Friday, November 07, 2008
A truly remarkable speech. The skilfully edited highlights were compressed into a still lengthy 8 minute excerpt on Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday morning, and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I can't recall being so affected by a piece of political theatre via the radio since Neil Kinnock's "I warn you" speech before the 1983 General Election.
Listening to Obama in Illinois, you can see how he's moved millions into coming together as part of a nation-changing progressive coalition. Messianic? Perhaps. But America has an uncanny knack of throwing up visionary leaders at times of national peril - from Washington to Lincoln and then FDR and Kennedy.
I had intended to put together a piece on how Obama's victory has reshaped the political map of the US set in stone since Johnson's Civil Rights Act lost the South for the Democrats in the mid 60's - but I see that Hopi has done that far better than I could.
So amongst the acres of newsprint on the result, perhaps time to indulge in that antithesis of 'proper history' - the what-if. What if Hillary and not Barack had won the Democratic nomination? Would we be toasting another Clinton as the 44th President of the United States?
I'm not so sure. John McCain's heroic story was a powerful antidote to the campaigning brilliance of the Clintons - he had spent years building up a reputation as an independent operator whilst Bill and Hillary were the classic Washington Beltway act. I also doubt whether McCain's team would have felt impelled to make the disastrous mistake of putting Sarah Palin on the ticket had Barack lost in the primaries - after all, the mere idea of a Hillary Presidency was enough to motivate the Republican Conservative base into frothing action, and that would have left the way clear for McCain to select a far more telling VP candidate - like Joe Lieberman. Hillary would have found herself on the wrong foot throughout.
I've always liked and respected McCain, particularly after he stood up to Bush and the Rovian forces of darkness in the 2000 primaries. It took a particularly evil campaign to finish him off, when push polling that implied that McCain's adopted Bangladeshi-born daughter was an African-American child he fathered out of wedlock.
So it's good that McCain pretty much emerged from the 2008 election with his honour intact. However, selecting Palin holed his reputation for sound judgement below the waterline, and effectively the Presidential election finished then as a competitive exercise.
It seems likely that Palin will play a divisive role in Republican politics for years to come - and add to the gaiety of the nations. Tuesday night's result leaves the Republicans in the wilderness just as 1997 marked the beginning of a long period of Tory banishment, from which they have yet truly to emerge.