Pride Goeth Before The Fall - Republican Hubris and Barack Obama

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  1. The BKP
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    The BKP Grand Inquistor

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    I originally published this piece on March 3, 2008. While the introductory paragraph has been excised and it has been structurally revised, it remains substantively true to its’ original composition.

    At the time, Republicans were gloating over the prospect of Barack Obama putting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign out its misery.

    As they relished the agony that had become Clinton’s campaign, I admonished them to resist the allure of hubris and be mindful of history. Failing to learn its lessons, like so many others before them - including Senator Clinton herself – I warned they may well find themselves doomed to repeat it.

    Now, less than a week from America’s next appointment with history, I offer it up for your consideration and ask a simple question.

    Did our friends on the Right heed my counsel or do they find themselves haunted by it?


    REPUBLICANS SHOULD BE CAREFUL WHAT THEY WISH FOR

    Drunk on the sweet nectar of Hillary’s impending defeat, Republicans cheer lustfully for Obama and the Democratic electorate to deliver the coup de grace. They eagerly await the snap of the Emperor’s outstretched hand, the inverted thumb condemning the defeated to oblivion. While the end of their nightmare that is Hillary’s presidential dream appears to be imminent, they would be wise to remember the old admonition to be careful what they wish for.

    Salivating at the prospect of running against a Johnny-Come-Lately with less than four years experience on the national stage, Republicans anticipate running circles around a mesmerized and exhausted Obama.

    They dream of the neophyte nominee being overwhelmed by the demands of running a truly national campaign in contrast to the piecemeal tour of the country that characterized the quest for his nomination. They sleep soundly, comforted by the thought that their champion is a battle-scarred veteran - both literally and figuratively - of campaigns and wars spanning four decades.

    Not only is Obama’s legislative record meager and inconsequential, they boast, but his campaign legs are weak and undeveloped in contrast to those of the rugged warhorse, McCain.

    Like the Clinton Machine before them, they are setting themselves up for a rude awakening.

    True, Barack does not have the legislative or campaign experience of McCain. Nor does he have the breadth and depth of experience of Hillary. To paraphrase Doctor Phil, how is that working for him? Given his success to date and the position he currently finds his campaign in, one would conclude fairly well.

    While some believe Obama’s inexperience is a liability to be exploited, it has in fact proved to be an incredible asset.

    Obama’s abbreviated legislative service and meteoric rise limits the political baggage and entrenched opposition that accompanies lengthy political resumes. While he is clearly not a political veteran on par with either McCain or Clinton, his lack of combat experience frees him from the immediate polarization that accompanies Hillary or the suspicion bordering on disdain that McCain receives from Orthodox Conservatives.

    He is a work in progress, emphasizing future possibilities over previous achievements. His themes and speeches stand in stark contrast to the back to the future campaigns he confronts. Hillary dreams wistfully of the halcyon days when a Clinton last occupied the Oval Office, when peace and prosperity ruled and milk and honey flowed in great rivers free to all throughout the land.

    On the right, Senator McCain invokes the image of the Gipper, ready to wrestle with a pernicious Congress and strap on a six gun and facedown Islamofascism in all its incipient forms much like Reagan did the Evil Empire.

    Meanwhile, acknowledging the lessons and achievements of the past, Obama continues to move forward, choosing to lead on his own rather than follow in someone else’s shadow. Obama has learned from the Great Communicator that America is a hopeful nation that as Reagan himself said believes its best days lie ahead, not behind it.

    Republicans should also take care lest they fall victim to the notion that Obama is a naïf with weak legs that is unable to endure the mental and physical demands of a national campaign. Appearing to start slowly and tentatively early on, he has established himself as a quick and thorough read.

    Once lost in the cacophony of the Hillary and the Seven Democratic Dwarfs series of debates, Obama now stands toe to toe with her, debating substantive policy minutiae with strong thematic style.

