Some fifteen years ago, on the occasion of President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., invoked the memory and commentary of his equally illustrious historian father to expound on a theory of cycles for politics similar to economics. Accordingly, after some thirty years of conservative drift, Schlesinger said, now was the time for a liberal shift. I am reminded of this prophesy these days when there is an opportunity for another – debatable - theoretical foray into the “dismal science” to service political science. To wit, what if we borrowed the undeniable human traits of fear and greed that are proffered as “scientific” explanation for the inevitability of economic cycles to predictably replicate political events?
The occasion for this reflection is, of course, the Barak Obama phenomenon -the novelty of which, incidentally, is demonstrated by the fact that my word processing program does not recognize either name. To be more precise, it is the conundrum that the phenomenon poses for the American electorate in the 2008 Presidential campaign. The audacity of Obama’s hope has become contagious. The Democratic Party establishment’s iconic Ted Kennedy has endorsed him, and more than 70% of Move-On respondents have chosen him over Hillary Clinton.
To many other Democrats, this is not hope but hubris -which is closer to the greed of economics. A large number of them, it is surmised, are moved by fear in their support for Hillary Clinton. They are worried that Obama could not win against the Republican candidate. That candidate, who now increasingly seems to be John McCain, would unashamedly play on the fear of the voters about the threat of terrorism. Against Obama, the Islamofascist appellation would become more pronounced. Even against Clinton, McCain might be tempted to choose the fellow “maverick” Joe Lieberman in the contest for the “Jewish support,” and their votes which are concentrated in the electorally rich States of New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and California.
The genius of the incumbent Republican Administration has been to align itself as the beneficiary of an environment where Americans combined the usually conflicting motivations of fear and greed. They were encouraged to continue loving their SUVs in the time of blood for oil. Generalized sacrifice was avoided as a volunteer force and deferred debt numbed the senses. If this unusual condition could be sustained in the face of foreboding economic crisis for just another year, the Republican ride might continue for another four years. If it could not be sustained, the victor would be the choice of either the fearful or the hopeful.