Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who's That Fifth Secretary of State, Again?

With nine days to go--hurrah!--the last thing Mr. McCain needed for his Sunday talk show agenda-setting was a potpourri of further embarrassments. (And is it just a failure of imagination on the part of your intrepid columnist, or is this stuff getting harder and harder to write about without sounding repetitive?)

The big news of the cycle was of course the widely publicized report that Governor Sarah Palin has decided to deal with her frustrations and her impending status as scapegoat for McCain's eventual defeat by "going rogue"--though regular readers of this or any other political column might be inclined to wonder just what is meant by the word "going," in this context. The story, juicy in its detail and so sinful for Democrats to read that, let's face it, it just has to be fattening, is that Steve Schmidt and his ilk are believed by Palin's own circle (she has a circle?) to have hung their fair-haired gal out to dry: They botched her roll-out, so goes the argument, they put too many of her press-contact eggs in baskets belonging to old media friends who couldn't be trusted, they deliberately leaked the clothing story to embarrass her, and they haven't let her say what she wants to from the stump.

...And never mind that, when she does say what she wants, it's that she still doesn't understand the role of the Vice President in "overseeing" the Senate, she quasi-intentionally refers to the ticket as "I and John McCain," and, perhaps most interestingly, she admits that the energy pipeline deal for which she's supposed to be getting all of this executive-leadership credit was actually a no-bid contract.

Of course Mr. McCain has been doing himself no great favors, of late. Saturday also saw a story, under-reported only because there was so much else to write about, describing John McCain's c.2000 defense of progressive income taxes against the charge of socialism. McCain, always the unflappable, steady hand at the tiller, chose to follow the release of this story with a Sunday-morning performance on Meet the Press, during which he found himself unable to name all five of the Secretaries of State who have endorsed his candidacy--despite having brought the subject up, himself.

BROKAW: Were you surprised by Secretary of State Colin Powell's endorsement of Senator Obama?

McCAIN: "I'm disappointed in General Powell, but I'm very, very happy to know that FIVE former secretaries of states who I admire enormously -- Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, Larry Eagleburger, Al Haig, uh, uh, uh, ah -- Jim Baker, Henry Kissinger, Al Haig, Larry Eagleburger, uh, [sighs] and one other, and over 200 retired flag ... generals and admirals are supporting my candidacy. I'm VERY proud of their support."

BROKAW: "Senator, we opened today with how you're doing in Iowa. The Des Moines Register has endorsed [Obama] ..."

McCAIN: "George Shultz! George Shultz is the other one. George, [laughing] I'm sorry I left you out to start with. George Shultz is a great, one of the great secretaries of state in history. Anyway, go ahead. I'm sorry."

The sum-and-substance of this bizarrely swift, all but pathetic unraveling of fortunes for Senator McCain has been three-fold: First, it has become what civil engineers call a "self-amplifying vibration," wherein the more behind the campaign appears to be, the more shrill its rhetoric and, by that measure, the more likely it is to alienate a couple of undecided voters in New Mexico.

Second, it's beginning to lead to some unlikely choices of subject among Republican talking-heads, viz. Rudy Guliani suggesting that the journalistic impulse leading to Joe the Plumber's tax lien ought to be investigated as a criminal conspiracy, or Campbell Brown of CNN suggesting that anyone in the universe other than she should care right now about the New York Governor's Chief of Staff being late on his income taxes. Of course, the only subject any of the rest of us are talking about just gets less and less comfortable for the Rudy Guliani's and the Campbell Browns of the world: the RNC's latest anti-Obama ad, for instance, is quite possibly the least effectual and most self-evidently desperate campaign commercial this author can remember since at least the days of Fritz Mondale showing stock footage of ICBM's being launched.

But by far the largest single impact of such a precipitous and trans-national collapse of Republican fortunes is to leave the nation's pollsters in something of a lurch--particularly with respect to just how big Mr. Obama's eventual victory may end up being. There is hard evidence to suggest, for example, that Obama is trouncing Mr. McCain in early voting in Nevada, where the trend in Washoe and Clark Counties (the only ones where anybody actually lives) is so decisive as to raise serious doubts about the assorted "likely voter" screens that have been used by pollsters to reflect only semi-immoderate leads for Team Blue in an assortment of other places.

