It is only four months into 2008, but the presidential campaign —
already too long and nasty — is still a long way from over. And the
casualties are mounting.
First, George Bush's popularity
remains dismal — even though some of the complaints about his first
term have gone by the wayside. The French and German governments are
now staunchly pro-American. Violence in Iraq is still way down from a
year ago. America has been free from a terrorist attack since Sept. 11,
No matter. Nothing has seemed to help the president. His approval rating stays at, or sinks below, 30 percent.
The current gloomy economic news and the continuing human and financial
costs of Afghanistan and Iraq explain a lot. But another reason is this
present election cycle. For the first time in nearly six decades, no
incumbent president or vice president is daily hammering back in
defense of the recent four years.
We expect Democratic
opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to trash an incumbent
Republican president. But Republican nominee John McCain seldom
endorses anything about the two Bush terms.
Again, the last
time America witnessed anything similar was when Harry Truman left
office with a 22 percent approval rating — under furious attack by
Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower and yet shunned by his own
party's nominee, the maverick Adlai Stevenson, who had not been part of
the Truman administration.
If the current president hasn't
been helped by the present campaign, look what's it's done to his
predecessor. The Clinton legacy is wrecked. Left-wing bloggers, liberal
columnists and some Democratic politicians now despise Bill and Hillary
Clinton — even more than did "the vast right-wing conspiracy" of the
A furious Mrs. Clinton keeps charging the media with
the same sort of bias the Republicans used to routinely claim always
favored her husband. Apparently the left has become infatuated with
Barack Obama and does not want another eight years of the once-iconic
Clintons — especially after their use of the race card, the hardball
politics and Hillary's chronic exaggeration and misstatements.
Globetrotting Bill Clinton spent seven years crafting a legacy as a
post-partisan senior statesman. Now he has thrown that away by
devolving into a political henchman assigned to take down the
Democratic Party's first serious African-American candidate.
the final result of the 2008 campaign, the image of an above-the-fray
Bill is no more — shattered somewhere between the disclosure of the
$109 million Clinton tax returns and his finger-shaking lectures to the
press about its supposed unfairness to his wife. Democrats once were
enchanted that their party might usher in the nation's first woman
president. Now many of them fear Hillary is a bothersome obstacle in
the way of an even more hip and novel breakthrough candidate.
relations also soured from the campaign. Mr. Obama promised to be our
post-racial healer. But so far, even if it weren't his intent, he is
proving the most racially contentious candidate in recent American
history. African-Americans still line up behind Mr. Obama, even as
whites keep voting in large majorities for Mrs. Clinton.
more Mr. Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, keeps sounding
unhinged, the more Mr. Obama can't quite free himself from this hateful
And when Mr. Obama talks down about Middle
America's fondness for religion and guns; or suggests that small-town
America is "anti-immigrant" and "clings" to "antipathy to people who
aren't like them;" or quips about the "typical white person," he only
increases racial polarization — cementing the image of someone who sees
America in terms of "they," not "us."
The Bush and Clinton
legacies, Mr. Obama's "new" politics and race relations are all
casualties of a wide-open election without incumbents. But the greatest
casualty has been our inability to figure how to deal with looming
So far we haven't heard specific workable proposals
from the candidates about how exactly they would solve energy
dependence, soaring food prices, illegal immigration or outdated farm
There has been no new solution offered about the
looming Social Security crack-up. Few candidates have expressed novel
ideas of stopping staggering deficits or bulking up a sinking dollar —
much less exactly the sacrifices necessary on all our parts to restore
American financial solvency. No one has offered a better way of dealing
with an ascendant but lawless China, an unhinged Iran or the ongoing
war against Islamic extremism.
In 2008, everything and everyone has fallen victim to a nasty campaign — except America's nastiest problems.