Greil Marcus Is Optimistic About McCain’s Chances

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Not to pick on Greil Marcus (we almost never do that here), but Expecting Rain linked to something he just wrote for Salon about the current election.

My whole life, my upbringing, education, travel and talk, from working in Congress as an intern at the height of the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s to every election in which I’ve ever voted, makes it all but impossible for me to believe that, on Tuesday, a single state will turn its face toward the face of a black man and name him president of the United States.

I disagree with Marcus about that. I’ve long believed that America could elect a black president. However, I did always think that the first black president was more likely to be a conservative. The results of today’s election will have something to say about all this, obviously.

What I find difficult to believe is that America will elect someone as extremely liberal and as lacking in true accomplishment as Senator Barack Obama. The truth about the race issue is this: Were it not for Barack Obama being of mixed race, he would not be the Democratic nominee at this point in time. He would be just another young liberal white politician from Chicago, and his odds of getting on a national ticket would be remote. It is his mixed race that has made people see him as a “transformational figure.” Certainly, his ability to give a good speech has helped him too, but without the powerful symbolism of his racial background, I do not believe he would have overcome the barriers presented by his political background. As it is, his political identity — based on his record — has been a secondary story.

Greil Marcus’s article provides another reason for McCain supporters to have hope, beyond Marcus’s apparent belief that Americans are irredeemably racist. It is in lines like this one: “The more likely an Obama victory seems, the more monstrous the alternative has become.” To Marcus and many others, it is simply unacceptable, it is morally wrong, for anyone to vote for John McCain. Obama must be elected. It is what we as Americans owe to history, apparently. This kind of attitude has not been lost on many ordinary Americans when they have been polled and asked for whom they intend to vote: that there is a right answer and a wrong answer. I’ve seen it reported that 80% of those first reached by some pollsters have refused to respond.

It is the very intolerance of the alternative reflected in this article by Greil Marcus (and in the behavior of academics who tear up McCain/Palin signs) that can give us hope that many quiet, ordinary Americans — the kind who don’t like picking fights or getting into yelling matches with wild-eyed liberals and rock critics — will come out today and peacefully but decisively express themselves in the polling booth.