Well, the Democrats are hopelessly mired in procedural arguments about re-dos of Michigan and Florida, Obama’s pastor problems are dragging him down, his “not this time” speech hasn’t really knocked it on the head, Hillary loyalist superdelegates will have a good argument to say that she should be given the nod even if Obama wins the popular vote, McCain made a hummer of a gaffe — arguing that Iran was backing Al-Qaeda, who are hardcore Sunni boys — and no-one noticed for a few days, and I’m about ready to start counting off reasons why 08 might be a good one to lose. The economy is tanking after all, and though I’m sceptical of some more excitable comrades who see it as the collapse of capitalism tout court, its capacity to slide from a mere recession — which we are now in — into a full depression is yet untested.

A McCain presidency would be caught in the cleft stick of sticking to the Bush tax cuts to the rich, running a ruinous war, and trying to restart the economy. Can’t be done. McCain would have to do one spectacular triple backflip and work with the Democratic congress — which would make him one of the most remarkable Presidents in history — to get through it, or he’d be jammed up by the Country Club Republicans, and be the 21st century’s Herbert Hoover.

A Democrat congress could push McCain to veto bill after bill until he came to be seen as an obstruction to what must be done, thus paving the way for 16 years of Democrat rule — none of them, I would suspect, by Obama.

President McCain would also have to face an expanded mess in Iraq. Hot on the heels of last week’s bombings came the the news that many of the Sahwa groups conscripted by the Americans — the 80,000 Sunni gang members, militias and just plain folks with AK-47s — are thinking of going on “strike” for nonpayment. They’re thinking of forming a collective group. Gosh. Wonder what they’ll do to fill the income gap? Add to that Turkey, Kurdistan, the Mahdi army, Iran and the fact is that any drawdown of US troops will start the whole process over again.

Yet the public is now beginning to make the link between the recession and the cost of the war, as both Hills and Obama hammer at the topic, and Jeffrey Stiglitz’s new book — suggesting the full cost of the war may head northwards of $3 trillion (off an original Dubya forecast of $50 billion) — starts to circulate round the traps.

The centre-left is always left with the task of cleaning up the right’s mess — whether it’s chronic underinvestment, as in the Howard and Reagan governments, or utter multidimensional profligate incompetence as in the Dubya era — and there’s an advantage in not being around to have to do it. UK Labour’s 1992 loss was pretty crushing, but it gave the Tories enough rope, although the eventual alternative was nothing to write home about. President McCain would have to face the continued decline of health care, because there’s no way he could stand up to the vested interests who run it. Four more years of the useless suffering inflicted on the bottom hundred million would stoke the fires of the nascent grassroots movement nicely.

Whatever rabbits the Democrats have got in their hat, it better be a Western District’s worth, because left parties know from bitter experience that the one thing that loses the middle ground is the perception that the party can’t run itself. The double-whammy of the superdelegate system and the denial of delegates to Michigan and Florida could be said to be rotten bad luck — if the Republicans had a genuine contest they might be facing the same problems — but the point of an organisation is to allow for bad luck. Besides, the Republicans have a system which has enough winner-take-all states to make a split ticket much less likely.

The Democrats not only have a patchwork of caucuses and proportional votes, they have a decentred party structure that’s unwieldy and hard to move in a single direction. Since American parties are loose agglomerations in any case, any serious disunity can shake the structure apart completely. And their various governator problems are beginning to make them look a rabble. NY governor Mark Spitzer was barely out the door before his successor was pre-emptively confessing to affairs (his wife by his side, this time because she had them too) and instead of taking one of the few advantages open to the legally blind (“hell I didn’t know who I was f-cking”) instead paid back charges for hotel rooms put on the state credit card. We never really got a chance to chew over that before came the announcement that Democrat Mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick was being charged with perjury and other stuff relating to ongoing corruption investigations in the city of rust.

Cumulatively the effect of all this is to make the Democrats look not ready for prime time, which is not untrue in many cases — the state houses are run by machines who have long given up on the national fight and focused on local sinecures. It can’t help but alienate a tranche of socially conservative voters who for reasons I don’t even want to think about regard the Republicans — like Newt Gingrich who left his wife while she was hospitalised for cancer, or McCain who left his first missus for his mistress, the current Mrs McCain — as more proper than the Dems.

The only bright spot was that McCain’s gaffe, buried last week, was starting to get some airplay. It was a huge howler made worse by the fact that Joe Lieberman, likely VP candidate, had to step up and whisper a correction in Macca’s ear. More than just a common slip, like saying Sunni when you mean Shia, the remark suggested that McCain didn’t particularly care how America’s different enemies were plugged together, so long as there was a pretext for war. The clip, together with McCain’s “joke” Beach Boy performance — “bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran” — may be enough come November to sink him, especially if the surge has become a full backwash. With the US casualty rate hitting 4,000 today, and mortars hitting the Green Zone, that latter scenario is coming along nastily.

But if anyone can screw it up, it’s the Dems. If they lose in 08, the great benefit would be that the Democrats would have to change their form — adopt a party structure more akin to Westminster style parties, with a greater fusion of political and administrative leadership. As Ralph Nader said when people criticised his latest candidacy for splitting the vote, “if the Democrats can’t win this year they should simply go out of business and re-emerge in another form”.

But it’s a long time til November. Months. When you watch the Dems it looks like years.

Peter Fray

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