All successful politicians are good opportunists. Successful politicians grasp intuitively that the currency in which they are transacting is the ability to influence. “Vote for me” they all say, not as plainly and directly as that because the transaction of influence involves methods that are both subtle and unsubtle. And to be effective as an agent of influence, a good politician will seize on any and every opportunity to accrue political power, whenever such moments arise.
Barrack Obama is a tremendous opportunist. He could not have gotten as far as he has by his age if he was not. An excellent example of his opportunism is the way he has managed to capitalize on the decline of financial markets worldwide. He has responded with plans and long-term solutions. And more importantly, no matter how his opponent has tried to distract him from this focus, Obama clearly understands that this is what Americans want to talk about right now. Not about if a surge was successful or not in Iraq. Not on whether that war should or should not have occurred. But on their bank balances and what this portends for their financial future. So, like an opportunist extraordinaire, Obama continues to communicate messages of financial delivery.
John McCain is also an excellent opportunist. In fact, he may be better at spotting opportunities for manipulation than Obama ever will be. What McCain lacks in formal education, he more than makes up for with an innate wiliness that is in some sense admirable. The old goat can see an opportunity the second it presents itself. Unfortunately, he seems to lack the corrective ability to think things through before acting on them. This is called impulsivity.
A knack for opportunism works best when it is partnered with an equal capacity for excellent judgment and an ability to assess situations well before acting on them. This seems to be what McCain lacks. And if he loses the November elections, it will at least in part be because he ends up coming across as a reckless opportunist. At a time when Americans are looking for guidance from someone they can trust – and it’s hard enough for most of them to wrap their minds around the notion of trusting a Black man with the middle name of Hussein – it is becoming increasingly apparent that trusting McCain seems to present an even more difficult challenge.
McCain’s impulsivity did not start with the selection of Sarah Palin. But it is a good example of it. An opportunity presented itself – here was a good-looking conservative governor with an attractive family. Superficially, she seemed appropriate if your only impulse was to capture the votes of the 18 million women who wanted Hilary Clinton, and if you concluded that all you apparently needed to achieve this was someone with breasts and a vagina.
And at first, the selection of Mrs. Palin attracted so much attention that McCain must have momentarily believed he had done it right. He would have to be a complete idiot to still believe this. And McCain is no idiot. In hindsight he must know that he should have vetted her more carefully, thought through his options more rationally. But when you’re an impulsive individual, such thoughts often only occur in hindsight, if at all.
The same thing occurred when McCain latched on to Joe the Mascot. When Samuel Wurzelbacher (now infamously known as “Joe the Plumber") sought to embarrass Barack Obama by accusing him of potentially raising his taxes so that he might not be able to afford to buy the plumbing company he worked for, McCain seized on the opportunity to shame his opponent. Joe the Plumber was mentioned some 20 times in the subsequent debate. Some said that it was McCain’s best performance. There’s nothing like believing that you have struck gold for inspiring an old fart to excellence.
And once again McCain found himself with egg all over his face. Turns out that Joe was apparently neither a Joe nor a plumber. And that he actually has a lien on his house for unpaid taxes.
Opportunism has been defined as a tendency to seek to make political capital out of situations. The principal aim is the garnering of additional influence or support. The opportunist does not seek to genuinely win people over to a principled position. True opportunists do not care if people genuinely understand the issues. In fact, they might prefer it if you don’t because your improved political understanding is not their goal. But sometimes opportunism backfires. Badly.
Which brings me to Ashley Todd, a young McCain supporter who alleged that a Black man had attacked her, stolen her money, and, spotting her McCain-Palin sticker, proceeded to carve the letter “B” for Barack on her face. News reports claim that McCain immediately telephoned the young woman. Here was another opportunity to show up the kinds of despicable Black people who were supporting Obama.
Except that there was a curious thing about the facial mutilation. The letter B had been written backwards, as if it had been self-inflicted with the use of a mirror. And it turns that that is precisely what occurred. Ms. Todd has since confessed her lies and will face criminal charges.
I do not at all fault McCain for seizing hold of these opportunities and seeking to increase his power and influence through them. That is what good opportunists do. But opportunism works best when it is combined with a preexisting ideology. You have to stand for something, and when you know clearly what you stand for, you will recognize and seize those opportunities that mesh with your preexisting principles. Like many Democrats, Barrack Obama seems to believe that it is unfair that five percent of the population has managed to profit by get-rich-quick schemes that form the crux of our current financial crisis. He did not start believing this when the crisis occurred. He has been saying it all along. The plummeting of the economy provided him the opportunity to say this more meaningfully.
When you stand for nothing, or when you’re the kind of opportunist who will jettison seemingly heart-felt principles just so you can increase your political power and influence, you may luck out periodically. But mainly you end up seeming to be grasping at straws. Combine this with a tendency to be impulsive and the world concludes that you’re a reckless, dangerous man. And they find themselves increasingly willing to take their chances with an intelligent, thoughtful Black man.