media elite, they have one thing in common: Both seem to think that the middle class is irrational, uneducated and more concerned with six-packs and hockey than with the state of the country. It is a dangerous caricature (remember the proles of George Orwells "1984," anyone?).
We should be furious.
When speaking in Bethlehem, Penn., Cindy McCain challenged Obama to walk in [her] shoes for one day. Apart from the disturbing image of Obama walking around in Cindys $300 stilettos, Mrs. McCains suggestion was bizarre because, although Obama has not walked in the McCains shoes, Obamas shoes are much more representative of our shoes (which are most likely sneakers).
Which gets back to the East Coast Liberal. It took four years for me to realize that the Ivy League of my parents generation is not the Ivy League of Barack Obamas generation, nor the Ivy League of my generation. Universities are no longer the playgrounds of wealthy bearded men who sit around drinking sherry and smoking cigars while pontificating over metaphysics. The American academy is increasingly recruiting from the middle class, thanks to need-blind admission, improved financial aid and a modest attempt to include a diversity of people.
Increasing accessibility to higher education is changing the face of the middle class. And this is why attempts to label Obamas camp as elitist or as not like us fall flat. Obama did not lead a privileged life; he earned his way to where he is. He is like us. He represents the new face of the middle class. America should be proud of Obama he represents all that is the Republican self-made ideal.