Monday, October 6, 2008

The Ulitmate On-Sides Kick

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: THE LIVE-BLOG FOR TONIGHT'S DEBATE WILL BE STARTING LATE, DUE TO WORK COMMITMENTS THAT WILL PREVENT THIS AUTHOR FROM SEEING THE OPENING MINUTES.

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In football, when the trailing team finds itself kicking-off in the waning minutes of the game, that team undertakes what is known as an on-sides kick: the place-kicker pooches the ball only a few yards, in the hopes that a crazy bounce will enable his own teammates to fall on it and retain possession. It might be the only play in all of football that both (a) almost never works, and (b) is almost never criticized by spectators--precisely because the kicking team in such circumstances has no other alternatives.

Well, before I pull the trigger on the obvious analogy, here, permit me to up the stakes just a bit.

It happens that there are two different types of on-sides kicks--the ones that everyone see coming, due to the circumstances, and the surprise on-sides kicks that are very occasionally called by a team's Head Coach in the middle of an otherwise non-descript segment of a game. And here's the thing about that: according to a recent article in ProTrade, the odds of success for an on-sides kick are well over sixty percent in the surprise category, but fewer than twenty percent overall. If everyone in the stands knows that you have no choice, it appears, then so does the other team.

The McCain/Palin ticket finds itself at the start of this week in the position of desperately needing to recover an on-sides kick. They trail by ten points in Pennsylvania, six points in Ohio, six points in North Carolina, and a whopping twelve points in Virginia. Their deficit in the national tracking polls seems to have stabilized in the neighborhood of around eight points, with Barack Obama sitting comfortably atop the magic 50% threshold in the eyes of every major tracking pollster in the land--even the notoriously venomous evangelicals over at Gallup. The folks at Fivethirtyeight have excitedly (and, I'm bound to say, a tad unrealistically) speculated as to the possibility that Obama's vaunted ground-game could flip Georgia. Surely Indiana is squarely in play, and this too is thanks in large measure to the veritable fusillade of Obama volunteers, canvassing the Hoosier State with a jaw-set determination usually reserved for immunization teams during an outbreak. It's been said in these columns before, but it bears repeating: nowhere on the red-and-blue map looks particularly encouraging right now for John McCain.

Moreover, time is running out far more quickly for McCain/Palin than appearances and calendars might suggest. Since state-level tracking polls tend to lag the national mood by about a week, the margins observable in the electoral whip-count are almost certainly lagging the overall break toward Obama in national sentiment. Almost none of these polls can fully reflect the public's further defection from Team Crankypants in the wake of Governor Palin's stilted and shamelessly manipulative debate performance, for a start. In the eyes of outside experts ranging from Lindsay Graham to Karl Rove, it's time for the grandfather of all on-sides kicks, the negative campaign, and the McCain campaign has obliged with vicious swipes at Obama, beginning over the weekend.

...Trouble is, the other side saw it coming.

Granted, the Obama people haven't done quite as good a job of responding to the Bill Ayers allegation as they could have (viz, David Axelrod suggesting that Obama hadn't known about Mr. Ayers' past when he and Obama began serving together on the same community non-profit board in their shared Chicago neighborhood). Granted, the attacks that have been leveled against Obama are all but certain to shave some of the froth from the Democrat's lead. But even as Governor Palin was accusing Obama of cavorting with terrorists, even as McCain was suggesting (unbelievably) that it is Obama who has lied about McCain's record, even as an audience member at a Republican town-hall meeting chose to call the Illinois Senator himself a terrorist, Team Blue was putting the finishing touches on the linkage between John McCain and Charles Keating--a counter-offensive that carries two advantages that McCain's last desperate gasp does not: it is topical in a larger sense, and it is true.

The video that the Obama campaign just released on the subject is outstanding--if also a bit on the long side, given how effective a few shorter segments of it can and possibly will be, in commercial form--but the larger point is inarguable: With John McCain on one side accusing Obama of having a limited record in government and of fraternizing with Bill Ayers, and Obama on the other side pointing out that McCain, as recently as March of this year, called for further deregulation of the financial markets, particularly on a day when the DJIA closed below ten-thousand for the first time in over six years, the team defending this particular on-sides kick seems to be firmly in command.

The "clock aspect" of this sporting analogy couldn't fit better, either: Early voting is continuing in earnest in a wide assortment of crucial states, and in which Obama is only widening his lead. The news reports of McCain's shift in tactics have included preambles that are openly ponderous of his dwindling chances. And all the while, Mr. Cool-as-the-Other-Side-of-the-Pillow seems at every turn to have just the right answer, at just the right time. So far, at least, the full Lee Atwater treatment doesn't seem to have worked.

What's left for McCain now is to rattle Obama in tonight's debate (when most of us fully expect the opposite to be far more likely to happen). Failing this, he will have "burned his last time-out." A decisive victory by Obama tonight, given the events that have transpired since their first meeting, and the Good Guy will slam the door on this matter in a way that not even Karl Rove / Swiftboat dirty tricks can disrupt. A strong showing for Obama this evening will be the exclamation point on Election 2008.

I can't wait.

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

1 comment:

shabec said...

Yahoo news this morning opens with something that made even me sit up and say whaaa. It is that McCain is now linked to the Iran-Contra affair. After that item was a link to another Keating-Five reiteration. Looks like even foam-at-the-mouth red journalists are taking notice now.
BTW, I liked your Mr. Cool-as... analogy. Great word-use!