Thursday, October 30, 2008


I pay attention to politics for a lot of reasons. Primarily, I’m interested in the advancement of progressive ideas and the defeat of Bush-era Republicans and everything they have come to represent. But, other than simple civic-mindedness, there are reasons to watch the quadrennial drama that is our national election process other than the constant parsing of positions and strategy. Not the least of these is entertainment.

Barack Obama’s 30 minute infomercial this week was one kind of satisfying political entertainment. It was a marvel of effective message delivery. From the beautifully photographed video of amber waves of grain and real people facing real problems to the live remarks by the candidate before yet another throng of supporters in Florida, it was a remarkably powerful presentation.

It also helps that Obama himself is a great communicator in ways that the transparent hand-puppet Ronald Reagan could only dream of. He had not only his total command of the medium and the message on his side; he also has the great benefit of totally on right side of every issue and – ultimately and very soon – of history.

But my favorite form of entertainment has always been comedy. And, for that, the Republicans in this election cycle have proven the funniest cast of characters to ever disgrace the national stage.

In the primary season, our sides split at the antics of hapless and fatally-flawed Rudy Giuliani; cartoonish robo-candidate with the magic underpants, Mitt Romney; and crazy uncle Ron Paul. Mike Huckabee actually had a genuine sense of humor and got off some decent lines, when he wasn’t off on some quack religious tangent.

Alas, the last candidate standing was the most boring – John McCain. McCain was somewhat amusing himself before he took the nomination. But, ever since then, he has locked himself into a hideous straightjacket, stuffing his modest personal charm so far down his throat he can barely talk. It seemed we were going to be subjected to another tightly-scripted, highly-disciplined Republican campaign, with all the entertainment value of a horror movie. When they are on their game, every day is Halloween for the Republicans. Scary is all they can do.

But that was before McCain pulled the Sarah Palin stunt. Ever since then, the campaign has been a laugh a minute. From the campaign hiding her from the press to her hilarious cluelessness in a couple of innocuous interviews, Palin was the gift that kept on giving. In the meantime, McCain himself melted down in public, careening like a car with no brakes at the height of the financial crisis; pacing around the stage, smirking and rolling his eyes during the debates; and throwing forty years of honor and hard work down the toilet of his own doomed campaign.

Now, the week before an electoral thrashing that was preordained years ago, the Republicans are at each other's throats. This is an amazing development after the eight years of the tightly-controlled Bush years, when the message discipline of Karl Rove extended from the White House, through Congress, and all the way through the talk-radio echo chamber. Now, the "party", if that’s what is still is, and even the McCain campaign itself has divided into pro- and anti-Palin camps. As Tom Waits sang: "Everyone’s looking for someone to blame". Watching the circular finger-pointing in a room where everyone is guilty is comedy at its finest.

Some close to McCain are calling Palin a "diva" and a "whack job". She has gone "rouge", Sarah-being-Sarah, and the campaign be damned, say those running an already damned campaign that didn’t need her help to get there. Meanwhile, Palin herself is supposedly already designing snow-machine paths for the Rose Garden in 2012, declaring herself, against all appearances, as a permanently national presence (this, at the same time 59% of those polled find her unqualified).

My favorite example of the coming Republican fratricide are comments made by Jim Nuzzo, described as "a White House aide to the first President Bush". Nuzzo reportedly "dismissed Mrs Palin's critics as ‘cocktail party conservatives’ who ‘give aid and comfort to the enemy’...There's going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?" Now that’s funny. I can’t wait to see the nut-right try to nominate Palin in 2012. If they succeed, it will be the end of Republican party legitimacy.

I do think Nuzzo has one good point, but not the way he intended. "The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?" This is an excellent question for those who might pretend to present reasonable commentary after the election. Nobody who is serious about national policy can possibly support the cynical nomination of such an unqualified nobody. If they did, they are simply Republican flacks, willing to say anything to defend the indefensible. Their judgement is thus extremely poor, especially if they knew better (and most did). It's like listening to Bill Kristol about the invasion of Iraq. Why would you give any credence to someone who has proven themselves so wrong about so much?

I think we all know who is going to have the last laugh in this election. And we do plan to enjoy it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On Being a Democrat

I like a lot of things about being a Democrat.

