Changing times and desperation inspire hope

If mood swings indicate mental instability, lock me up: Suddenly I see reason to hope.

Two months ago, I wallowed in despair. John McCain was going to be president, the second Republican fraud in a row. His positions then, which aren’t necessarily his positions now, were indistinguishable from those of his on-again, off-again model, George W. Bush.

At best, McCain’s inauguration would usher in another four years of OldThink non-solutions to problems we should have addressed decades ago. At worst, his notorious temper and militaristic bent could ensure decades of unrest in the Middle East, friction with Russia and deteriorating relations with China, which figures to be our chief competitor for the goods we can’t bring ourselves to do without. Meanwhile: more Alberto Gonzaleses, more Heck-of-a-Job Brownies, more shameless kowtowing to Business.

The Democratic Party, never tightly organized to begin with, had been sundered—irreparably, some argued—by the Clinton-Obama battles. The GOP slime machine, instrument of the destruction of John Kerry in 2004 and, lest we forget, of McCain himself in 2000, was at work on Barack Obama even before his victory. The ball was already rolling.

Then something changed. I don’t know exactly what—perhaps only my perception—but Barack is back in the game.

My natural pessimism is still in play here, along with my faith in voters, justified over the last quarter-century, to make irrational choices. If things go bad, I won’t be one whit surprised.

But allow me to believe, won’t you, that I sniff a hint of desperation from the right? I mean, it could just be the stench of their principles. But let me have hope for now.

There could be a whiff of anxiety, for instance, in the recurring rumors that Barack Obama is Muslim, part of some hinted-at cabal. They’ll never be traced to any official Republican source and seem laughable to nearly everybody else. Yet two recent surveys indicate that either 11 percent or 19 percent of respondents have doubts about his Christianity, and of course they are people to whom Christianity is of overweening importance.

Then there are recent actions by Republican legislators themselves. Ordinarily, in an election year, everybody would be lying as low as possible to avoid giving opponents any new ammunition. This year, the Repubs are posturing as though they were still in charge, blocking popular legislation and pushing proposals that have even their constituents puzzled. A plausible explanation is that they realize the party’s over, so why not smash all the glassware on their way out of the room?

McCain himself gave hints of nervousness last week, notably by coming out in favor of drilling for oil off the coasts. That’s a tacit admission that he can’t win California and is worried about Florida. No doubt he hopes to make up the deficit by capitalizing on the Heartland’s fatigue over gas prices and its resentment of a lifestyle that involves beaches and sunshine but forgoes blizzards. Then came his offer of a $300 million prize to anyone who could develop a battery that solves the problems preventing wide development of electric cars—not a bad idea, but wildly out of character for a man who’s fallen so far short lately of his cherished maverick image. The Repubs are toast, and they know it.

Either that or they figure they’ve already got November sewed up, perhaps with an October surprise on the scale of bringing Osama bin Laden to justice or rolling gas prices back to $1.59 a gallon.

One wouldn’t surprise me more than the other, to be honest. For now, though, I dare, if timorously, to hope.