Today, the United States is a nation on the brink. Of what, we do not know.
The economy is in turmoil. People are losing their homes. Retirees are losing their retirements. Workers are starting to lose their jobs in large numbers.
WE'RE ALSO going to have a national election in a month. One one side, to paint with the broadest of brushes, we have a young apostle of "hope" who speaks in generalities and has given rise to what approaches a personality cult among some of his younger supporters.
On the other, we have a man whose overarching political philosophy seems to be winning by any means necessary. Never before much of a culture warrior, he has become a strident advocate of social and class conflict as an animating feature of his campaign. Never before much of a partisan, he and his surrogates now paint the Democrat as "dangerous" and a consort of "terrorists."
IN THE TRENCHES, amid the ranks of schoolkids and "Joe Six Packs," we have examples of fascistic hero worship and demagogic demonizing of The Other.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL, particularly on the beleaguered Republican side, we see the long knives being pulled from beneath cloaks. The partisans want blood, and blood they shall have.
One must wonder whether party bosses have made fateful decisions. The calculation that, if their side cannot win, the nation will be made as ungovernable as possible for the opposition.
The dagger, however, is double-edged. Will anyone be able to govern?
I CANNOT POINT to a study here, or to anything other than my middle-aged gut. But my gut tells me that Peggy Noonan was onto something this morning on Meet the Press.We find ourselves at a perilous moment historically. And widespread recklessness is afoot:
MR. BROKAW: And, Peggy Noonan, as you know, the McCain campaign has signaled pretty strongly they’re going to strain—change their strategy. We have a quote from The Weekly Standard. Bill Kristol, who is the editor, is, of course, in the College of Cardinals, he’s the Pope when it comes to writing about what’s going on in the conservative movement. He says in The Weekly Standard, “More important is the negative message. The McCain campaign has to convince 51 percent of the voters they can’t trust Barack Obama to be our next president. ... Character is a legitimate issue. Obama hasn’t shown much in the way of leadership or political courage, and he’s consorted with dubious figures. It’s fair to ask whether Barack Obama is personally trustworthy enough to be president, and the McCain campaign shouldn’t be intimidated from going there.” We already heard on this broadcast, Senator Palin yesterday, raising the association that he had with William Ayers, who is a former member of the Weathermen, a very radical group from the ‘60s and ‘70s, who is now a school reformer in Illinois. Is this a smart strategy, in your judgment, for the McCain campaign?AMEN.
MS. NOONAN: You know what, this has been a long campaign. We are in the last month. It is still close. Whoever’s rising or, or, or falling, it’s really close. And some part of me fears they’re going to open up the gates of hell on this one. It seems to me there is trench warfare out there. The left—there’s a huge middle in America, but there’s a left. They think they’re going to win, and they’re getting meaner than ever. The right fears they’re going to lose, they’re getting meaner than ever. I would hate to see this descend into this, this—“I’ll kill—I’ll tear your throat out” kind of stuff. I think that would be harmful. I think we are at a unique and dangerous...
MR. YEPSEN: But, Tom...
MS. NOONAN: ...moment in history, and it’s the last thing we need. And I don’t speak as a sissy; I’m trying to speak as an adult.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah. David.
MR. YEPSEN: There’s a danger, Tom, that it backfires.
MS. NOONAN: Yeah. Yeah.
MR. YEPSEN: I mean, clearly John McCain is worried. They’re, they’re on defense. The best proof of that, Tom, is, is what is Sarah Palin doing this afternoon? She is in Omaha, Nebraska. Now, when a Republican vice presidential candidate has to go to defend one congressional district—they vote their electors by congressional district--30 days out, it tells you they’re worried. And so what, what I see happening in the McCain campaign, with all this talk about William Ayers, is this sort of a sense of desperation. It could get carried away, and it’s irrelevant to people in mainstream America, in middle America. You know, William Ayers, what do they care about—how is that going to put gas in the tank or get somebody a job? I think it runs the risk of coming off as irrelevant.
MR. GREGORY: But just to show you how...
MS. NOONAN: And it runs the risk of being demoralizing.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. NOONAN: Forgive me, David. But in a serious national way, don’t do that.
MR. BROKAW: Although, before we go on with this, maybe what the McCain campaign is reading the last draft of the latest Time magazine-CNN poll—and this shows up in a number of polls—Senator Obama still shows vulnerability on the question of what kind of president he would be. Fifty percent of those polled said Obama gives a great speech, but doesn’t have other qualifications; 46 percent disagreed with that statement. But that’s in a poll in which Senator Obama did very well overall.
MS. NOONAN: Can I make a point, also, that I think part of the reason this is going to get so rough in the next month, trying to get my, my hands around this thing, is that we live in the age of political strategists. We live in the age of the guys on the plane. We live in the age of the BlackBerry guys saying, “Let’s get them this way. Let’s get them this way.” It exists on both campaigns, the instinct, “Hey, we have nothing to do now but go to, to the jugular.” I have the sense sometimes lately that these guys on the plane think history is their plaything. History is not their plaything. This is big. This is a nation having two ground wars and an economic recession—we hope just a mild recession. This is not a time for playfulness and mischief. It ain’t right.