I like being right about the war; right about health care; right about the environment; right about maintaining a social safety net. I like the fact that Democrats don’t have to lie about what they really think and what their goals really are. We don’t hide behind phony constructs designed to conceal our true motives and intentions. I like the fact that we spend most of our time just trying to establish the truth; believing in science and in objective study; identifying problems and working honest solutions.

Sure, there are many reasons to like being a Democrat. But I love being a Democrat most because we believe in democracy.

Democracy should not be controversial. Regardless of the differences we have on issues and our frequent disdain for politicians who distort the issues and are politically and personally repulsive, at the end of the day, the votes are cast and the people decide. All the chatter, all the ads, all the polls are just so much blather, albeit often expertly informed. Ultimately, one man or woman has one vote out of thousands in a local community; millions in a state; a hundred million nationwide.

But there are those who don’t want to leave Election Day democracy to the whims of random, uncontrollable voters. And they are all Republicans.

I was thinking about this during the spectacular celebration of democracy called the Obama Voter Protection training on Saturday at a union hall in Milwaukee. All morning, myself and a couple hundred other lawyers were schooled on Wisconsin election law. On November 4th, we will fan out across the state as election observers with only one charge – to do our best to make sure every person eligible to vote who shows up at a polling place is allowed to do so, and to make sure their vote will be counted.

We were not instructed to protect only people we thought were Democratic voters. We were certainly not told to interfere in anyway with perceived Republican voters. In fact, we never discussed identifying anybody as anything. If someone appears to be an eligible Wisconsin voter – a citizen, 18 or older, who resides in the state – and is not precluded from voting because of felony supervision or some other legal impediment, they should be allowed to vote. It is very much the Wisconsin way, and we are to act as a resource to fulfill that promise.

I was in the Kerry Voter Protection operation in ‘04. I ended up going way up to Crandon, where the campaign had done some organizing in the Native American community. I spent the whole day in a small room with poll workers and a constant flow of voters. Late in the day, I protected the vote of a young woman who had no ID, but her residence was corroborated by a young man who knew she lived there and who could establish himself as an eligible voter through his own proof of residency. The well-meaning poll workers were going to make her do a provisional ballot. I gently asked them to review the law that allowed one voter to vouch for another, which, eventually, they did and the vote was counted. For all I knew, the woman could have been voting for Bush, but that was not the point. She was eligible, should have been allowed to vote and she did. It was the highlight of that very long and ultimately disappointing (to say the least) day.

For cynical, tactical reasons – because they know they would lose most fair elections – Republicans want to put roadblocks in the path of those who would dare to exercise the franchise of their citizenship. They want to require people to show a photo ID at the polls. They want to eliminate same-day registration in Wisconsin. They want to put police officers and other intimidating authority figures in polling places. They lie about voter fraud when none exists. They smear organizations with bipartisan support like ACORN who would dare to register the working-class and poor for mistakes made by over-anxious summer workers.

What does it say about a political party that is so afraid of eligible voters? You know what it says, and so do they. The difference is that they don’t care what you think about it. They believe only in achieving power by any means necessary. The outrage of Florida 2000 taught Republicans nationwide that they could get away with anything, right up to and including rigging voting machines or dumping them in the nearest river, if that's what it takes. With voter suppression at the front end and recount shut-downs in the back end, the Republicans have no shame. It puts the lie to all their phony flag-waving and red-white-and-blue posturing. They don't believe in American democracy. They believe only in power for themselves.

Democrats stand behind the honest vote in good times and bad. For us, Election Day is not just another opportunity for suppression tactics and manipulation; it is a celebration. That’s why I love being a Democrat.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Comments Now Moderated

I tried to avoid this, but some jerk who keeps posting offensive crap has forced me to moderate my comments. Now, I have to read your comment before I will post it for everyone else to read. I will try to do it quickly and I will allow comments from everyone that disagrees with me. I will not allow personal bullshit aimed at me or anyone else.

