Saturday, September 13, 2008

After a Bad Friday, a Fatal Saturday for McCain?

Yesterday's column spoke cheerfully -- not to say gleefully -- of the difficulties the McCain campaign had experienced with what should have been an innocuously slow news cycle. From the nosebleed that Old-Man POW received on The Usually Insipid View, to Palin's mangled responses to virtually every question posed to her by the usually equally insipid Charlie Gibson, to McCain's senior economic adviser essentially pledging that the candidate will have no choice but to raise taxes, to Palin's husband being subpeonaed in the Alaska State Trooper affair, to a left-leaning 527 attack on Palin for the first time on ground that will make her very unpopular with undecided women, Team Crankypants certainly had the sort of news cycle on Friday-Saturday that most major candidates would greet with closed-door strategy meetings and maybe even threats of shake-ups in the staff.

The only thing that saved the day itself from emerging as a multi-cycle story was the fact that it unfolded while nobody was paying any attention. Surely the new-and-improved team of Steve Schmidt And Sarah Palin For Co-Presidents would right the ship in time for the following day's news and have it sailing right back in the direction of consolidating their sudden lead.

...Or not.

As it happens, the sleepy Saturday news cycle for McCain didn't even really start out all that sleepy, with the Saturday New York Times running a large story, in the wake of McCain's appearance on The View, on the Republicans' increasingly willful and brazen counterfactuals in their advertising. including point-counterpoint recitations of the mistruths McCain has recently told, juxtaposed against the facts as they really are. The story would've been easily dismissed as a hatchet job by a liberal rag that has already proven its sadistic bias against McCain (no charge for typing that, Ms. Coulter--it's on the house), except a funny thing happened when other media outlets tried to reach the McCain team for a comment on the story.

Rather than refusing to comment (smartest move) or flatly denying that any of the ads are even so much as misleading (which has also worked for Republicans before), McCain spokesman Brian Rogers effectively boasted that the GOP ticket was purposefully lying, and that they were doing so because they knew it would be effective. "We're running a campaign to win," Rogers said, "And we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.”

No sooner had this little gem been delivered to the cyber-press, all wrapped up in a nice red bow, than the news broke that Governor Palin's claims of foreign travel were grossly and intentionally exaggerated for shameless political gain. For those who missed it, Palin claimed in the Gibson interview (as her handlers have repeatedly claimed before) that she has visited Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Kuwait and Iraq. As has now been grudgingly confirmed by the McCain campaign itself, Ms. Palin's visits to Mexico and Canada were both vacation trips. Of the remaining three countries, one was only stopped in for refueling (Ireland, where Ms. Palin didn't even bother to open the door of the plane), while the most important by an Alaska-sized margin, Iraq, was simply and flatly never visited at all, period. And in a campaign cycle of petty outrages, this particular outrage is significant enough to bear repeating:

The Governor who said, explicitly, that she was ready to be President because she had visited Iraq, knew when she was saying it that she had never visited Iraq.

By mid-afternoon both the Times and the Washington Post were announcing that their Sunday editions would include front-page coverage of the venomous, nay savage governing style brought to the Wasilla Mayor's Office by Sarah Palin. There is much carefully collated and exhaustively vetted new fodder over which to gloat in these two stories, but the headline in the Post's version perhaps tells the whole tale: "As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin Cut Down Own Duties, Left Trail of Bad Blood." It goes without further explanation, perhaps, that the story will do little to assuage fears over Ms. Palin's readiness to lead, or to sway working-class Democratic women to cross the aisle and support an avowed liar who speaks in tongues and shoots wolves from airplanes. And to think: the stories will be front-page news, just in time for the Sunday talk circuit.

By three-thirty on Saturday it seemed the time was right for yet another cameo by Bob Woodward, who may have sensed that his transformation to a Bush-wing doubter could be sealed with the timing of such an appearance, seeing as how he used it to reveal in a Saturday interview that McCain had been privately convinced that The Surge would end in a Vietnamese-style tragedy. At one point, according to Woodward, McCain even demanded a face-to-face meeting with Condolezza Rice to upbraid her for the Administration's incompetence--a mere hours after having given a speech in which he expressed public certitude that The Surge would make fools out of all who dared to question it. If news of this development didn't break like a thunderclap over the mainstream press, as it should have, neither did it escape the notice of the Obama campaign, who responded at once with a broadcast e-mail calling for the Republican candidate to answer for this inconsistency.

