Saturday, October 18, 2008

Colin Powell Watch: Day 11,657.

Ah yes, what started with the question of whether or not Mr. Powell would accept Bob Dole's repeated overtures to be his running mate in 1996 (sorry, Mr. Kemp), now appears headed for
a denouement of sorts, a mere twelve years later, with the recently broken story that Powell will appear Sunday morning on Meet the Press. Endorsements aren't supposed to matter much--ask yourself when the last time was that anyone you knew told you that he'd decided whom to vote for on the basis of one--but if General Powell does in fact choose this moment to make this endorsement, and despite suggestions to the contrary, it will matter a great deal more than most.

For starters there is the question of the timing. Many pundits are suggesting that Powell has waited until the matter is effectively decided to weigh in, and is thus re-introducing us to the same aversion to core integrity that found him at a UN podium talking about yellowcake from Niger that didn't exist. The endorsement isn't supposed to matter, we are told, because people have already made up their minds. It's a well-reasoned argument, but it rather overlooks the small detail that anyone who has already made up his mind probably wouldn't have changed it, earlier, on the basis of Powell. The people left uncommitted in this race are the hard-core uncommitteds--the sort of people who won't be swayed by the documentation of repeated lies about the funding for a bridge, or suggestions that someone wants to teach sex education in kindergarten, either one.

What a Powell endorsement brings to the heuristic decision-making process of such people is an easy-to-grasp, positive message that can be waved in front of their friends at the lunch counter--the un-bloody shirt, as it were. If the patterns of past races or the current state of polling on this one are any indications, most of those still undecided are probably folks who, like Mr. Powell, have been leaning toward the candidate from the non-incumbent party for some time now, and (like Mr. Powell?) just haven't felt that last little-bit sold. If Powell shows them the way to owning such a choice at the lunch counter, a great many of them will buy.

There is also the unique opportunity for packaging the announcement. If Powell really does endorse Obama on Sunday morning (and by the way, can anyone think of another reason why he would be appearing on Meet the Press, just at the moment?), the preamble to his remarks can be crafted specifically to lend further traction to their sway. "A lot of Americans were probably very intrigued by exactly one of these two candidates, but hadn't yet made up their minds because--let's face it--that candidate hadn't gone the final distance to convincing us that he was ready," could well be Powell's opening. "Well, here it is the first Sunday after we've had a chance to see both of these candidates in all three debates, and for the first time I think it's clear to a lot of Americans that this one candidate has met the standard of Presidential conduct, coupled with the right ideas for the future--and that candidate, my choice for President on November 4th, is Barack Obama."

(By the way--no charge for the speech-writing, General Powell.)

The third and most important reason why this moment would in many ways leverage the impact of a hypothesized endorsement, is that the mainstream press would have its story for the crucial Monday headlines. Trailing by a margin that has shown artificial signs of tightening over the past day or two, but which does not reflect McCain's disastrous performance in the final debate, the Republican ticket desperately needs to win every news cycle between now and election day--particularly since so many Americans in key battlegrounds are already voting. With the Monday lead-ins all dominated by Powell's announcement, McCain will have little opportunity for stealing back the story with his "spread the wealth" hot-button. And while it is unlikely that the story of Powell will last much beyond Monday, it doesn't actually matter if it makes a return to the "spread the wealth" story impractical. Instead McCain will have to find yet one more thing new to talk about, at a time when every new thing to talk about only sharpens the questions being raised (and even acknowledged by people like Ed Rollins) regarding his erratic behavior. A Powell endorsement right now, to borrow an analogy from Mr. Obama's favorite sport, will go a long way to dribbling-out what's left of the electoral clock.

Meanwhile, pending Powell's appearance on Meet the Press, Mr. McCain seems once again to be comically, almost willfully incapable of capitalizing on what few and narrow openings he's been given in this contest. In the midst of what should have been one of his strongest counter-punches yet, as surrogates ranging from Rollins to Newt Gingerich were fanning out across the airwaves to say the words "spread the wealth around" a thousand times, his Vice Presidential nominee was busy diluting the message once again--this time by uttering a troika of rapid-fire gaffes that probably held a lot more moment with the remaining undecideds than any nagging inability to name a print-media publication while strolling with Katie Couric.

