Barack Obama is about to become the next President of the United States and he should thank George W. Bush for this opportunity. Without Bush, the change argument on which Obama has based his candidacy, doesn't ring with the same sense of urgency that it does now. Obama's relative inexperience doesn't matter. I think an argument can be made that his judgment, touted as significant, doesn't matter in this election. Obama's success is based on more than his personal attributes or the questions surrounding his opponent. His success represents a personal repudiation of the Bush presidency that has reduced John McCain to running in the shadow of failure.
The Bush presidency, a failure on numerous levels, has enraged the electorate so much that a door has opened and we are now at the threshold of an earth shattering change in American politics. From a foreign policy that has destroyed America's image around the world, to an economic policy that helped lead to a financial and credit crisis that may take years to overcome and has greatly expanded the gulf between rich and poor, and an approach to the growth of government that many of his fellow conservatives in revolt, Bush has set the table for Obama and, in so doing, made it virtually impossible for McCain, or any other Republican for that matter, to win.
Bush killed the McCain campaign and now the Republican nominee has to campaign with the weight of a thousand failures on this back. All candidates running to keep control of the White House run in the shadow of the sitting president. Sometimes, in the case of then-Vice President George H. W. Bush, that can be a positive. President Ronald Reagan had a 55 percent approval rating during the last months of his presidency. Consequently, even with conservative questions about Bush's fealty to their ideology, he was able to keep the base in tact and the White House for the Republicans.
Al Gore, in trying to escape the mixed shadow cast by Bill Clinton's presidency, ran against a candidate calling for change. Gore lost, in part, because he understood that the scandal outweighs the good in an incumbent. While it's easy to fault him for not attaching himself to the Clinton economic boom, the reality was the impeachment debacle made that nearly impossible. He couldn't afford the luxury of being very close to Clinton.
As a consequence of Bush's failures, McCain, has had to take his "maverick" reputation to new heights by taking chances that a nominee with a strong incumbent president would never have to consider. Sarah Palin's pick, while energizing the conservative base, has proven to be a disaster. Yes, the base will turn out. But as poll after poll has shown, fewer people identify themselves as conservatives or Republicans than in recent years. McCain will be getting the same slice of a smaller pie. Meanwhile, he chased independent voters into Obama's arms, notwithstanding their skepticism of the Democratic nominee.
While those enraptured by the change argument may disagree, Obama's coming win may ultimately prove to be about something that is everything in politics: timing. Yes, he has a compelling message, but he's also running against an incompetent administration. Finally, Bush is useful for something. He killed the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I would say "rest in peace," but that would offer a condolence I could never really mean.
Michael K. Fauntroy is a professor, author, and political commentator. His most recent television appearances include the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and The Early Show.