THE Narrative is a palimpsest; as of Tuesday night the Obama campaign is a roaring success, and McCain's is a failure, or, more frequently, he never had a chance, being saddled with Bush'n'all. Of course this is called into question somewhat by the fact that the Acting President was barely mentioned from January on, so much so that when Bob Schieffer brought his "remarkable absence" up last week my Poor Wife and I looked at each other, amazed to find someone at CBS News still remembered the man's name when they weren't covering one of the sorry little Autumnal photo ops he's been reduced to. Compare Al Gore's rejection of Clinton's aid in 2000, a major story the whole campaign long. (Here, for example, is Time in Springtime, congratulating the Vice President on finding ten feet of usable pole with which to distance himself from a President who was leaving office more popular than Ronald Reagan. And yes, the "John F. Dickerson" is the same John Dickerson who, as Slate's chief political correspondent, was last seen offering Barack Obama tips on how to have a successful Presidency. I haven't gotten around to numbering my own list yet, but it is looking as if "Don't take advice from journalists Ari Fleischer considered good bets to stovepipe the Joe Wilson story" will make the cut.)
On the other hand, yesterday's overwritten file is tomorrow's brilliant flash of originality, and I'm not ready to trash anything I said about the Obama campaign just because it all proved completely erroneous. "Find charismatic candidate/ run against most unpopular office holder since the invention of Zero/ hope opponent nominates backwoods religious nut who spends at least six months of every year in total darkness as running mate" is certainly a winning formula; it's just mighty tough to duplicate. Progressive Blogtopia still seems to think it's won an election on the merit of its positions, without asking how many of 'em the President-elect actually shares.
(It's the same with the Creeping Towards Cloture Watch on the Senate, as though sixty Democrats meant a Liberal Supermajority, as though these weren't the very same people and the very same party that coughed up 17 votes--1/3 of its number--to immunize telecoms for spying for the Bush administration. And not, we remind you, at the height of the Terra craze, but four friggin' months ago.)
But I digress. It's interesting that "Bush's historically unimaginable approval numbers" hamstrung the McCain campaign, but the much-ballyhooed historically low approval of Congress did not much affect, well, Congress, the actual people whose numbers those were. Bush's numbers tended to camouflage the serious disarray of the Republican Brand generally, and McCain had no problem running to that, early and often.
And why shouldn't he've? Bush won in 2004 because Republicans turned out in record numbers to salvage his, and their, legacy, or "legacy" (which was, at the time, attributed against all evidence to "Values" Voters, you'll recall). It looked for all the world as if all a Republican candidate ever had to do was Just Add Ohio to the ready-made near electoral lock. If the one truly dishonest, out-of-character thing John McCain did in order to get elected was to publicly embrace George Bush in 2004, well, it seemed like the smart move in Republican politics at the time.
Don't we get a whole lot closer to the bone if we consider that McCain's real problem in 2008 was that he came pretty close to revealing the real John McCain, as well as the real Republican electoral majority, 1980-2004? The McCain campaign, v. 2.0, was practically a carbon copy of the Lee Atwater campaign of '88, with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers as The Incredible Two-Headed Willie Horton, the same charges of anti-capitalism and insufficient patriotism, and Sarah Palin in the place of Dan Quayle. I don't recall anyone at the time cautioning that the party was running too far from St. Ronnie. If we're personally too jaded to imagine sea change is accomplished by an election (in large part because we remember how furious the scripting required to make 1980 appear that way), let us also recognize that McCain's loss was, really, truly, a Republican loss, a long-overdue correction to the Southern Strategy, and that the Senator from Arizona needed to run so far from Bush as to be outside the stadium, the party, and maybe the country before that would have begun to have an effect.
The "reinvention" of Republicanism will now struggle under the twin weights of decades of the denial of reality, and the constant eye on its every move, unlike the backroom deal that brought us George W. Bush in 1999. The glorious confluence of Robber Baronage, Ozzie and Harriet Provincialism, and Permanent Warfare has passed its sell-by date; leave us not imagine that's all George Bush's fault.