The Bill Comes Due
You've heard by now that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama this morning on Meet the Press. But if you haven't seen it, take a look at the video:
What Powell really did here is not so much endorse Obama or repudiate McCain, as repudiate the Republicans. The campaign focus on irrelevant nonsense like Obama's acquaintance with William Ayres, the selection of Sarah Palin as the vice-presidential nominee--which was ultimately McCain's call, but was clearly not his first choice--and the general turn to an ever-smaller, ever more insular, paranoid and angry worldview on the part of the right, was what prompted Powell's defection from what he still calls "his party." Powell rejects the Little Roves who have come to run McCain.
He's far from alone. Whether it's the Chicago Tribune endorsing a Democrat for the first time in more than 150 years or Christopher Buckley apologizing to his late father (and getting fired from National Review) for his own defection, the ranks of "Obamicans" are growing by the day. These deviations serve Obama in two ways: first, every high-profile surprise endorsement helps him win a news cycle, running more time off the clock in a race that's dwindled down to days, and second, each of these unexpected shifts gives more comfort to disaffected Republicans who won't be changing their registration, but might regret their second George W. Bush vote and wish to give their party a two- or four-year timeout for bad behavior. (It seems plausible that Powell himself is in this boat.)
I didn't catch Powell's endorsement live this morning, but I did see the "roundtable" that closed Meet the Press. The panel--composed as usual with about two-thirds media establishment types, one-third identified Republicans like Joe Scarborough (whom I kind of like in his MSNBC role, but let's be frank about who he is and why he's there)--was remarking upon the surprising likelihood that a "center-right country" could be looking at the strongest unified one-party government in many decades, with 250-plus Democrats in the House, around 60 in the Senate, and a clearly liberal Democratic president. (Actually, taking into account the ideological sorting of the last forty years or so, it could be argued that the 2009 Democratic federal representation will comprise the most strongly liberal presence Washington has ever seen: the Democratic cohorts of the '30s and '60s still included dozens of southern conservatives, all of whom are now Republicans.) But even if you accept their basic premise, the reason why is that "center" is more prevalent than "right" in the electorate at the moment--and the Obama/Pelosi/Reid Democrats are vastly closer to the center than the Bush/DeLay/Frist Republicans.
Yes, DeLay and Frist are gone, and Bush is going. But as the Palin selection most clearly showed, it's still their party: small-minded, mean-spirited, less interested in governing than scapegoating and self-dealing. That's what is killing McCain this year, and that's why he lost Colin Powell among so many others.
As someone who once really liked McCain, and who still retains some residual appreciation for him, I have some sympathy for his plight. The joke is that Bush will have denied McCain the presidency twice now, the first time by smearing him in South Carolina eight years ago and the second time this year by creating such distance between the Republican Party and the political center. I wish these particular chickens had come home to roost four years earlier; and thinking about the shitstorm Obama will face about five minutes after he takes the oath of office, I'm still not one hundred percent sure that the Republicans might not be winning by losing this year. But in the biggest sense, it's deeply reassuring that the country seems likely to retain its capacity for small-d democratic self-correction.