Sunday, November 02, 2008

down to the wire

With most of the polls showing a convincing victory for Barack Obama, some of the excitement seems to have gone out of the presidential election, and perhaps out of the local ones, as well. The McCain campaign appears to see an opening in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other swing states, presumably based on the unpredictable turnout and the large number of undecided voters in these and other areas. Although no one will say so, there may be a sense that Obama's race and "foreign" character will scare some voters at the last minute, although why these would become bigger right now is anybody's guess.

A particular problem for McCain is the large number of early voters, who seem to have broken to Obama by as much as 10 percent. I see at least two problems with early voting, especially of the mail order variety. One is that something may change in the interim: what if McCain were found tomorrow to be George Bush's older brother, or Obama to be Jimmy Carter's nephew? Somewhat less flippant is the nature of voting, which I see to be a public ritual designed to impress upon the citizenry the importance of its decision as well as its own sovereignty over the political process. Some of my family members believe that, upon walking into the voting booth, I will be impressed with the seriousness of the decision and vote for Obama although I remain a Republican official: if this is improbable in my case, it may not be for others, and in any event should remain a possibility that mail order voting cannot take into account.

One sad part of the last campaign days is the near-inevitable descent into trivial, negative campaigning. One nearby state house race, between two eminently qualified and generally quite admirable candidates, has degenerated into a series of advertisements over who did and did not pay back taxes. McCain and Obama have themselves set a less than admirable tone here, with McCain the more negative, but Obama saturating the airwaves to such an extent that some fear a backlash. My own view is that such campaigning is inevitable until we have a serious change in the electoral system (more on this later). But the public seems to be taking it all in stride, and--in person or otherwise--to be casting its votes with the substance in mind and the garbage left for tomorrow's trash bins.


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