Suffice it to say, if early Nevada voters are a legitimate indication of just how over this election already is, then it has been over for some time now and will only become more so, to the potential embarrassment of soberly industrious, for-profit businesses out there whose job it is to predict the closeness of the race. Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight.com reports that Mr. Obama has already banked "several hundred thousand" more early votes than Mr. McCain--in North Carolina, which, depending on how one defines the word "several," could constitute a larger advantage than that by which Mr. Bush carried the entire state in 2004. Florida, as previously reported in these columns, is currently breaking for Obama by a margin of 2-to-1 in early voting. Ohio is running at a slightly less eye-popping pace, but still comfortably in favor of Team Good-Guys.

Indeed nobody's even showing up at McCain/Palin rallies anymore. Within twenty-four hours of Senator Obama having drawn 50,000 supporters to an event in Albuquerque, a McCain rally in the same city was estimated by the campaign itself to have attracted 1,400--while the journalists in the audience pegged the audience at fewer than 1,000, many of whom were high school students.

Worst of all for the Republicans is the fore-ordained advantage that Mr. Obama will have in the coming days' news coverage, beginning with the ever-more-anticipated and repeatedly stonewalled release of Governor Palin's medical records. All unsavory speculations aside (and as loyal readers know I'm particularly fond of a doozie, in this department), it seems safe to presume that Ms. Palin would not have reversed herself several times on the subject of making these records public if she hadn't been privately hoping against hope that the issue would go away. Within a day either side of this foolishly built-up event will come Barack Obama's half-hour television buy, deemed by the whizzes at Saturday Night Live as the "Obama variety show," but which will surely dominate coverage for at least one more of the precious few remaining days' coverage of the election, if not slam the door the rest of the way in McCain's face. ...And all the while, those merciless polls just keep slipping farther and farther out of reach. Obama is up by nine in Virginia (even with a suspect "likely voter" screen), by twelve in Colorado, and there are even signs that McCain could lose in his home state of Arizona, where he currently leads by only five.

ABC News / Time Magazine Mark Halperin said, in the waning days of the 2004 Presidential election, "When you're behind, you have to win every day." And if that seems like a daunting task for a campaign about to lose one day's news on Palin's records and another to Obama's thirty minutes of television, consider the fact that, for well over two weeks now, McCain/Palin haven't actually won any.

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

4 comments:

Calvin and Hobbes said...

I particularly like how the McCain campaign is "blaming" Palin for why their campaign hasn't exactly gone to plan.

My first thought is, "um, didn't YOU pick her?" I mean, it's their fault they didn't vet her. It's her fault she's ignorant about thinks any 6th grade civics student would know but they didn't have to pick her.

What surprises me the most is that this campaign has, since August, made gamble after gamble and NONE of them have paid off - yet they keep gambling. That, my friend(s), would be called an addiction if it were in Vegas, but in politics, I guess it's called desperation.

Brian Broda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Broda said...

Calling her a scapegoat makes it seem like she had nothing to do with the catastrophically bad execution of this campaign. She was unprepared, ignorant of current events, ignorant of geopolitical issues, ignorant of US political processes, and just darned incapable of responding coherently to fairly straight-forward questions she should have been prepared for.

She is just as much to blame as McCain and his campaign team. IMHO, no scapegoats here... unless they try to blame ACORN and the mainstream media.... That would actually be kind of funny.

Calvin and Hobbes said...

IIRC, she IS blaming the media. She's blaming Couric for asking "non pertinent questions" becoming a VP.

Anyone with an IQ over 70 knows she's full of s**t and just covering her ass on the questions she (the ones she could even manage to answer) answered badly. Likewise, the whole clothing-gate fiasco, how long did you think it took them to conjure up the "donate to charity" line in hopes that people would actually buy (believe) it.