Amid the general euphoria of Obama’s Electoral College landslide, while Democrats around the country exulted, shed tears of joy and jumped up and down in celebration, there was one curious interlude that I found very sobering: John McCain’s concession speech.
It was a John McCain we hadn’t seen during this campaign; a calm, reasoned and conciliatory John McCain who spoke with genuine feeling and insight as he called on his supporters to put aside the bitterness of their defeat and lend their support to the effort to turn the country’s course around—an effort that now falls on Barack Obama’s shoulders.
I couldn’t help wondering where this McCain had been all this time; and I couldn’t help breathing a silent prayer of gratitude that he hadn’t been visible until now, since that would have been a far more attractive candidate and certainly a far more competitive one than the cranky Bush clone who resorted almost exclusively to bitter Karl Rove-speak, even when that strategy dragged him downward.
The McCain who addressed the nation that night was the McCain who should have been the GOP nominee in 2000, the McCain who actually did seem refreshingly maverick-like. He was a Republican, for sure, but a Republican who wasn’t beholden to the neocon wing of the party and who therefore was attractive to independents and even to many Democrats.
Of all the many mistakes the Republican candidate made in the final two months of this year’s race, choosing to pretend to be someone other than himself was the most damaging.
And while in disguise as a neocon, of the many wild shots he fired at his Democratic opponent, the most incomprehensible was to try to turn Obama’s suggestion that we need to “share the wealth” into something dangerous, menacing or even un-American. This was the one that ricocheted back into his own foot the fastest.
Maybe Rush Limbaugh sees peril in the notion that prosperity ought to be shared among all the socioeconomic groups and not just the CEO-class, but it turns out that most Americans of voting age thought that was a darn good idea. So the more McCain or Palin insisted that it was “socialistic” thinking, the further they positioned themselves from the mainstream.
“Spreading the wealth” is actually a pretty attractive concept for the majority of Americans, since they feel strongly that they are working darn hard and ought to be getting more of a reward for all that effort. It rankles us that a smaller and smaller group of executives are skimming more and more of the wealth. Sharing it doesn’t conjure up boogeyman nightmares, it simply sounds fair.
So making sarcastic comments about Obama wanting to be fair to everyone was worse than misfiring, it made the Democrats’ point for them: Obama cares for the middle class; the Republicans care for the upper class. If only there were more millionaires in the electorate, McCain’s strategy might have worked.
What our new president was saying through his campaign was that there really is a “public interest,” a common good, in which we all share. We are more than a collection of individuals or special interests. Our society does not function well when every person seeks only to enrich himself, to achieve only his own goals.
There are very real ways in which setting aside individual ambitions in favor of community ambitions can produce both; I, for example, enjoy the results of an excellent school system even if I don’t go to school or have children of school age.
The frightening economic recession has its roots in willfully ignoring the existence of the public interest. In its place, we decided to make greed a virtue ... and now the elaborate fabrications of Wall Street—those junk bonds that held no value but got gilded treatment, those derivatives that amounted to nothing more than fantasy or outright lies, those deregulation crusades that kept all the important questions from ever getting asked, all of the fakery and artifice that went into the creation of the bubble—all of it has turned to ashes.
I wonder if McCain’s concession speech didn’t also include an element of relief at not having been chosen to tackle the mess we now face. That could have added to his eloquence, for it is a daunting task that President-elect Obama has been asked to take. It will be a long, painful path back to honesty and away from the get-rich-quick schemes we have substituted for genuine value.
At its heart, our “economic crisis” is actually a crisis involving loss of vision. We have lost sight of what it was that made America strong in the first place: being willing to invest in our community, in our family, in our future. We need to return to that attitude of building for the next generation.
That’s 180 degrees away from the “me first, cash me out, I want mine now!” mentality that has afflicted us in recent times. Our new president-elect has indicated he understands this dynamic ... but the question is: Will we, the American people, be willing to be patient; will we be willing to share the wealth; will we be willing to accept change?