    While she has floundered in Sybil-like bouts trying to find the most appealing, powerful or sympathetic persona, he has remained cool and resolute. In contrast to the Clinton campaign’s winded and disheveled state after failing to deliver the prognosticated knockout punch they had dreamed of on Super Tuesday, Obama has steadily won round after round, chocking up points and delegates as he pummels Hillary with body blows and jabs while she desperately flails about in search of a haymaker that no longer packs any punch.

    Hillary has done Obama the great service of toughening him up and building his endurance and stamina. Republicans will find no lightweight or unconditioned foe in the junior Senator from Illinois in large part due to the efforts of the junior Senator from New York.

    The final two arguments Republicans hang their hopes on is experience and fear, both which the Clinton campaign have found are unable to penetrate Obama’s gleaming armor.

    While Hillary personally believes she is owed the presidency by right of service, intellect and her stalwartness in the face of Bill’s political and marital infidelities, the foundation on which her campaign is built is her experience. She has lectured sternly that the president must be ready to take charge as well as the Oath of Office on January 20, 2009. The world is far too dangerous and the issues facing America too complex for on the job training, she insists. The irony of this argument is that it is the same one that was at the heart of George H. W. Bush’s failed reelection campaign in 1992.

    Bush 41 warned about the dangers of switching horses in mid stream as the old Cold War world gave way to a new world order and the weight of America’s unique unipolar moment.

    Then as now, Americans choose hope over fear.

    Not only was it the economy, stupid, but it was the future.

    Having made the world safe for democracy abroad by winning the Cold War, America now looked to secure the blessings of prosperity and the peace dividend at home. Hope trumped fear and energy overwhelmed experience as a youthful long shot that had been nationally unknown prior to his keynote appearance at the Democratic National Convention during the previous election cycle defeated a Republican combat veteran and foreign policy sage that admittedly understood little about economics.

    Are there any lessons to be learned here for John McCain and the Republican Party?

    Does this ring any bells or set off any alarms?

    Were experience all that was required of presidents and the dominant factor in elections, George H.W. Bush would have easily dispatched Bill Clinton and Al Gore would have survived the loss of those symbolic-focused few who cast their lots and his presidency aside for Ralph Nader.

    Just as Bush unsuccessfully relied on fear of the unknown and the argument that Bill Clinton was a green, untried and untested idealist, McCain will attempt to paint Obama in a similar fashion. He will warn of the dangers of a resurgent Taliban, play on fears of nuclear armed mullahs in Iran and borrow from his friend Rudy Giuliani as he conjures up images of 9/11.

    He will in effect attempt to scare America into electing him president.

    Should Obama and the country fail to take the bait, Republicans will frantically flounder about in search of a weapon that will score a fatal blow to their foes’ campaign. And if they are as tactless and ham-handed as the Clinton Machine inevitably was, they will appear to play the race card covertly, if not overtly. They will likewise be lambasted by the public and the press and it will only add to their mounting difficulties and the momentum of their ultimate loss, just as it did with Hillary.

    Put simply, hope sells while fear repels.The Republicans have much to learn from Hillary and history if they are willing to apply themselves.

    First, they must take Obama seriously and not underestimate him. He is a credible, serious and deft opponent. To regard him as anything less is to tempt Fate’s merciless punishment meted on the arrogant.

    Second, the president is a reflection of America’s self image and how it views the future.

    Are the challenges that confront us so formidable that we cower in fear at the mere mention of them or are they, as with so many others that lie in our wake, mere obstacles to be overcome by American ingenuity and resolve?

    Finally, can they craft a message beyond experience alone that is compelling to America? Can they find the strength to appeal to our better angels and give flight to our dreams or will they succumb to the temptation to prey on our fears and wallow in our prejudices?

    Now as they relish in the agonizing death throes of Hillary’s campaign, they are filled with hubris and willfully disdainful of history. Failing to learn its lessons, like so many others before them, including Senator Clinton herself, they may in the end find themselves doomed to repeat it.
     
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