It is sad that I have to do this, but he knows who he is. Freedom's just another word for the opportunity to be an incredible asshole. As far as I can tell, only one twisted creep abused that privilege. Because of this, the World Wide Web is just a touch less random and posting comments is a little less instantaneous. All because of one stupid jerk. And I hope/You're happy now...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

McCain’s Last Chance

....if he chooses to take it.

My fellow Americans:

I am appearing today to discuss some serious changes I am making, effective immediately, and for the last ten days of my campaign for president. I appreciate Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio shows allowing this time for free advertising, as they have throughout the campaign, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I mean, come on – I have to spend whatever money we have left in our doomed effort to turn Pennsylvania red. What do you expect me to do, have a press conference?

Anyway, first things first. I have replaced Sarah Palin on the ticket with Mitt Romney. Yeah, I know, it’s late and such a move is considered political suicide, but, you know what?...she’s a joke. We got her a one-way ticket back to Alaska and put her on the plane this morning, and I’ve never felt more relieved. Her selection was the biggest mistake of my political career. Say what you want about the issues or whatever – serious people who care about this country and otherwise wanted to support me simply could not get over the fact that I chose someone so obviously dim and unqualified. I’m deeply sorry for putting the nation through that.

The thing is, we knew well before the convention that we were screwed. We didn’t have any chance in the world of winning this race as Republicans with Bush having screwed so many things up so much and with the party itself being so devoid of a clue. We thought we had to throw a Hail Mary pass to change the dynamic of the race and wake up our lethargic base. My former campaign staff – yes, they are all gone, too – told me some stuff about her and I signed off on it even before they put me on the phone with her. After finding out about her Troopergate scandal, I started to wonder. Then, every time she opened her mouth, I thought, you know, what the heck is going on here? I sat there and grinned and pretended she was alright, but she wasn’t. She’s outta here.

So, now Mitt Romney is my running mate (yes, Palin is on all the ballots – we’ll get the 2000 Florida legal team together and fix that later, if we have to). And, yeah, I know Romney is an insufferable dick – really, you don’t know the half of it. But, with the weak talent pool we have in the GOP, he’s the best we can do, believe it or not. Who else is there – Giuliani? Give me a break. Besides, Romney has been waiting by the phone for this very call for the last two months, poor guy. I mean, at least he has a history of being able to work with Democrats when he has to -- and we'll have to. As for everything else, he’s more than pliable. He’s so hot for national attention and adulation, he’ll do anything I say or I’ll have the Secret Service steal his magic underpants.

I am also announcing today that I will not run for reelection if I win this time. In other words, I will be a one-term president. That’s what I was always thinking, anyway. With my age (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the trail has been brutal!) and the mess we’ll have to clean up, I’ll be more effective if we can just pick up the pieces and work with the Democrats in Congress to get this nation back on track. I’ll be a caretaker president, without much of a political party to keep happy and only the good of the country to be concerned about. Make no mistake – I will sign a lot of the bills that make it through Congress; Democratic bills that make sense for the nation. You want maverick? I’ll give you a damn maverick in the White House, if you give me that chance.

My friends, I lost my way back in April when I won the Republican nomination, signed up with a Karl Rove disciple and took that long journey to the dark side of my soul. In the process, I lost many friends, my self-respect and my hard-earned honor. When Colin Powell made his eloquent endorsement of my opponent this past weekend, it broke my heart, not because of our friendship, but because he was right. Looking back at the absurd things I have asked you to swallow in this campaign – Sarah Palin, the hysterical attempt to cancel the first debate, our disgraceful smearing of Senator Obama with William Ayers and wild claims of socialism – I might not have voted for that guy, either. I can only hope that, as I try to recover a measure of my dignity, I can also recover my status as a serious person in Washington, a place where great things can and must happen in the next several years.

Senator Barack Obama is an extraordinary talent and has the potential to be a transformational figure in American history. Regardless of my smirking, pacing and eye-rolling in the debates, I have been honored to share the stage with him during this campaign. Frankly, I was thinking of just bagging the whole thing and asking the American people to elect him by affirmation, just to give him a running start at the dire problems we face at all levels. But I do think I would be a moderately better president in some areas, such as national security, so I figured I’d at least give people a choice.

