American presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s win in the Pennsylvania primary this week will prolong the race for the Democratic nomination for at least a little longer, which according to most US political observers will leave both candidates badly bruised and open to a strong attack from Republican nominee John McCain.
As increasingly negative campaigning divides the party, McCain gains support even from registered Democrats.
In a March Gallup poll, 28 per cent of Clinton supporters said they’d vote for McCain if Obama wins the nomination.
Among Obama’s supporters the comparable figure was 19 per cent. A CNN poll taken in March showed that either Democrat would find themselves in a neck-and-neck race with McCain.
A few months ago it seemed impossible that Republicans could wash away the lies, the crimes, and the ineptitude of the Bush presidency and occupy the White House for another four years.
America sits on the brink of financial ruin, torn apart by war, burdened with tens of thousands of maimed, crippled, and PTSD-afflicted veterans, its once-great tradition of rights and freedoms in tatters.
Thousands of American parents grieve for sons, wives for husbands, children for fathers slain in a war now known to be based on lies.
Libertarians and liberals alike are outraged that their government reserves the right to spy on US citizens, to lock them up without warrant, to hide prisoners, to torture them, and to ship them abroad to other, worse, torturers.
Today, McCain stands at least an even chance of winning the presidency, and the more Clinton and Obama bash each other in the meantime, the higher his hopes rise.
McCain is perceived by many Americans as the renegade Republican, his own man, and not a holdover from the Bush years.
Polls show most Americans believe he is most likely to take a strong stand against terrorism.
Canadians have a lot at stake in the US elections.
We have friends and relatives south of the border.
We shop in American stores and travel to American tourist destinations.
We sell things to Americans, and we buy things from them.
Most of us live within an hour or two of the border, under the watchful eye of US spy drones.
Our military has placed itself at America’s disposal, and we’ve agreed that their troops may cross the border with a minimum of fuss. We already have cross-border policing.
Our governments are busy harmonizing health and safety regulations. Our leaders are banding together to draw the hemisphere into a giant trade agreement.
We are sleeping with the American elephant, and we all know what happens if it rolls over, let alone when it thrashes around in its death-throes.
This means that even though we don’t get to vote, we do have an interest in the outcome of the presidential election.
So who is this John McCain who might very well be the next leader of that giant neighbour of ours?
In March, Bush endorsed McCain’s candidacy, calling him, “somebody who can handle the tough decisions, somebody who won’t flinch in the face of danger.”
The president further promised to put his formidable money-raising machine to work for his one-time rival, and more importantly, to be present when useful and absent when a liability.
Like Hilary Clinton, Senator McCain voted in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Unlike Senator Clinton he still believes America did the right thing, and that it should, in the Bush vernacular, stay the course.
But although he has endorsed the war itself, McCain made a name for himself by opposing the American use of torture in the so-called War on Terror. Himself a victim of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, McCain once sponsored a bill to prohibit the use of torture by all US forces.
McCain earned bi-partisan respect with his opposition to waterboarding, stress-positioning, and other coercive interrogation techniques employed by the U.S military and the CIA.
But in February he appeared to waffle on that long-term commitment when he opposed the Intelligence Authorization Act, which would have restricted the CIA to interrogation techniques approved in the military handbook.
McCain led Senate support for the Military Commissions Act of 2006, in which the president acquired the most draconian powers ever held by the head of a purported democracy.
It stripped accused terrorists and “unlawful enemy combatants” of all rights, approved the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” procedures, and gave the president unprecedented emergency powers.
In effect, it undermined the position for which McCain is best known. Having built his reputation as an opponent of torture, he was now quietly supporting a law that stripped away all an accused person’s rights, leaving the door wide open to all forms of abuse, including torture.
According to the latest Gallup figures, 69 per cent of Americans disapprove of George Bush, making him less popular than Richard Nixon on the day he was forced to resign.
So far, McCain has managed to avoid the stigma of being George’s boy, mainly because of his perceived strong stand against torture.
It remains to be seen if the successful Democrat will emerge from the rough and tumble of the nomination campaign in good enough shape to go after McCain on his perceived home turf, to challenge his anti-torture credentials, to call him on his stubborn refusal to admit that Iraq is a shambles, and to remind the voters that he’s not nearly as far removed from the Bush wing of his party as he’d like them to believe.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.