I meant to add another candidate to the list tonight, but wading through the remaining entries at Project VoteSmart has become an ordeal. Perhaps my mood is befouled by the market news and excerpts from Senator McCain's campaign hatefests, but I feel less indulgent toward the frivolous cranks claiming to run for President. As it looks now, there might be no more than two additional entries, since no more than two candidates look credible (and that's still by my standards, not the pollsters'): the Reform Party and Social Equality candidates. All along I had wondered where the Socialist Worker Party was. I remembered seeing them regularly on the New York ballot in the past. Now, at the height of idiocy, they're running a candidate, Roger Calero, who is constitutionally ineligible to become President because he's a native of Nicaragua. Who is making these decisions? Why do they bother?
The "Politics Issue" of The New Yorker came in the mail today. The editors lead with a long endorsement of Senator Obama in what amounts to a whitewash of the Democratic candidate. The most critical they got toward him was to chide him for not doing the joint appearances with McCain back in the summer. Otherwise, they're bowled over by his seriousness, reasonableness, moderation, and literary skill. Not one word of the editorial suggests that the committee that composed it gave the least thought to independent candidates. The New Yorker may affect sophistication, but it looks just as limited by the brand-name sports-betting mentality as any yokel. Their anointing of Obama is as much a bet on the winning team as it is an assessment of his relative merits.
Meanwhile, McCain supporters are going mad. The rage is palpable in videos of campaign events. These are people who think they're losing, whose anger barely conceals an irrational terror at the thought of Obama becoming President. They think that McCarthyite tactics will save them. They think that people will vote against Obama to spite Bill Ayers, who for all his youthful excess is most likely a better man than most of the people who denounce him, on the evidence of his years of work on education and other issues. They will most likely return to the topic of Jeremiah Wright, but by now I think enough people will see through any such desperate attempt to change the subject. But it'll be poetic justice if the GOP goes down with its McCarthy colors flying. Embracing their McCarthyite heritage can only remind people that the Republican Party has had a 60-year problem distinguishing dissent and subversion that really disqualifies it from the high responsibility of defending a free society from terrorist conspiracies.
Obama ought to respond to any such attacks in kind. We can do without the whining complaints against "negative campaigning" or "swift-boating." If McCain and Governor Palin and their strategists and surrogates want to play that way, then ad hominem attacks should be the order of the day. The "nuclear option" would be to unleash all those angry Vietnam vets who think that McCain sold them out on the Senate floor, including that faction who think he sold them out in prison. Obama needn't say a word, but if McCain wants to smear people, he ought to be buried in Vietnamese mud, and Palin, who has literally been in bed with a secessionist, and has been blessed by authentic witch-hunters, should get a strong taste of her own medicine. I recommend these measures not for Obama's sake, but because I despise the Republicans as much as anyone.
But while I despise Republicans as much as anyone, I still don't know whether defeating McCain is so absolutely imperative as to require me to endorse Obama. Obviously, if you think the most important thing to do is defeat McCain, then you have to vote for Obama unless, like I do, you have the luxury of living in a "blue" state under the Electoral College system. But other priorities are still possible. You might feel compelled to vote in protest against the Bailout, in which case you must choose an independent candidate. The whole Bailout episode goes a long way to revive Nader's argument denying any more than a dime's worth of difference between the Bipolarchic parties. On the other hand, you might think war against Iran an unwelcome certainty if McCain wins, which would again require you to choose Obama. But those who think that way should check whether they're absolutely certain that Obama would not go to war. War is one way out of a depression, after all, as Democrats well know.
Ultimately we return to the question voters asked themselves in 2000. Knowing that a vote for Nader might be a "vote for Bush," dissidents had to guess whether Bush would ruin the country in four or eight years. My vote in blue New York didn't effect the outcome, but Democrats would say that I lost my bet. They'll have you believe that everything was perfect or heading in the right direction under Bill Clinton, but some of us didn't think so then, and our assessment of Bush shouldn't make us look back differently upon the Clinton years. In any event, the question now is whether McCain will ruin the country in four years. Admittedly, on top of that comes a worse question: what if he dies and Palin becomes President? For many people, the prospect of Palin will be the ultimate argument for Obama. But is that enough to resign everyone to once again voting negatively, vetoing the worst candidate rather than voting for whomever might be the best? Ask me again later in the month.