The presidential campaign of 2008 may represent some kind of the high-water mark of this post-ironic age in which we live. Look at where we have found ourselves: After seven roller-coaster years of George W. Bush, the country is forced to roll the dice on a completely new game: a woman, a black man, a Mormon, or someone so old that it'd almost be like he stepped off of Mt. Rushmore into the job rather than the other way around. You’d think we’d be in the mood to dial back to a safer choice.
Not an option apparently.
Consider also that the frenzied efforts by Democratic wheelers-dealers to quickly choose a nominee by manipulating the primary calendar may result in the longest primary campaign in recent memory.
Regardless of the results in Nevada this weekend, neither the Clinton nor Obama camps will feel the need to make any significant strategic adjustments, and neither will be any closer to dropping out. Even John Edwards seems to be settling in for the long haul, maybe with an eye toward keeping his voters from going to Hillary. No state is crucial anymore, and any single loss can be explained away.
It is conceivable that it could take until Pennsylvania before this thing is settled: We might be playing baseball before we know who has the Democratic nomination. By then it should be a two man race between the junior senator from New York and the junior senator from Illinois. Coincidentally, the New York Yankees are scheduled to play the Chicago White Sox on April 22, the day of the Pennsylvania primary.
On the other side of the ledger, the chaos that had been the organizing principle of the GOP fight may be over, and it looks like John McCain, the deadest of the dead a few months ago, is headed for the nomination. A McCain win in South Carolina secures his frontrunner status going into Super Duper Tuesday when Rudy Giuliani, the one-time favorite will apparently be making his first big run, hoping for some kind of a come-from-behind victory. There has always been something a little inexplicable about the Giuliani campaign, and it has only increased as his campaign sits out the contests when people are paying the most attention.
The collapse of the Giuliani myth is one of the most fascinating storylines of the season so far. The mayor’s gamble that the most traumatic national event of our time would also be the most political event of our time seems to have been a bad bet. George W. Bush was the 9/11 candidate and there may be no more to say about it at this point. Despite Giuliani’s decision not to contest Michigan, his three percent performance there was more than just a disappointing footnote: It's a big hint. In any successful Giuliani scenario, Michigan was crucial. If the economically strapped progeny of the 1980s Reagan Democrats can’t grasp the charms of tough-talking, tax-cutting Rudy Giuliani, no one will.
More significantly, however, a McCain win in South Carolina will not only reinforce his "comeback kid" narrative, it will complete his hard-won rapprochement with the Party leadership that spared no effort to destroy him in South Carolina in 2000. Winning South Carolina may redemptive enough to absolve McCain for breaking his 2000 promise to never run for president again. Who doesn’t love a redemption story?
Of course the political gods may have a sense of irony, too. The latest polls in South Carolina show Fred Thompson moving up. Maybe Thompson does well enough in South Carolina (by beating Mitt Romney?) to claim a partial victory. Maybe he shocks everyone and wins outright; he began after all the Southern conservative GOP voters prayed for last spring and summer. And maybe all the people who see dark genius Giuliani’s Florida strategy are right, and we wake up to a Giuliani victory on Jan. 30. That would set up a five-way sprint on Super Duper Tuesday that will make your head spin like a roulette wheel.
Democrats meanwhile are clearly in a gambling mood. John Edwards is almost the prototype: southern, male, white, not a sitting member of the Senate, good at articulating the problems of the working and middle class families in America. Sometime early on however, Democrats decided that his time had passed. So in Nevada it has come down to a Clinton and Obama, a historic gamble either way. Nevada Democrats will be allowed to vote in at-large caucuses this weekend, which will allow casino workers to vote at work. The thinking is that it helps Obama capitalize on his endorsement of the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, the largest union in Nevada,
We'll see how much it helps him and whether it makes much difference in the long run. But it may be that the inaugural caucuses in Nevada has something to teach us all; the idea of voting in a casino should is not as far-fetched as it seems in these strange times. Bill Clinton has said that voting for Obama would be a roll of the dice for the country. Now that’s post-post irony.