AUTHOR'S NOTE: I will be live-blogging the final Presidential debate beginning at 9pm EDT on Wednesday.
It may have taken an extra twenty-four hours for the McCain campaign to determine its newest position on the economy, but on Tuesday morning the candidate did, finally, deliver his "major" policy address on the subject--an address containing many of the same proposals he's made a number of times in the past: Tax cuts to somehow stimulate the economy without an extra nickel for infrastructure, an aversion to big government from the guy who wants to spend $300Billion relieving banks of their idiotic mortgages, blah blah blah. ...And with the kind of Tuesday McCain had otherwise, the only question now is whether anyone noticed.
To begin with we had the bizarre spectacle of the chief strategist for George W. Bush's reelection campaign in 2004, Matthew Dowd, publicly eviscerating John McCain for his decision to put Sarah Palin on the ticket. "[McCain] knows, in his gut, that he put somebody unqualified on the ballot," Dowd told a packed audience for the Tuesday sessions of the illustrious Time Warner summit. "He knows that in his gut, and when this race is over that is something he will have to live with... He put somebody unqualified on that ballot and he put the country at risk, he knows that."
Across the spectrum of right-wing crazies to the truly crazy, it happens that on the very same day a certain Alan Keyes--you remember, the fanatical American Taliban who ran against and was profoundly humiliated by Barack Obama in his race for the Illinois Senate seat that Obama now holds--was upbraiding the McCain/Palin ticket for (get this!) saddling Palin and her pure moral compass with the job of counter-balancing the unnervingly relativistic impulses of her boss. "The American republics are (sic) based upon Constitutional principles inconsistent with a divided executive," Keyes wrote near the beginning of a twelve-paragraph missive against John McCain, much to the gleeful satisfaction of an adoring audience, consisting of a grand total of... well... gosh-- nobody, really.
Panning up and over, specifically to Alaska's largest city, Tuesday saw the Anchorage Daily News assailing Governor Palin in its editorial page--not just for the final, official documentation of her abuse of power, but for the temerity she has shown in claiming that the report in question actually exonerates her. "Sarah Palin's reaction to the Legislature's Troopergate report is an embarrassment to Alaskans and the nation," so sayeth the editors. "She claims the report 'vindicates' her. She said that the investigation 'found no unlawful or unethical activity on [her] part.' Her response is either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian." Gosh, fellas, why don't you tell us how you really feel about your state's Favorite Daughter? Oh, wait a minute, they did:
Perhaps Gov. Palin has been too busy to actually read the Troopergate report. Perhaps she is relying on briefings from McCain campaign spinmeisters.... Because if she had actually read it, she couldn't claim "vindication" with a straight face.... Palin's response is the kind of political "big lie" that George Orwell warned against. War is peace. Black is white. Up is down.... You asked us to hold you accountable, Gov. Palin. Did you mean it?If she did, she certainly didn't mean to include Katie Couric in her request. So, okay, how about Rush Limbaugh? After giving a typically vitriolic and hate-dappled incitement to mob violence, this time in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Palin took an hour of down-time as her excuse to make a cell-phone call to the Rush Limbaugh radio show, whereupon Mr. Limbaugh (improbably) asked if the Alaska Governor had "given much thought to her political future beyond this campaign," to which Ms. Palin responded, even more improbably, "that's a good question." And if the mainstream media takes more than its share of knocks in these columns for their militant laziness this election cycle, they needed no assistance in connecting the fatalistic dots embedded in that juicy little exchange: it was all over the major network websites within an hour of it's having happened.
Surely there must have been something else for McCain to think about, on this day that was supposed to lift the curtain on his long-awaited "campaign re-boot," no? Maybe something that doesn't have to do with Sarah Palin being reckless and stupid and a choice born of politically cynical gimmickry and a blind-eye to her dark side? Indeed there was--though by the time he was done hearing about it all, the Palin stuff must have seemed like the least of his troubles.
First there was the leak of the CBS/NYT tracking poll, showing Mr. Obama in command of an almost comically enormous fourteen-point lead, 53-39%. The main body of the poll wasn't actually due out until much later in the day, but by the time of McCain's speech the first few cross-tabs had already shown that almost nine out of ten respondents thinks the country is on the wrong track--a record-high for a statistic that has proven eerily prescient in determining the electoral (mis)fortunes of an incumbent party.
In Georgia, where early voting continues for almost another three weeks, there have already been 500,000 early votes cast--more than were cast in the entire early voting window in 2004--and African-American representation in this number is a massive eight points ahead of that for the last general election, 37-29. If McCain isn't sweating this result, he probably should be: the columnists on Fivethirtyeight.com are not at all convinced that McCain will win Georgia without contesting it, and if he loses there it will have everything to do with this unprecedented groundswell of early-vote support for Barack Obama. At the moment the McCain ticket's response to all of this Obama momentum would seem to consist of lying about the turnout at its own rallies. Something tells the Key Grip that this isn't going to be enough.
Obama's lead is so enormous and so ubiquitous that the typical amusement of watching polls in specific states has, for want of drama, given way to watching polls in four specific counties, all of them blood-red in the past two elections and all of them now trending decisively for Team Good-Guys. (And by the way, of the four, the Washoe County, Nevada result is the one that has to terrify the McCain people the most, since they absolutely cannot compete in Nevada without a clobbering victory in Reno/Sparks, and right now they aren't even winning it at all.) Perhaps there would be some positive spin to McCain's "new" economic message, and perhaps this spin would drown-out some of these disastrous polling numbers?
The transition team that Mr. McCain has assembled, against the day that pigs learn how to fly, turns out to be headed by a man whose previous posting was to lobby on behalf of the Saddam Hussein regime, in pursuit of a lifting of sanctions. The story hasn't had much traction in the mainstream press--yet--but if Mr. McCain makes good on his threat to link Obama to Bill Ayers in Wednesday evening's debate, a threat he publicly repeated on Tuesday, then one can be positively certain that the subject of his own palling around with the pall'ers-around of terrorists will surely get a mention. Perhaps in lieu of, or maybe even in addition to, the easier counter-punch in which Obama could elucidate the myriad fundraising connections between Mr. Ayers... and assorted Republicans.
Wednesday, of course, will be a totally different type of news day, no matter what. To begin with it will be completely dominated by the third Presidential debate--and is accordingly not expected to generate any meaningful content elsewhere on the political landscape. (This much may indeed be good news for McCain, as almost all of the meaningful content elsewhere on the political landscape seems to be injurious to his chances of becoming President these days.) But at the same time, McCain himself has set the bar for his performance even higher than his eye-popping deficits in the polls would have set for him independently. As has been noted elsewhere in these columns, he must attack Obama without coming across as rude and divisive in a time of crisis; he must wrest the initiative from Obama without seeming erratic and short-tempered. And he has to compete with the baseball playoffs.
My personal prediction is that Mr. Obama will foul-off every beanball thrown at him on the Hofstra stage, and that an insomnia-curing event will thence be deemed by the major pundits to have ended in a draw. My guess is that far fewer people will watch this time. My intuitions are that most voters have already made up their minds who they want to be our next President.
My confidence is that they've decided it should be Barack Obama.
("The Key Grip")