Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Subtext of '08

What do we know about voters' desires after watching them winnow down a score of presidential candidates to three?

To start, George W. Bush has ruined their taste for the usual white middle-aged male, or we wouldn't be left with a woman, an African-American and a Senior Citizen who doesn't play well with others in the political sandbox.

What the survivors have in common is that, among the choices available, Clinton, Obama and McCain seemed the least likely to lie to them all the time, a rarity for most voters under 40 after their years of Bill Clinton when the testosterone was high and Bush all the time.

"Authenticity" became the buzz word, and a sensed lack of it in Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards, among the others, certainly played a part in their elimination. Obama and McCain are obviously who they are, and even Hillary Clinton, although faulted by some for calculation, is no chameleon.

When the Obama-Clinton choice is made, authenticity will give way to a ramped-up argument about experience vs. change, particularly if Obama is the Democrat candidate. At the edges there will be "too liberal" and "not conservative enough" grumbling, but the essence of the campaign will be how far voters want to go in escaping the Bush years to find something better.

McCain will offer some variations on conservative orthodoxy and a new, improved Iraq war rather than a rejection of its rationale. Either Democrat will promise not just to shuffle the deck on the economy and the damage to individual rights but go back to the traditional rules of the game and get out of a misbegotten war as quickly as possible.

When the shouting is over and the ballots are counted, we will have an unfamiliar figure in the White House--a woman, an African-American or the oldest maverick ever--not the stereotypical middle-aged man from Central Casting.

That much has already been decided, and it would be hard for anyone to fault the electorate for that.

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