While the Hillbama show continues to slide around in chaos, news from elsewhere makes it clear that the Republicans cannot take anything for granted, to say the least. In the Louisiana 6th district, Democratic candidate Don Cazayoux has taken a by-election caused by the departure of the Republican incumbent, the swing going 13% against the GOP.

There’s a range of local factors of course – the incumbent had retired, and the new Republican contender had a range of hard-right contacts, from buying a telemarketing business from former KKKer David Duke, to helping out for a “charity” run by Colonel Oliver North that funnels money for “humanitarian causes” to central America. Plus his name was Woody Jenkins so, y’know.

And more than just about any other polity, sitting members attract a loyalty in the US far beyond their party affiliation – due in part to the looseness of the party system, and just a little bit to the enormous opportunity they have to pour out the pork, effectively on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis. Hence party apparatuses do just about anything short of hiring body doubles to keep an incumbent in place.

One of the sure signs that team GOP was in deep trouble was the number of announced retirements this time round – 27 in all from the Right side, a line of rats queueing in an orderly fashion for the gangplank, with their pensions in little wheelie luggage.

So yada, yada, yada – but 13% is still 13% – in a southern constituency that’s been Republican for a coupla decades. More results like it would suggest that the US is seeing the same sort of process as occurred in Australia during the rise and rise of his Ruddness – that key media outlets had become such propagandistic boosters that they lost their own capacity to test reality (all those “Howard is rated as the best economic manager” articles from The Oz would look great, framed).

That would mean that while the tubes faff around every snippet of everything that Obama’s said, parsing each utterance like medieval scholars arguing angels on a pinhead, enough voters have quietly and firmly decided to dump the whole mob that got us into this mess.

Yet against that, one has to bear in mind the degree to which Americans will vote across the spread, choosing Republican congresspersons, Democratic senators, voting red-state for the President and then choosing Jesse Ventura as governor. Local members and state governors put their own political packages together, with little regard for an organised left-right split.

Vermont, that leafy, quasi-autonomous Republic of armed PBS viewers, has a Republican governor who is pretty far to the left of most Democrats, especially those who want to nuke Iran. Meanwhile, Montana’s Democratic governor would not resile from invading Canada and enslaving its whiny liberal population to pull people’s cars when there is no more gas.

One could talk about the variety of political differences, peculiarity of the system etc etc, but really, it just sh-ts me a little bit. Choose a side, fight for a programme, goddamit, don’t pick and mix, no substitutions, you want me to hold the chicken in a chicken sandwich, I want you to hold it between your knees …*

It also makes it difficult to sell a reform programme, as opposed to auctioning off individual bits and pieces of legislation, such as the McCain-Clinton dual folly of a gas tax holiday. The whole thing is a bizarre fake joust, since there’s no chance that the Senate will approve anything like it.

The McClinton calls for a gas tax holiday neatly illustrate the ways in which “left” and “right” populism can be two sides of the same coin. Hillary is calling for the tax on consumers to be replaced by a tax on the oil companies, while McCain isn’t saying anything except “let’s have a holiday, get the govt off your back!” – each with the same hollow promise, conformed to their particular politics.

But if you’re going to go all out in populism, logic is the last thing you want.

Witness Hillary’s latest plan to sue OPEC in the WTO for restricting production, which probably expresses better than anything the screwy fantasia of the current American relationship to oil. Quite aside from the fact that OPEC, given current prices, is pumping and shipping the stuff as fast as it will come out of the ground, the idea is a whispered version of the old triumphalist “our oil under their sand” attitude to the Middle East. However much oil is on the market, China will be bidding for it.

This week’s Newsweek features a cover splash for Fareed Zakharia’s new book The Post-American World, raising at length the features of a world rapidly departing from the brief single superpower model that held fast for ohhhhh, a decade or so. But by and large it simply hasn’t seeped in to the consciousness – a fact witnessed not in a sense of swaggering triumphalism but in a gnawing contradictory worry about things like Iraq. Even those who want to leave continue to worry about what would happen to the place, etc etc, as if the disentanglement of a quasi-modernised clan-based society was something that should be done from Akron, Ohio.

It’s the reason why Hillary’s “if Iran atacked Israel …” question – the answer to which she reiterated today, by tacitly confirming that nuclear weapons would be involved – can actually ring bells, far and beyond the Jewish constituency, even among those who have no clear idea what Israel is. It’s a sort of haikuesque shorthand, a reaffirming of the fairy tale of setting the world to rights, and thus reaffirming the meaning of American existence.

Will Hillary’s all-stops-out-thang work? To a degree, Indiana will be a litmus test of such. Hills is on track to win, but the scale will be crucial. Anything below 5% will be a loss, anything above 8% will suggest that this sort of, well, bad craziness, can draw in a middle section of the voters.

For North Carolina, just take Indiana and sort of reverse it, kinda. With a smaller black voter base than most southern states, Obama’s win will be narrower – and may even be erroneously taken as worse than it is. Which might even prompt him to the great white whale of the campaign, the one thing everyone’s looking out for – Barack going frig it, and smoking live on camera. He sure ain’t smokin’ now.

* Five Easy Pieces – It helps if you do the bit about the sandwich in a waitress’s voice, and the bit about knees as Jack Nicholson.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.