"The world would dearly love a vote in this, yes, epic contest, but will content itself with a ringside seat," Philip Stephens closed his June 6 column about the U.S. presidential election. The Financial Times associate editor certainly played the spectator part, cheering for Obama while booing McCain.
Stephens seemed to argue that McCain may well have stooped to outright racist talking points to win the election, but thanks to Clinton partisans creating the elitist meme, he can use that handily as a proxy for the race card:
The primaries took their toll. The Republicans' John McCain will not have to mention his opponent's skin colour to stir old prejudices among some white voters. He can take his cue from Geraldine Ferraro, a former vice-presidential candidate and supporter of Mrs Clinton. "If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being a racist," she said last week. "They [working class whites] don't identify with someone who has gone to Harvard and Columbia Law School and is married to a Harvard-Princeton graduate".
The FT columnist did make clear that Obama is not the flawless Obamessiah many hoped him to be, but the things he found that took the shine off the Illinois senator were focused heavily on matters of style, not substance:
He learnt along the way that middle America has more pressing concerns than the price of arugula; that he had better learn to bowl before staging photo-opportunities in a bowling alley; and that it is unwise to denigrate the cultural conservatism of small-town America. As for inspiration, it does not pay the bills. Casting himself as the candidate who transcended old divisions, he has been forced to dump the less temperate black pastor who had been almost a surrogate father. He has found it much tougher to win over white blue-collar workers than to impress the latte-drinking intelligentsia. Mr Obama, the rest of us now know, has his blemishes.
Much like a sports fan who in a charitable moment may fish up at least one compliment for a well-respected but rival team's star player, Stephens found one compliment for McCain: a "worthy opponent" to "once-in-a-generation" Obama.
Yet for all his joy at the prospect of a "ringside seat," Stephens made it clear that he hopes the November contest between the designated party champions is more croquet game than boxing match:
The circumstances of their primary victories mean that Mr Obama and Mr McCain are both obliged to fight a different sort of general election. They must reach voters well beyond traditional party lines rather than, as did Mr Bush, rely on mobilising their political bases. Mr Obama needs the millions of voters he has brought into politics for the first time; Mr McCain independents and Reagan Democrats. America, with luck, can say goodbye to the crude culture wars that have scarred its politics since the 1960s.
Photo of Philip Stephens via his bio page at Financial Times Web site, FT.com.