by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 8, 2008
FORGET THE FLAG PINS - LET'S TALK ABOUT REAL ISSUES
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It took a few more weeks than planned, but it's clear the game is over.
After Sen. Barack Obama easily won the North Carolina primary and came within two percentage points of winning the Indiana primary on Tuesday, even the Beltway pundits finally got the message - there is no way sEN. Hillary Clinton can win the Democratic presidential nomination.
As of now, Obama needs about 180 more delegates to clinch a victory and there is not enough time and not enough contests for Clinton to overtake him.
Sure, Republican nominee Sen. John McCain has been able to sit back and watch Obama and Clinton destroy themselves and the Democratic Party petty sniping about inconsequential things. But this circus is likely to be over soon.
Unfortunately, the Obama and Clinton sparring reminds us all of the theme that is developing in this campaign - the theme the Republicans still think they can win on.
Some have compared this year's election to 1988, and it is a fair comparison. For all the talk today about what a wonderful president Ronald Reagan was, it's worth remembering that, at the time, a majority of Americans thought Reagan was lying about the Iran-Contra affair, that he mishandled the economy, and that his Administration was one of the most corrupt ever.
Yet all this was forgotten as the Republican nominee, George H.W. Bush, cruised to a 40-state triumph over Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. Why? Because the men who ran Bush's campaign - Roger Ailes and the late Lee Atwater - knew their candidate had no chance of winning the election if it were a contest of issues and policy. So they shifted the debate away from substance and toward silly debates over patriotism and personality.
Because Ailes and Atwater succeeded in turning the image of Dukakis into that of a nerdy and effete elitist who wasn't nearly as manly and patriotic as Bush, they set the campaign template that the Republican Party has followed ever since.
It helps that most of the Washington press corps is brain-dead. They are suckers for childish, gossipy trash. So that is why we're hearing more about the wearing of flag pins and Obama's bowling skills than, say, the president's support of the torture of terrorism suspects or the Pentagon's domestic propaganda campaign.
John McCain can't run on the Republican Party's foreign policy. Or its economic policies. Or its environmental policies. Or its education policies. Or its respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. Eighty percent of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction and a clear majority say the Democrats are more likely to make the right decisions on the big issues.
And yet, McCain, and to a lesser extent, Clinton, play the patriotism card because they know that in elections, symbolism trumps substance.
So while a majority of Americans want to see U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible, McCain tops Obama, 50 percent to 38 percent, when it comes to making good decisions about Iraq, according to a recent Pew Center poll. And 90 percent call McCain patriotic, compared to 76 percent saying the same thing about Clinton and 61 percent for Obama.
This is the continuing paradox of American elections. Wouldn't it be more patriotic to ensure that all Americans had health care, or a good education, or a decent standard of living?
I'd like to challenege Sens. Obama and McCain to make a pledge: When asked by the press about the phony non-issues, will they agree to respond - all the time - "My opponent and I have agreed that we will respond only to questions on issues of substance?"
After all, can we claim to be a great nation with our homeless shelters filled every night? Or with crumbling schools and roads and public infrastructure? Or with many more of our citizens in jail than any other nation on Earth? Or with an outsourced economy beholden to others?
Perhaps it's time to redefine patriotism from flag waving and empty, feel-good jingoism and toward a patriotism that realizes a truly great nation is one that provides for its citizens and works to make life better for everyone.
AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.