Abroad and at home, the future looks grim. If the United States is lucky, the political and economic pain might last just two or three years. It is not, however, unrealistic to expect three to five years of troubled times. Maybe more.
This sort of dark, disturbing forecast is difficult for optimistic Americans to digest. Only a fool — or a Republican — would deny that these are the most challenging times the nation has faced in 40 years: stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan, meltdown on Wall Street, and recession on Main Street. And that’s putting it mildly.
It is hard to escape the foreboding atmosphere, the sense that something even scarier than the events of the past several weeks is about to gel — as if $8 trillion of stock-market losses over the past 12 months is not nightmare enough.
America’s bad dreams are nudging the presidential prospects of Democrat Barack Obama higher. It is not necessarily the case that voters swinging toward Obama favor him and his policies; rather, they fear Republican John McCain and his program, which — putting vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin aside — is four more years of President George W. Bush.
McCain has shown himself to be a spooky figure. Gone is the avuncular “maverick” once celebrated by the romantics of the national media. McCain appears determined to channel his inner Nixon, to commune with the spirit of George Wallace. Nods to history aside, McCain stands before the American electorate for what he is: a rigid and nasty old coot, a jaded election junkie, a man who believes he has a divine right to rule. Don’t tread on John. He’s a dangerous guy, a swaggering guy, a guy unafraid to pick an ignoramus for his vice-president.
During the most recent debate, McCain sublimated his crankiest side — almost. There were two telling backfires: a gratuitous swipe at moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News for not being qualified to be secretary of the treasury and a peevish reference to Obama as “that one.” Senior moments? Those flashes of bizarre aggression aside, McCain was relatively smooth, at times sophisticated, and unrepentantly supportive of the policies — foreign and domestic — that have plopped the nation into the hot water in which it now wallows.
Regular Phoenix readers will not be surprised that we think Obama was smoother, more sophisticated, and on point in his criticisms of what’s wrong with the economy and McCain’s belligerent world-view.
Still, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the debate, like the entire presidential campaign, is being conducted inside a bubble chock full of “issues,” but hermetically sealed against the savage reality of the world as it is — and as it will be.
The future promises to be nasty and brutish.
Both McCain and Obama seem clueless about the state of the war in Afghanistan. The United States is asking its NATO allies for either more troops or more money. It is each NATO member’s choice.
Britain’s commander in Afghanistan says the war there cannot be won. He counsels a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, which is something the Kabul government is already trying. Meanwhile, the United States is running a secret war inside Pakistan, which is where, according to intelligence, the greatest threat of another terrorist attack originates. None of this is good news.