But, make no mistake, my friends: if I happen to pull this off, the first person I will consult about the getting the nation out of this mess will be Barack Obama. Unlike my campaign, which has had no plan for anything and just spent five months trying to tear down an honorable opponent, Senator Obama actually has a broad, well-thought-out plan to rebuild the economy and get this country going again. I will work with him as closely as he will with me, even if it is only working with him from his position as senator. And, despite my disgraceful and unwarranted attacks on his character and motives, I hope he will bring me in if he wins, and allows me to take part in that historic moment.

My friends, I know that I’ve just announced some fairly dramatic, if not historic, developments in my campaign. I wouldn’t blame you if you thought this speech is just another stunt in a campaign that has lurched from one head-slapping moment to another. Actually, you wouldn’t be that far wrong. But these are changes I felt I had to make. I would rather lose while trying to claw my way back to respectability than take the increasingly remote chance of winning with an ugly, divisive message and a grossly unqualified vice president.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Liddy and McCain

In its increasingly desperate attempt to prevent the landslide that is about to come down on their tiny heads, the McCain campaign continues to plume the alleged depths of Barack Obama’s past associations. Although McCain himself and the ridiculous Sarah Palin have dropped the topic from their stump speech (Palin hilariously substituting tributes to whatever "pro-American" part of the country she happens to be visiting), Obama’s mild and long-severed acquaintance with education activist Bill Ayers in Chicago continues to be, as Obama rightly pointed out in his third victorious debate performance, the "centerpiece" of the McCain campaign.

In a suitably ironic use of dark resources, McCain has hired the same firm that the Bushies used to slander him in 2000 to send out millions of robo-calls to voters, warning of the Ayers connection and the unknown dangers thereof. Since recent polls show that such negative messages only injure McCain, it is hard to figure out what they hope to accomplish by this. Besdies, automated phone calls don’t have nearly the impact they did back at the turn of the millennium. People are much more sophisticated about unsolicited phone calls coming in – from just not answering to hanging up the moment they figure out that the conversation is, by nature, one-sided. Heck, I do it with people I'm agreeing with.

But, at least it looks like they're doing something in their lost cause. Perhaps they are trying to take the edge off of the angry mobs who were threatening to grab their torches and pitchforks and take over the campaign just last week. The last time that happened, local radio clown J.T. Harris shamefully "begged" McCain to take it to his African-American brother, and thus began his mercifully brief stint as a national laughing stock and local embarrassment. If you haven’t seen the pitiful scene he made on CNN early this week – pulling off his earpiece and lurching off-screen when he was mildly challenged by an actually thoughtful black conservative – you owe it to yourself to watch how lame and vacant Harris really is. Besides, times are tough – you need a good laugh.

The Ayers talking-points have served only to hurt John McCain. The Obama campaign has been very kind by not dragging up much of McCain’s bad buddy choices through the years, all of which were much more intimate, involved and corrupting. His close friendship with S&L criminal Charles Keating – who provided McCain with free airplanes and vacations, not to mention $112,000 in political contributions – is only part of the story. It took David Letterman, of all people, to confront McCain about his continuing relationship with unrepentant Watergate criminal G. Gordon Liddy.

In many ways, Liddy was worse than any of the Watergate actors – except maybe Richard Nixon himself. It was Liddy that came up with the plot to wire the DNC, as well as other bright ideas such as burglarizing the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist (done) and kidnaping anti-war protesters and shipping them to Mexico (not done – drat! Even Nixon wimped out on some stuff). In other words, Liddy was an unapologetic actor in the biggest threat to our Constitution in our nation’s history.

Since he got released after five years of his twenty year sentence by the too-kind Jimmy Carter, Liddy has been the poster boy for unrepentant thugs, from Ollie North to Karl Rove. After the Branch Dividians set fire to their compound and killed their children at Waco in 1994, the charming Liddy suggested that "if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests. ... Kill the sons of bitches."

"He paid his debt, he went to prison, he paid his debt," said McCain on Letterman, which is only one-fourth true as far as the prison is concerned and not at all true regarding his debt to society. People who subvert the Constitution and try to come up with creative and violent ways to serve a criminal president have a bit more of a "debt" to pay than making things worse by bragging about what he got away with. Liddy was a pioneer in the hyper-macho "I'm glad I broke the law" right-wing punk ethic.

