On the final night of the relentless presidential primary campaign, Jesse Jackson compared Barack Obama's victory to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Erica Jong compared Hillary Clinton's defeat to watching Joan of Arc burning at the stake. Obama was in St Paul, Minnesota, pointedly in the very arena where the Republicans will hold their convention in September, at times barely audible over the nearly continual cheering of 17,000 fans (with another 15,000 listening outside). Clinton was off on what has come to be known as the remote island of Hillaryland - in this case several storeys below ground at Baruch College in New York, inaccessible to cell phones or BlackBerries - still insisting that, according to Hillarymath, she had won the popular vote, still declaring that she was ready to be commander-in-chief on 'Day One', and still repeating the creepiest line of her stump speech, the one about the boy who had sold his bicycle to give money to her campaign. (She and Bill made $109 million in the last eight years and she's taking toys from children? And gloating over it?) She threatened that the 17 million who had voted for her must be 'respected', as though she were a warlord and they her private army, while some in the crowd chanted 'Den-ver! Den-ver!' - meaning that she should take the fight all the way to the Democratic convention in August. And then there was John McCain, in what seemed to be a high school auditorium somewhere in Louisiana (even he wasn't sure: he thought he was in New Orleans, but he wasn't), addressing a few hundred sleepy geriatrics, struggling with the teleprompter and grinning weirdly at random moments. Standing in front of a hideous green backdrop, he looked, as one blogger wrote, like the cottage cheese on a lime Jello salad. Apparently no longer an officer and a gentleman, he took the occasion of this extraordinary moment in American history not to congratulate the first African-American nominee, but rather to deride, with soporific sarcasm, Obama the young whippersnapper and his belief in 'change'. A bizarre line from McCain's speech has already become a six-second YouTube classic: 'We should be able to deliver bottled hot water to dehydrated babies.'
LRB 3 July 2008 | PDF Download