The best thing about spending two September weeks in a farmhouse in Tuscany was not having a cell phone, a television or the Internet.
Well, actually, the best thing about spending two weeks in Italy was the wine ... and not having a cell phone, a television or the Internet.
Oh yeah, and the food. The best thing about spending two weeks in Tuscany was the food ... and the wine. And the absence of a cell phone, a television or the Internet.
Don’t forget the scenery, the history, the art ... and the food, the wine and the, oh, what was it? Right: the lack of a cell phone and all that.
Anyhow, you get the idea. We found the best way imaginable to escape the U.S.A.’s never-ending presidential campaign: run far, far away from it. Get out to where there was no news about Palin, Obama, McCain or Wall Street. But you have to come home sometime; even generous credit card balances get wiped out quickly when the euro is 40 percent stronger than the dollar.
So we returned to find political news in this country upside-down from where it was when we left almost a month ago.
Back then in the first 10 days of September, Obama/Biden trailed (I can’t begin to understand how that could ever have been the case, but it was) McCain/Palin in the polls. Not by a wide margin, but they were behind. The focus was all about which of the two tickets would bring about the most change in Washington. Palin had the voters mesmerized with her freshness, her clear outsiderness. She personified change.
That’s when we got the heck out of town and tried to forget everything we ever knew about presidential politics, especially this campaign, which at that point had already dragged on for 20 tedious months.
So I was amazed, watching the news in a hotel room in Rome on the night before our return flight, to see that the 21st month of the campaign had produced genuine movement.
Obama/Biden were now ahead (and have since continued to stretch that lead); Palin had transmogrified into just another “SNL” target, dangling in the breeze from the end of a satirical rope. The “change” issue has been buried under an avalanche of free market crud falling from Wall Street’s fanciest facades.
If issues are the basis for choosing our president, this election is already over.
Now that we’re back in the States, McCain has been exposed for what he’s been all along: a tired man, worn down physically by the exhausting pace of the campaign, who is resorting more and more to the wild swings of the boxer-past-his-prime in the late rounds of a slugfest against a still-lively challenger.
His only hope is the surprise knockout punch, the roundhouse that manages to land on the chin. It’s worse than a long shot since his blows lack oomph and Obama’s jaw hasn’t proven to be made of glass.
McCain’s campaign organization seems tired, too—fresh out of responses for the Energizer bunny that is his opponent’s organization. In state after state, including many that most observers figured were squarely in the GOP column, the Obama apparatus is beating McCain’s to the punch. It has more ads on the air and more workers walking the precincts than the Republicans. It has more money, too, and better-organized get-out-the-vote efforts.
Most crucially, it has registered millions of new voters, previously alienated or uninterested citizens, who have suddenly found in Obama a candidate capable of stirring them from their torpor. If those new voters show up to vote, the Democrats could manage a margin large enough to qualify as a landslide.
Thus, it isn’t surprising to find the GOP has resorted to the tired, discredited rumor-mongering and smears that have served them so well in the past. If issues are the basis for choosing our president, this election is already over. The tanking of the economy means someone has to take the blame for George W. Bush, and McCain is the handiest target.
Besides, his ideas as put forth in the presidential debates for health care reform and dealing with the sub-prime mortgage mess would make matters worse, not better.
He apparently doesn’t know that private insurance for a family of four now costs $12,000 a year, so his suggestion of a $5,000 refundable tax credit for that family to use in purchasing insurance would not cover even half the actual cost. Worse, he would tax health benefits and would run everything through the very private insurance system that has failed so miserably to hold down costs or to improve care.
As for forking over $300 billion to the banks that created the mortgage morass so they can buy up existing mortgages in danger of default, this sounds very much like the desperate offering of a man who says “My friends, I know how to end the financial crisis” ... but won’t share the secret.
Both of those haymaker suggestions fall way off the mark. They also reveal another distressing aspect of McCain’s philosophy: Both would transfer great gobs of government (i.e., our) tax money into the pockets of the same “free market” advocates at our giant insurance and banking corporations. They're the same people who have created the twin problems in health care and finance, and McCain's move would do nothing to benefit the middle class.
The Republican candidate seems unable to think of any solutions to problems that don’t involve making the richest Americans richer. Maybe that’s why he seems so tired.