As you probably know already, Governor Palin told a cheering crowd of working-class voters in Ohio that she'd been enjoying the campaign, first because her handlers had expressly forbidden her from watching the news, on the grounds that it might depress her (!!!), second because she'd been granted her "request" to be spared from speeches mentioning the now-infamous "Joe the Plumber," and third and most damning in the eyes of the persuadable middle, because she was making a point of only visiting the "pro-America states." And that, friends and neighbors, is a statement that Joe Biden isn't about to let slip away.

Those of us who read political columns might take the greatest pause in envisioning a wildly unpopular President Palin, eighteen months from now, being told by her White House Chief of Staff that she is no longer permitted to watch the news. Sure. But here again we must remember to empathize as best we can with the people who haven't yet decided who they want to support, and with these people the "pro-America states" comment is a far more brazen affront to campaign decorum. If they're still undecided after Katie Couric exposed the Palin pick for the folly that it was, then they're not going to be won-over by calling New Mexico un-American. (Palin also, on a separate stop in North Carolina, conspicuously failed to mention that early voting had just gotten underway there, though it isn't obvious whether this was a gaffe by the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, or a calculated gamble to prevent left-leaning television audiences from being reminded of the same fact.)

Elsewhere the fortunes of Team Crankypants took a far more quotidian and less-publicized but potentially far more significant hit, when the Supreme Court ruled that the State of Ohio does not, in fact, have to cage every single one-stop voter for leisurely retribution at the hands of the state Republican party. (And this, we must remember, is the same Supreme Court that thinks it's okay for women not to get equal pay.) Obama also got as highly effectual and paint-peeling endorsement from Virginia's wildly popular Peckerwood-in-Absentia--and former Reagan Republican--Senator Jim Webb, when he introduced Obama at a rally on Friday with remarks that were sound-bitten on every local newscast in The Old Dominion. Oh, and in case you missed it, early voting is underway there, too.

In consequence of all of these rapidly unfolding developments the mainstream press, which was supposed to be spending its last three days completely besotted with the "Joe the Plumber / spread the wealth around" narrative, has only tightened the noose on McCain/Palin with narratives about the race no longer being close. In particular the concern echoed around the electronic news sites on Friday was not whether McCain could mount an improbable comeback, but rather with how the television coverage would deal with the problem of Obama going over 270 electoral votes before the polls had closed on the West Coast. "We can't be in the business of pretending to be stupid," remarked one senior editorial decision-maker on the subject--a comment that, for its very utterance, makes the job of seeming relevant and viable all the tougher for Old Man Get-Off-My-Lawn.

Everywhere McCain looks the situation is getting not better, on the strength of what they're spinning as a gaffe by Obama, but rather worse. The national tracking polls don't yet reflect the third debate, as they will on Sunday or Monday, but in the meantime North Dakota is now tied and Georgia is now down to six points, with early voting in the latter actually favoring Obama by a significant margin.

There will, of course, be widespread efforts to disenfranchise voters--there will be challenges, there will be court battles, There Will Be Drama. Which is why every Obama supporter in every state must, to borrow a phrase from the first Civil War back in the 1860s, "keep up the scare" on our opponents, taking friends to early voting where its taking place, and door-knocking and phone-banking whenever possible. But with each passing day, with each passing hour, Obama's lead in national polling, and in the key states he needs for victory, only grows more solid and subject to the dramatically unpredictable tactic-changes being carried out almost daily now, by the guy who still wants us to believe that he is the steady hand at the tiller.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida

4 comments:

Prof. Handel said...

An added benefit of a Powell endorsement is that it might help offset any late October surprise via satellite feed from some cave in North West Pakistan.

The Key Grip said...

And would that satellite feed actually even help Mr. McCain, at this point -- or might it instead free up the remaining "security moms" in the country to shift all of their electoral heuristic onto the economy?

Doug said...

Obama:
Obama Rally Draws 100,000 in Missouri

McCain:
Ignorance and Racism in Ohio

The contrast between these two men, and what they stand for, couldn't be more stark.

The Key Grip said...

I put the Obama rally into a rare mid-afternoon post, precisely because I think it says so much about the state of the race.