G. Gordon Liddy did far more to threaten the very fabric of our government than Bill Ayers ever did. At least Ayers tried to make amends by becoming a positive person in the Chicago educational community. Libby continues to be proudly criminal and unconstructive, who will continue trading on his idiocy as long as ignorant people buy his books, listen to his quack radio show and enlist his services (for Sarah Palin in Alaska, no less). It reflects on McCain that he continues to associate with such people, but, hey -- he's a Republican. If you run in those circles, punks like Liddy is about what you get.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Burning Down the House

Civil rights icon and Democratic congressman John Lewis called out John McCain on Saturday for setting the tone and allowing his campaign rallies to descend into despicable hate-fests. "Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," he wrote in the "Arena" comment area on the Politico site. Comparing the impact of McCain’s recent acceleration of the politics of personal destruction to that of southern demagogue George Wallace in ‘68 and ‘72, Lewis said the doomed Republican ticket was "playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all."

McCain responded to Lewis’ broadside by saying the comments were "shocking and beyond the pale" and calling for Obama to repudiate the remarks. I don’t think he has done so, nor should he. Despite his pitiful efforts yesterday to lecture the hotter heads at his rallies, McCain is reaping exactly what he has sowed. His support in the polls and the electoral college cratering since his erratic antics in the early days of the financial crisis, McCain turned to the kind of desperate tactics that can only inspire desperate men. He asked for it, he got it, and now he’s pretending to be surprised and concerned about it. He made his bed, rolled around in it with the worst sort of charlatans and fools on the far-right, and now he has to sleep in it, bed-spooning with the Limbaughs and Hannitys of his rented, putrid world.

We saw the ugliness first-hand right here in metro Milwaukee, where McCain and Palin made an appearance on Thursday. The right-wing crowd treated national visitors to good, old-fashioned Wisconsin hospitality by swearing and giving the finger to the traveling press corps. Some guy got up and was wildly cheered for squawking about the "socialist" Obama. "So go get him," he growled, the veins bulging from his neck. Part-time radio clown James T. Harris gave McCain permission, apparently on behalf of all similarly deluded black guys, to "take it to" the first African-American nominee of a major party. Harris, who can’t be called a sell out because he never had any convictions to sell out in the first place, was rewarded with a handshake from McCain and he decided to raise the cringe factor even further by kissing Palin’s hand.

"I got the message," said the smiling McCain, as he happily accepted the hateful passion of the engorged masses. Other places last week, similarly overheated crowds have called Obama a terrorist and yelled out "kill him." All in a days work for the man from Arizona, whose only question for his handlers since he nailed down his dying party’s nomination was "Is that what you wanted? How am I doing?"

The stage for all this was set not so much by McCain, but by right-wing mainstream radio, which has poisoned the political environment by universally treating an Obama presidency as not just unwanted, but as outright unacceptable. Obama has been regularly called dangerous to national security, a traitor to his country, a socialist and a radical extremist. What else is a god-fearing right-winger supposed to feel other than hate and contempt for the guy? Why would they allow for him to take office without a fight – and I don’t mean electoral. Ever since America started settling on Obama a couple of weeks ago, the desperate McCain decided to get in the gutter with the rest of the clowns and make it personal. He didn’t create the situation, but now he’s opened the door. What did he think was going to happen when the official campaign finally gave its imprimatur to this kind of garbage?

How bad is it? Well, right-wingers love to point to anonymous comments made in left-wing blogs to show how wack the left is. Let me turn that tactic on its head for a moment and point to one comment made on a left-wing blog: Mine. Here’s a comment (since deleted) that someone posted anonymously yesterday to my previous post:

Mike,Your an idiot and a liar, McCains was topping out all the time, Hussiens was less than flat. You heard it hear first. The October surprise that I am predicting this year is that someone (not ME LMAO) will assasinate the dumb socialist nigger. The domestic terrorist Nobama will never assume the Presidency, even if he wins the election!!!!

