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And so Barack Obama has won the 2008 election. No one should be surprised. In the past several months, we all bore witness to his meteoric rise, which coincided with John McCain’s meteoric fall. As the majority of the country rejoices in Obama-mania, we die-hard McCainiacs can’t help but feel sorry for ourselves.
It’s no secret to those around me just how badly I wanted John McCain to become the 44th President of the United States. I grew up in Arizona, the very state McCain represents, and my political coming of age was largely tied up in his own political ascendancy. I remember accompanying family members to the polls to cast their votes for McCain in the 2000 GOP Primary, which he eventually lost to George W. Bush. I’ve never been a great Bush fan—I probably would’ve voted for John Kerry in 2004 had I been old enough—and like many liberals, I too have spent the last several years yearning for a political change of course.
I believed that McCain could be that change. Earlier this year, when McCain finally clenched the GOP nomination, I wept tears of joy, much to the bewildered disgust of my liberal friends. To me, the prospect of a McCain presidency was the realization of my conservative dreams. Like many of his supporters, I had always believed that McCain’s biggest political stumbling block was winning a party nomination. I figured that a general election victory would be a breeze, because he appealed to so many moderates. Obviously, I have been proven wrong by this election cycle. But it is not only that McCain was confronted with a Democratic candidate who appealed to moderates better—it is that McCain has changed as a politician.
Before anyone knew the name Barack Obama, there was a time when John McCain was a media darling. Though they’ve now been reduced to parody, the terms “maverick” and “straight talk” once really meant something to voters. McCain was not afraid to diverge from the Republican Party line, and he led the way in conservative support for embryonic stem cell research, gun control, and environmental causes. He gained a reputation for bipartisanship for his work on campaign finance and immigration reform. McCain represented a brand of conservatism that rallied moderates to the right. It was a brand that called to the doctors and lawyers and intellectuals of the world, “Come into the conservative fold—there’s a place for you with us.”
Unfortunately, in this recent election cycle John McCain himself appears to have forgotten why he ever became popular. In addition to adopting more conservative policy positions, he forwent picking one of his many moderate colleagues as his running mate—for instance, his good friend Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman—and instead picked Sarah Palin, the Governor from Alaska, who represents the rightest kind of right. Palin proved herself to be an embarrassment on the campaign trail, alienating voters as she demonstrated not only her love of unabashed oil-drilling but also her complete lack of preference for fiscal conservatism, aside from tax breaks. She made known her disgust for the high-falutin’ language of elitist Ivy League types. In his VP pick and his election-cycle shenanigans, McCain fell back on the knee-jerk style of conservatism upon which less worthy Republicans have built their careers—the kind that pooh-poohs intellectualism and favors the worst sort of unenlightened notions.
I’ve spent the last several weeks and months clinging onto my belief in the old John McCain, still hoping he could pull through as the change we needed. Yet as I cast my absentee ballot for the McCain-Palin ticket last week, I understood why undecided voters would find the Obama-Biden train more appealing. Somewhere along the campaign trail, John McCain lost his ability to inspire voters. I’m sad he’s lost, but I’m sadder that he played such a deliberate role in the reason for his defeat.
Aside from a renewed confidence in the progress of American civil rights, there is virtually no part of me that is happy Obama has won. Still, the sense of hope that we progressive conservatives must now rally around is that Obama’s victory presents a chance for our own ideological rebirth. Ironically, it is to the vision of the old John McCain to which we must turn, or else we will be facing down many more disheartening election cycles like this one.
Lucy M. Caldwell ’09, a Crimson editorial writer, is a histroy and literature concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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