Will The Real John McCain Please Stand Up?
Is John McCain “walking it back” in his campaign’s attacks on Barack Obama? Will his remonstrations to the pitchfork brigade to chill-out continue? Do he and Sarah Palin disagree on tactics? Is he abandoning the low road? Is he trying to go out on a positive note? Which McCain will be on the stump from here on out? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
As far as turning around the most ethically challenged and ineptly run presidential campaign in recent memory is concerned, it hardly matters.
The only question will be the margin of Barack Obama’s victory. This I anticipate will be somewhere between the popular vote squeaker being predicted by some pundits and the Electoral College landslide being predicted by others as the race inevitably tightens in the home stretch and the racists whom the polls reliably miss crawl out of their caves and drag their knuckles to their local polling station. (A big Election Night story may well be how many conservative Republicans stayed home after being betrayed by George Bush and played for fools by McCain.)
The conventional wisdom over the weekend jelled around the comments of Republican anonymooses said to be close to the campaign who are whispering in reporters’ ears that McCain still has a fighting chance if he can get his message out, or at least , make his attacks more meaningful, and who in the end would rather suffer an honorable defeat, but that Palin has the taste of blood in her mouth and doesn’t want to let go of the tactics that have made her so popular at campaign rallies while her approval ratings tank nationally.
Under this scenario, McCain would go out a loser but a winner. Palin would go out a loser who dragged down the ticket but a winner because she can now look forward to a post-political career as a Fox News analyst. Or something.
Well, I’m not buying. For one thing, this scenario is too convenient and then some.
While I have written early and often about McCain’s serial befuddlement, he is a complex person who has an uncanny habit of having more than one position on the same issue. He’s also a lousy liar. It is quite possible that he will take both the high and low roads from here on out, but the problem is that while his campaign has had plenty of attack lines — the culture wars being a favorite — it never has had a message.
Palin, by contrast, is the quickest study that I have seen on the stump in the nine presidential elections that I have covered, and makes Dan Quayle seem deep by comparison. Sounding like she knew what she was talking about even on Fox would be a stretch for her.
For another thing, 2008 is unlike any other year since 1932 with the added bonus of not just meltdowns on Main Street and Wall Street, but two never-ending wars that were sucking chest wounds on the Treasury even before the frenzy of taxpayer-funded bailouts.
Bush has made such a hash of his presidency, the coup de grâce an implosion in the financial industry that in retrospect was inevitable, that it would have been difficult for even the most able Republican nominee (think Romney or Huckabee) to run for the party and against Bush and succeed.
How extraordinary it is — no, how profoundly extraordinary it is — that an African-American long-shot, a near unknown with a gruel-thin resume, is viewed as being more trustworthy by more voters than a war hero career politician who built his rep on being a maverick. Even Chance, the simpleton gardener in the movie Being There, could have given the addled septuagenarian a run for his money.
So, in the end it doesn’t really matter whether McCain channels Jekyll or Hyde in the next three weeks. Although it will be mildly interesting, and not a little sad, to watch him flip-flop into the sunset.