Now, I don’t think this is at all representative of right-wing "thought", such as it is. This person is obviously disturbed. But this is what happens when you present a mainstream political result as unacceptable and dangerous. Stupid people start to believe it. The fact is that, if you believe the crap about Obama put out 24/7 by the national and local wing-nuts on the radio, you would be unpatriotic if you didn’t take some extra-electoral action against this result. How could you let it happen?

This is the world John McCain has bought into. He may even realize that things have gone around the bend. But he can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. He has already lost his soul and his hard-earned honor in this campaign. And for what? So he can make history as the worst loser in U.S. history? The old McCain deserved better. This McCain deserves nothing less.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dialed In

I have to admit I have a guilty appreciation for the real-time "audience reaction" monitor that CNN has been running on the bottom of the screen during the debates. They get 25 or so uncommitted people in a room to watch the debate, give them each a dial and tell them to move it left (bad) or right (good) depending on how they feel or think about what is being said at that moment. The composite results are displayed by gender – green for men, orange for women – on lines that move up and down in relation to the effect the speaker is having.

So, when Barack Obama was talking Tuesday night, the lines usually went up. With McCain talking, the lines stayed flat (these people are too nice – they never dial under 50%). Obama, up. McCain, flat. All night long. There were times when Obama’s orange line hit the top and stayed there for more than a minute. A couple of times, McCain’s line crept up to 75% (again, too nice), but then went crashing when he went after Obama on anything at all. The upward swing of the Obama line and the horizontal path of McCain’s were like watching a live, moving version of the last two weeks of national polling.

As far as statistical usefulness, the CNN line-graph stunt probably means nothing; an unscientific sample of an amorphous group making subjective judgements about carefully-coached rhetoric and stagecraft. As a respected member of the sub-prime commentariat, it is (or should be) beneath me to let myself get tickled by such ludicrous gimmicks. Alas, I cannot resist. Especially when the lines, the trends and the entire election are headed in the right direction.

After all, some of this is just for our entertainment, not necessarily for our education. I think the application of the pop-psych technology might lead to some other interesting applications. How about...
  • Give the dials to 100 local fans during the next Packer game. See the lines go down on that Seattle kick-off return. Rodgers scrambles out of the pocket and finds Jennings downfield? Cool. If the lines go really south during a timeout, look over on CBS and see the replay of the touchdown Favre just threw for the Jets.
  • Hand out dials to all twelve people who RSS Esenberg’s blog. Next time he posts another one making excuses for the pathetic Sarah Palin or trying to justify McCain's dishonorable last-minute smear job on Obama, watch the 45-degree diagonal swoop down to zero in record time as the professor loses more respect, self- and otherwise. Hey, Rick, you still want people to take you seriously after the election, right? Just checking.
  • Give the judges in the Courthouse one of them things so I can see how I'm doing during sentencing arguments.
  • Finally, hook up 100 right-wing nuts and chain them in front of their TVs (tuned to MSNBC, natch) to watch the election returns on November 4th. Watch the lines crater when the Senate goes 60 Dems (not counting Lieberman, who they should ceremoniously bounce from the caucus that night). See them spiral downward as they lose 30, then 35, then 40 seats in the House. By the end of the night, they will have sunk so low...they see the inevitable call for Obama before the polls even close in California. Something strange happens. All over town, one after another of the right-wingers decide maybe a glimmer of hope in their dark world isn’t so bad. Without consulting with each other, they all turn their dials to the right as one. Inexplicably, the line edges slowly, but assuredly....UP.

Monday, October 06, 2008

John McCain, Without Honor

"Overheated rhetoric and personal attacks on our opponents distract from the big differences between John McCain's vision for the future of our nation and the Democrats'." – McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, 3/11/08

"Let us exercise our responsibilities as free people. But let us remember we are not enemies." – John McCain, 4/5/08

It has been months since John McCain has honored his now-laughable promise to run a "respectful campaign". Since the time he started running ads mocking Obama’s popularity, McCain has been willing to let his campaign do whatever his Rovian henchmen thought was necessary to save his doomed electoral fate.

From the wildly irresponsible selection of Sarah Palin as the heartbeat-away running mate for the melanoma-damaged 72 year-old to the wacky attempt to duck the first debate, McCain’s hired guns have been throwing Hail Marys since they attained the Republican nomination by default in April. They’ve known since the beginning that their goose was cooked under the intense flames of the Bush disasters and their own candidate’s severe rhetorical and personal limitations.

