By the Time I Got to Phoenix
For those who prefer history chopped up into neat slices, John McCain’s modest concession speech on the lawn of the Arizona Biltmore on November 5, 2008, seemed like a clean cut of the knife. With the economy in a nosedive, it was not just the end of a presidential campaign. The neoliberal era seemed to be over—its reigning troika of deregulation, marketization, and privatization cast into disgrace, along with its most recent fiscal vehicles such as debt leveraging and speculation in finance and land. Nowhere was the devastation more visible than in McCain’s hometown. Phoenix had flown highest in the race to profit from the housing bubble, and it had fallen the furthest. Footage of the metro region’s outer-ring subdivisions reclaimed by sage grass, tumbleweed, and geckos was as evocative of the bubble’s savage aftermath as photographs of the Dust Bowl’s windblown soil had been of the Great Depression. Had Arizona’s senior senator not owned a condo nearby, he would have stayed in the hotel’s Goldwater presidential suite (every president since Hoover has slept at the Biltmore), stirring up associations with the Phoenix politician whose 1964 run for the White House pioneered the modern conservative temper of evangelizing against the power of government. Regarded locally as a carpetbagger when he first ran for Congress in 1982, McCain benefited from his wife Cindy’s family connections to take over Barry Goldwater’s senate seat four years later, but his people-pleasing style found little favor over the years among the Goldwater faithful. On that night, at least, there was no dearth of commentators willing to see McCain’s concession speech as heralding the end of the Sunbelt’s long hold on national politics, an arc that originated in the postwar eff ort of Goldwater’s circle at the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce to remake Arizona’s decrepit GOP into an instrument of growth for growth’s sake.
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