Life is full of disappointments.
Early Friday, I went to the Real Clear Politics Web site, as I do every morning, for my fix of political news and commentary. I perked up when I saw the third entry on the list of that day's notable articles – “No. 44 Has Spoken.”
“Hank Aaron has spoken? Wow,” I thought as I clicked through.
Nope. The article was by Gerhard Spoerl, the chief editor of Der Spiegel's foreign desk. “No. 44” didn't refer to the uniform number of the man some of us still consider the true all-time major-league home-run champion. It referred to the next president of the United States. The article's premise was that an Obama victory is a foregone conclusion: “Anyone who saw Barack Obama at Berlin's Siegessaeule on Thursday could recognize that this man will become the 44th president of the United States.”
So it wasn't Hank Aaron speaking. It was just another journalist fawning over Obama. That was a disappointment. But disappointment was quickly replaced by the healthier emotion of annoyance.
Not so fast, Obama
“Nicht so schnell, Herr Spoerl,” I thought, drawing on what Obama would consider my embarrassingly limited German. Not so fast.
Don't the American people get a chance to weigh in on this in November? Maybe they'll decide it's more important to have John McCain as commander in chief than Barack Obama as orator in chief. Maybe they'll further suspect that 200,000 Germans can't be right.
I was cheered by this notion.
But the next morning, as I drove around the Washington suburbs, I saw not one but two cars – rather nice cars, as it happens – festooned with the Obama campaign bumper sticker, “got hope?” And I relapsed into moroseness.
Got hope? Are my own neighbors' lives so bleak that they place their hopes in Barack Obama? Are they impressed by the cleverness of a political slogan that plays off a rather cheesy (sorry!) campaign to get people to drink milk?
And what is it the bumper-sticker affixers are trying to say? Do they really believe their fellow citizens who happen to prefer McCain are hopeless? After all, just because you haven't swooned like Herr Spoerl doesn't mean you don't hope for a better world. Don't McCain backers also have hope – for an America that wins its wars, protects its unborn children and allows its citizens to keep more of their hard-earned income?
There's hope, and hope
But what if all those “got hope?” bumper stickers spur a backlash? It might occur to undecided or swing voters that talk of hope is not a substantive plan. They might be put off further by the haughtiness of Obama's claim to the mantle of hope. This hope restored my spirits.
Before they fell again. Later that day, I read a report of a fundraising letter from Obama on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, arguing that “We must have a deadlock-proof Democratic majority.”
But then it occurred to me that one man's “deadlock-proof” Democratic majority is another's unchecked Democratic majority. Given the unpopularity of the current Democratic Congress, given Americans' tendency to prefer divided government, given the voters' repudiations of the Republicans in 2006 and of the Democrats in 1994 — isn't the prospect of across-the-board, one-party Democratic governance more likely to move votes to McCain than to Obama?
So I cheered up once again. For it will become increasingly obvious, as we approach November, that the Democrats will continue to control Congress for the next couple of years. But if the voters elect Obama as president, they'll be putting Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in untrammeled control of our future.
In 1948, a Republican Congress, which had taken power two years before with great expectations after a decade and a half of Democratic control, had become unpopular. Harry Truman lambasted it as a no-good, do-nothing Congress – and he rode that assault to the White House. We'll soon start hearing more from McCain about the deficiencies of today's surge-opposing, drilling-blocking, earmark-loving Congress. And McCain will then assert that if you don't like the Congress in which Sen. Obama serves in the majority right now, you really should be alarmed about a President Obama rubber-stamping the deeds of a Democratic Congress next year. A President McCain, on the other hand, could check congressional appetites – as well as work across the aisle with a Democratic Congress in a bipartisan spirit where appropriate.
And so I drifted off into a pleasant daydream. It's election night, and a victorious John McCain is waving around the Spiegel article, “No. 44 Has Spoken” – just as Harry Truman, 60 years ago, triumphantly held aloft the early edition of the Nov. 3, 1948, Chicago Tribune, with its banner headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Life may be full of disappointments. But it's also full of surprises.