Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008

The Unexpected Disappointment

One ought to feel great joy as we stand on the cusp of electing a young liberal Democrat as the first African-American President. But instead, my mood is one of deep disappointment, both with two nominees who've failed to live up to their own prior reputations and with increasingly politicized national news media that have wallowed in what's trite and vacuous rather than featuring policy substance or biographical insight. For two decades, John McCain represented the promise of a Republican Party standing for honest pragmatism rather than destructive ideological rigidity.

But this year McCain has run an embarrassingly bad general-election campaign that's insisted America's most pressing issue is Barack Obama's passing acquaintance with Bill Ayers, an aging Chicago radical. Prior to 2008, the brightest gemstone in Obama's political résumé was his championing of campaign reforms that would reduce the insidious role of private money in American politics. But this year Obama threw that commitment under the bus with an alacrity that should have alarmed everyone who thinks they know what policies he'll pursue as President. The news media have highlighted McCain's shortcomings far more aggressively than they've examined what's evanescent rather than enduring about Obama, but disappointment all around is the unexpected mood I'll remember from this campaign.

Garrow, a senior research fellow at Homerton College, University of Cambridge, is the author of Bearing the Cross, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Martin Luther King Jr.