"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?"