It wasn't an hour later that the usually circumspect (if not shamelessly partisan) former Fed Chair, Alan Greenspan, went on the record with a stern warning for the country--namely that McCain's tax cuts would ruin a fragile recovery by forcing up interest rates through increased public borrowing. Greenspan stopped short of endorsing Obama in his remarks, but it would be electoral malpractice for the Key Grip to let this moment pass without reminding his audience that another former Fed Chair, Paul Volcker, serves Senator Obama as the co-chair of his own economic advisory team. Meanwhile the man who's said that he's no expert on the economy has lost some ground on Issue Number One, in the past forty-eight hours--quite a bit of ground if the mainstream press bothers to get off the couch and write about it.

The Obama campaign is doing what it can to keep some of the McCain Funfactory of Horrors in the frontal lobes of a mostly lazy press-corps, having circulated a memo late Saturday afternoon pointing out the lie (their word) of Palin's claim to having visited Iraq, of her support of the Bridge to Nowhere, of the myth of the large crowds being reported at McCain/Palin campaign rallies, and of her repeated claims of opposition to earmarks, among rather a lot else. No doubt the extremely well-oiled hypocrisy of the Republican campaign play-callers will take this opportunity to revert to their "thin-skinned/getting desperate" page, but Obama's campaign is sage enough to sense that this is the moment in which they need to reassure their own base that they have no intention of going down in history as John Kerry II.

Which, owing to one last story that broke yesterday, may just beg the question of necessity: Just as the lid was going on for the evening, the Des Moines Register dropped a single-page bombshell into the fax baskets of every other major news outlet in the country, with the news that--amid the rapidly withering bloom of the McCain team's new image--Mr. Obama has rocketed out to a twelve-point lead in Iowa, 52-40%. Of note in this result, among rather a lot else, are the facts that (a) this was supposed to be a terrible polling month for Obama, (b) Iowa is a long-standing bellwether with an unusually large pool of persuadable voters, (c) the demographics of many of these voters should have been tailor-made for the Palin shake-up, and (d) with a twelve-point lead in a swing state that Mr. Kerry did not carry in 2004, Mr. Obama has one fewer squares on which to worry about the resource-intensive game of offense.

If nothing else, it's an extremely encouraging morning for Democrats after two long weeks with nothing to do but sit with tightly-bandaged fingers and fret. It is heartwarming to see the right, tough questions being asked of Team Crankypants by the mainstream press, and even more heartwarming that the Obama people are hitting that same mainstream press for even greater accountability in pursuing some of these issues--since the latter suggests enough awareness of the potential tipping effect that a new advertising buy might soon be tumbling from Team Obama to put more of them front-and-center in the eyes of those dreaded "low-information voters," and in a more sharply contrasted manner, than we've yet seen. To which The Key Grip can only wonder, with this much fodder to work with, how do the Obama advertising directors even decide where to begin?

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


Anonymous said...

I think the most damaging thing that happened this weekend is McCain releasing his medical records to a few reporters who weren't allowed to copy them. What is going on here unless there is something in there that he doesn't want known?
On another note, I got a forward from a wingnut saying that a 40 year old Muslim was going to be a leader that destroyed the world. How over the top is that?

Dave O'Gorman said...

Some of the most astute political junkies with whom I've corresponded since this blog's inception are increasingly frustrated that, as good as the last few days of news have been for Senator Obama, they haven't been good *enough*. Fortunately for my deadline, I've got a few ideas.

Look for a new column in these pages in the next day or two, outlining a few basic suggestions for what Obama supporters like us should- and shouldn't be doing with our time, right now.

isuyankee said...

In light of the Greenspan comments, here's a reminder of what Paul Volcker had in his endorsement of Obama:

“After 30 years in government, serving under five Presidents of both parties and chairing two non-partisan commissions on the Public Service, I have been reluctant to engage in political campaigns. The time has come to overcome that reluctance. However, it is not the current turmoil in markets or the economic uncertainties that have impelled my decision. Rather, it is the breadth and depth of challenges that face our nation at home and abroad. Those challenges demand a new leadership and a fresh approach.

It is only Barack Obama, in his person, in his ideas, in his ability to understand and to articulate both our needs and our hopes that provide the potential for strong and fresh leadership. That leadership must begin here in America but it can also restore needed confidence in our vision, our strength, and our purposes right around the world.”

So why exactly is McCain the "fiscal conservative" we can trust on economic issues? Bottom line: Republicans are NOT fiscally conservative, they just love low taxes.

A. Gordon said...

Oh, let's be honest Dave, the tightly bandaged fingers were yours due to a halftime "scissor malfunction."


That said, glad you're back and typing.

Dave O'Gorman said...

Unfortunately, my scissor malfunction wasn't nearly as much fun as this label would suggest.