Now, wilting under the perfect storm of near economic catastrophe, the McCain campaign is reduced to throwing bombs about Obama’s thin association with William Ayers in one last attempt to win through Fear. But the flop-sweat dripping through McCain’s thick and expensive make-up tells the tale of desperation. And, now that Americans are increasingly settling on Obama and becoming comfortable with the entirely safe, nice, competent guy that he is, who is McCain to tell them they are wrong, at this late date?

Leading the Charge of the Light-Headed Brigade in this war of words is, appropriately, Sarah Palin; she of the winks, the smirks and the unresponsive answers to easy questions. Palin was rated a survivor of last week’s debate (as opposed to the winner, who all surveys said was Joe Biden) by simply showing up and not tripping over her tongue. The giant team that hunkered her down for a week at one of Cindy McCain’s palatial estates had the perfect plan for the clueless Palin that could only have come from a campaign with the requisite contempt for democracy generally and the debate program specifically.

They cleverly decided that she would ignore all direct questions and just recite the greatest hits from her convention speech or whatever other tripe they had drilled into her empty head. As Jon Stewart put it tonight: "It’s not what you want to know; it’s what I want to say." The former teleprompter-reading sportscaster came through like a pro, trotting out her phony folkyisms and spewing nonsense with a cringe-inducing perkiness that gave attractive professional women a bad name. She was rewarded with a pass by the too-easy-to-please national press corps who failed to call her on her machinations, happy to proclaim her rehabilitated, if no more qualified.

So, it’s the newly-rejuvenated SAY-rah who comes bounding back out on the trail this week, talking about Obama’s "dangerous" past association with "domestic terrorist" Bill Ayers and darkly ruminating with forever-wrong greed-head Bill Kristol (who, as the former chief of staff to national embarrassment Dan Quayle, should know a thing or two about bad VP choices) about how the specter of Jeremiah Wright should be "discussed more". "I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up," she said, bringing it up, while McCain’s aides, according to Kristol, audibly shushed her in the background.

Well, we knew this was coming, didn’t we? Not necessarily from the grating nasal voice of who-is-she-to-talk-about-anything Palin, but the desperation of the smear was always in the McCainiac arsenal, even if they are replaying crap from the spring. I always thought the GOP was making a mistake when they sicced their radio and other clowns on the Wright and Ayers "stories" as soon as it became clear that Obama had passed Clinton for the nomination. They shot their "best" shots trying to define Obama negatively, after talking him up when they thought Clinton was inevitable. If I were the type of devious, democracy-hating people they are, I would have kept those loony "stories" in my back pocket for just such a time as this – thus to spring an October surprise. Now, there is no surprise; people have made up their minds knowing full well about the Wright and Ayers distraction, and they are voting for Obama anyway.

The Republicans thought they had it all figured out, and they had the MSM commentariat playing along – this election would be a referendum on Obama. But then, some funny things happened. First, they created the Sarah Palin circus – now there was someone else to look at and wonder if she was qualified – it turned out to be a much better question (and easier to answer in the negative). Then McCain stepped forward, making a complete ass of himself in the middle of the bailout fiasco, proclaiming himself essential to the process, trying to back out of the first debate (then caving before anything was settled), saying nothing at the incendiary White House meeting where Obama took the Democratic lead, not even speaking from the Senate floor before the final vote was taken. At the first debate, he was surly, condescending and cowardly, refusing to face Obama or his own failures. For the past two weeks, John MCain has looked like a desperate fool.

Now, the election is a referendum on McCain. And Americans don’t like what they see. They compare McCain’s erratic flailing to Obama’s cool under pressure. They hear the echoes of McCain’s promise to run a "respectful campaign" as he wallows in the mud like a pig. They wonder what happened to that guy they liked from late-night talk shows, who was so funny and so honorable from his noble service and long sacrifice back in Vietnam. They can’t believe he has given all that up for a fading chance at a White House that, in the end, he never had the talent or the temperament for.

Increasingly, Americans look at McCain and ask: "Why?" Increasingly, they look at Obama and say: "Why not?"