The center wins!
by Charlie Leck
There's one thing about being an old-timer; that is, we've been around! I remember presidential campaigns so clearly from 1964 on…. and I remember the 1960 campaign with a degree of cloudiness. Sometime, late in the 60s, I decided I wanted to understand, in significant depth, the innuendoes involved in a national political campaign. I learned my lessons well.
Yet, I was constantly astounded at how conventional wisdom could be defeated by out-right criminal cheating and by obfuscation.
Take a couple of interesting elections – 1960 (between Richard Nixon and Jack Kennedy) and 2000 (between George Bush and Al Gore). The vote count in the Chicago-Land area for John F. Kennedy was very strange. He won in districts where he should have lost and he got enormous voter turnout in areas where voters don't regularly turn out. It appears that some folks who had passed on managed to get back to the polls on that day. Mayor Daly implored Chicago's citizens to vote early – and, he likely added, vote often! They did both! Without the massive victory in Chicago, Kennedy would have lost.
All of us, of course, remember the debacle in Florida in 2000. 'Hanging chads' is now a part of the American vocabulary. The winner was decided by a conservative Supreme Court. The 2004 elections weren't much better. There are many of us who believe to this day that Kerry won in Ohio and should have become President. But, in the long run, Kerry lost because of an inept campaign that didn't know how to counter the 'Swift Boat ads' nor the 'flip-flop' charges.
The decision makers surrounding John McCain and running his political campaign this year are mostly 'hold-overs' from Karl Rove's operations. As a result, we can sense the same kind of campaign philosophy at work. The idea is to attack, attack, attack! Drive Senator Obama to the left! If he tries to move right, accuse him of the 'flip-flop.'
I was younger than my years in 1960 – that is, I was a pretty immature fellow. I was wild-eyed with excitement at being on my own and out from under parental influence and control. I hadn't the slightest idea whether I wanted JFK or Richard Nixon to win that election. I watched some of the debates with an incredible, old history instructor at my college. It was clear to him that Kennedy was winning the debates. More importantly, he taught me about a 'rule of thumb' that stands the test in these presidential elections.
"The candidate who appears to be closest to the center will win the election," Dr. Harry Savage told us. "These two guys are fighting furiously to be the centrist candidate."
In the end, it was Kennedy who appeared to be closest to the center. It was true of Johnson in '64 – by miles. Nixon demonstrated that Humphrey was a left-leaner in '68 and McGovern was clearly as far to the left in '72 as Goldwater had been to the right in '64.
This battle to get to the center is what causes the political exercise known as the flip-flop. We are seeing it more clearly in this election than any in my life time. Barack Obama is tripping over himself to move to the center. McCain has begun the flip-flop charges! Yet, McCain has the biggest problem because he has got to move to the center from the left of certain issues and from the right on others. He's very open to the flip-flop charge. A column by Robert Weiner and John Larmett outlines the policy and opinion shifts McCain has had to make in order to keep the conservative base of his party happy. I won't repeat what they said. If you want to see the list just go to their column.
Here, I'm urging you to watch the conspicuous and less than conspicuous shifts that both candidates will make over the next three months to move toward the center and to push their opponent out to the edges of the political spectrum. The Republicans have become brilliant at this. The Democrats must get better at it.
The Democratic loyalists who live left of center must show a degree of sympathy for this political reality or the Democrats will boot this year's election again.