Monday, October 20, 2008

Powell Endorses, McCain Team Squabbling




Weekends are supposed to be slow on the political news front; they're supposed to afford few headline-grabbing stories for me to write about, so that I can spend the bulk of that time cycling through my six-inch-deep-with-clutter house, collecting the dirty underwear from the lampshades. (And if you think I'm joking, I'm not: I haven't dusted since Senator Obama announced that Joe Biden would be his running mate.) But with fewer than twenty days to go before November 4th, it's only natural for all of the remaining news cycles to begin to take on greater urgency, and by that measure it should come as no surprise that the two campaigns garnered quite a bit of column-worthy news for themselves while I was washing dishes. Too bad for McCain/Palin that most of theirs was news they'd just as soon have done without.

To begin with on Saturday we had the impressive sight of Nancy Pfotenhauer (a senior McCain campaign adviser) telling an anchor on MSNBC that Senator McCain may be trailing in the must-win Old Dominion state, but that it's okay because in the end he'll win the "Real Virginia," outside of the DC suburbs. When the anchor, aghast, afforded her the opportunity to retract the statement, Pfotenhauer only amplified it, saying, "Outside of suburban DC, the real Virginia is the more -- well, the rest of the state is more, you know, southern, if you will." This coming, you understand, a day after Palin told a small-town crowd that she enjoys campaigning because she's been making it a point to only visit the "pro-America" places.

Among the many people with whom the deep odium of these statements have made an impression, we have Colin Powell--taking the opportunity of an un-checked appearance on Meet the Press to not only endorse Barack Obama, but to issue a blistering critique of his own candidates' campaign tactics, notably their implied suggestions that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. (By the way, if you haven't seen the text of his announcement you can access it in these very columns.) Of particular note was a story General Powell told, mid-endorsement, of a twenty year-old soldier who'd been posthumously awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, and on whose headstone at Arlington there stood not a Christian Cross or a Star of David, but a Muslim crescent. "He was thirteen years old on 9/11," Powell told Tom Brokaw, "and he waited until he was old enough to enlist and serve America--and he gave his life." Elsewhere in the endorsement Powell wondered aloud, "what's wrong with a Muslim-American kid dreaming of growing up to be President?" He also told Brokaw how expressly disappointed he was with the McCain team's other, equally-divisive tactics, such as robocalling.

Apparently he's not the only one. In a much less widely circulated story, it came out over the weekend that part of the reason why Virginia and Florida are behaving so strangely in this election cycle is that the McCain campaign is at war with the state Republican parties in those two places. "This shit's gotta stop," the McCain people have apparently told the Republicans in Florida who are undermining their efforts by running separate campaigns and diverting funding into them. To which the Key Grip wonders, "or else--what, exactly?"

Meanwhile Governor Palin (she of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission that she tirelessly lobbied Then-Governor Frank Murkowski to get, and promptly demanded be sunsetted as a shining example of Murkowski's wasteful government spending), has taken the opportunity of some high-profile knocks against robocalling to come out against her own campaign's tactics. "If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand," Governor Palin told reporters during an impromptu press conference at the back of her airplane on Sunday, "I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls and includes spending so much money on the television ads." Perhaps one of the first things McCain/Schmidt would have learned about this woman is her proclivity to bite the hands that feed her--had they bothered to learn anything about her at all?

For his part, McCain has found himself defending the very tactics he assailed in 2000, when he began sinking in the South Carolina Primary to George W. Bush. In an interview with Chris Wallace over the weekend--on Fox News!--when the subject of the contradiction was gently raised, the candidate and the host almost came to blows:

WALLACE: But senator, back, if I may, back in 2000 when you were the target of robo calls, you called these hate calls and you said —

McCAIN: They were.

WALLACE: And you said the following: "I promise you I have never and will never have anything to do with that kind of political tactic." Now you've hired the same guy who did the robocalls against you to, reportedly, to do the robocalls against Obama, and the Republican Sen. Susan Collins, the co-chair of your campaign in Maine, has asked you to stop the robocalls. Will you do that?

McCAIN: Of course not. These are legitimate and truthful and they are far different than the phone calls that were made about my family and about certain aspects that — things that this is — this is dramatically different and either you haven't — didn't see those things in 2000.

WALLACE: No, I saw them.

McCAIN: Or you don't know the difference between that and what is a legitimate issue, and that is Sen. Obama being truthful with the American people.
As for hidden (pro-America?) support, political columns continue to trickle-in suggesting that there is no such thing as a "Bradley effect," and that the whole story of Californians saying in 1982 that they would vote for Bradley in an effort to sound politically correct was just a convenient excuse for some pretty lousy polling methodology. "We can find no structural evidence," wrote one columnist on the subject, "that individuals express support for an African-American candidate on the basis of seeking to hide their true feelings for that candidate." True, this story hasn't exactly bombed the major news websites, but it stands to reason that Mr. McCain can't win this thing from ten points down if his "pro-America" divisiveness isn't secretly playing to more people than are saying so when polled.

In West Virginia the Democrats are even taking a new and unexpected tack on the subject--setting it right there in front of everyone, at their rallies. "Yeah, he's black," the speakers are telling audiences of semi-stunned West Virginians. "And you know what? I'd rather have a black friend than a white enemy, any day." Next door in Pennsylvania, door-knockers for Obama are repeatedly reporting the bizarre situation of asking who the household plans to support in the election and being told, to their faces, "We're voting for the nigger." All disclaimers about predicting the future aside, folks, if McCain is losing the racists, he's officially, and without further ado, baked.

Then there was the story of FreddieMac and FannieMae, giving enormous campaign contributions to the RNC in an attempt to kill the legislation whose passage would eventually form the first major step in trying to lead us out of the housing mess. McCain caught a break in that this story dropped when everyone was paying attention to something else--but for the small problem that the something else was the Powell endorsement.

Many pundits have said that endorsements never make much difference, and that they especially don't make much difference when they come this late in such a high-information race, but I would respectfully disagree: Those individuals who remain undecided are probably--for the most part--soft Obama supporters. After all, the incumbent party traditionally garners fewer than 1/3 of late-breaking voters, and that's when the playing field is otherwise level. In this election the late-breakers are probably skewed even farther than that in the direction of Team Good Guys, precisely because anyone who would consider voting for four more years of these idiots we have now, probably already has a bumper sticker and a yard sign.

For the folks leaning toward Obama and not yet ready to support him, the sight of a well-respected and high-profile Republican coming out for the Illinois Senator would form just the sort of lunch-table cover that was necessary to defend a final decision. This is to say nothing of the fact that the story robs at least two precious news-cycles from the McCain comeback, and probably takes all the freshness out of the "Joe the plumber / spread the wealth around" narrative that McCain/Palin were using to gain-back some traction in recent days.

Indeed, moving forward the path to victory for McCain is almost non-existent. It was said of Hillary Clinton in the late spring that her continued presence in the delegate contest served as a sort of "Vice Nominee"--a person who could continue to demonstrate viability as an alternative, in the unlikely event that such an alternative was necessary to find. It seems to this author that Mr. McCain has now become the "Vice Candidate," by the same logic. He's clearly lost the election, barring a change of circumstances that is entirely unforeseen (and, conceivably, tragic), and will continue to campaign as if he has every chance of success. But with the Powell endorsement--and the fresh round of scathing criticism for McCain's tactics--the structural dynamics of election 2008 have taken their last, and possibly biggest, turn. Mr. McCain has simply, inescapably run out of time.

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

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