Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Sunday, June 23, 2024

Every four years as presidential candidates approach the finish line, the election hiccups. It could be a dramatic global event; it could be the final rabbit in a candidate's hat (or the final skeleton in his closet). Whatever form it takes, a presidential campaign must always anticipate that last-minute X-factor, the dreaded "October Surprise." For the candidate in the lead, it represents one last perilous curve ball. For the candidate running behind, it represents opportunity.

In October 2004, Sen. John Kerry was essentially tied with President Bush heading into the final stretch of the campaign. This did not bode well for Bush. As an incumbent president, Bush should have enjoyed a bigger lead in the polls; conventional wisdom dictated that late deciders would break toward the challenger.

Then came the October Surprise. Less than a week before Election Day, Osama bin Laden released a new videotape that warned Americans, "Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al-Qaida. Your security is in your own hands."

Although it was hardly an endorsement of President Bush, bin Laden's message dovetailed perfectly with Bush's claim that Kerry was weak on national security. In a time of peril, people tend to seek consistency, not change. The sudden reemergence of America's public enemy No. 1 spooked undecided voters, driving them into the safe arms of the incumbent president. Kerry dropped suddenly in the polls. Bush was re-elected.

This year, I'm still waiting on the October Surprise. I'm still waiting on another bin Laden tape. He may resurface before Nov. 4, and I don't know how the chips will fall if he does. It worries me.

Sen. John McCain has already embraced fear as a political tactic - that much is apparent. He insidiously asks, "Who is the real Barack Obama?" as his audience responds with cries of "terrorist!" His running mate, the insufferable Barbie Doll from Fargo, accuses Obama of "palling around with terrorists." Supporters invoke Obama's middle name "Hussein" as some sort of vile epithet at campaign rallies. This is not guilt by association; McCain is an inch away from calling his opponent an al-Qaida closet case.

McCain won't make the link explicitly. He's malicious, not stupid. Instead, he shrouds Obama in enigma and secrecy, hoping voters draw their own dark conclusions about this mysterious, vaguely foreign, perhaps anti-American man from Chicago. Obama's multicultural heritage and upbringing render him uniquely vulnerable to suspicions of dangerous exoticism. A timely message from bin Laden could amplify McCain's case that Obama is a risk not worth taking.

Fear may be all McCain has left, but it is a powerful motivator nonetheless.

So much has happened since 2004. It was the first election after Sept. 11, and the tragedy of that day was not so quickly dispelled. For many, fear of terrorism was still a raw impulse. Today, national security has taken a backseat to financial security. As dangerous as they are, the abstract threats of shadowy organizations probably won't puncture an election narrative so completely dominated by the economic crisis. It will take more than a tape from bin Laden to save the Republicans this year.

McCain is running out of time, and there don't seem to be any rabbits left in his hat, but a devoted few still hold out hope. Who knows? Maybe the Maverick will crash-land his fighter jet in Pakistan and personally dismember bin Laden in a glorious haze of patriotic bloodshed. At this point, it may take just that.

But don't put it past him. If nothing else, we know McCain is good at crash-landing.

Jake Miller is a political science and anthropology senior.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox
Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.