Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eyes Squarely on the Future, Indeed

You'd have had to be watching the baseball playoffs to have missed Sarah Palin's repeated admonitions that her opponent was hyper-focused on the past when she and her running mate were instead concentrating on the future. That much is obvious. What isn't so clear is what sort of time-frame Governor Palin has precisely in mind, when she says such things--and if it is a time-frame that benefits her boss.

The McCain/Palin ticket is officially in full tailspin at the moment, with national tracking polls showing margins anywhere from five to eleven points, averaging 8.25 according to this table appearing on Open Left:

If the present gap between the candidates isn't ominous enough, the trend certainly is: Mr. McCain is down to the last, Hail-Mary trick in his playbook and even that may not be enough. The campaign has already announced it will be running fiercely negative from here on in, both in terms of its air-war and its stump speeches, but the Obama people have come out with a highly effective strategy of suggesting that McCain is only desperately trying to change the subject from the ghastly consequences of failed economic policies that he himself has so consistently embraced as a Senator. At the moment the regressions on Fivethirtyeight are showing New Hampshire and Virginia both outside the cone of "leaners" for Mr. Obama, brining his electoral vote whip-count to 286, whereas Mr. McCain's current tally of 155 no longer includes either Montana or West Virginia:

Many pundits are now speculating that the freshly minted, personality-driven attacks against Obama by the McCain/Palin ticket will ring hollow with a persuadable middle, both because they are, in point of fact, an attempt to change the subject from the economy, but also because Mr. Obama's favorables are already locked-in at a level too high to be successfully assailed without backlash. On top of all of this are new worries that McCain's decision to sequester himself between now and Tuesday's second debate is an indicator of an inexplicable lack of urgency on the part of the trailing candidate.

In response to what appears to be a festering disconnect between McCain's fortunes and those of his running-mate, New York Times columnist Frank Rich has wondered in print if the Alaska Governor might already be quietly considering herself the President-in-Waiting, or even if Mr. McCain might be persuaded to spend his last, biggest shake-up card on inverting the ticket. A more commonly held version of much the same viewpoint, as articulated in these very columns on Friday and Saturday, would have the Alaska Hockey Mom ruthlessly plotting to turn on her benefactor in a far more obvious way, either shortly before or shortly after the outcome of this election is finally decided, so as to claim that her fresh- and better ideas had been stiff-armed by yet another stogy Old Boy who couldn't bear to cede his authority to her. At all events, Ms. Palin's repeated shout-outs to the notion of fresh ideas from new, outsider faces certainly doesn't seem to be from the same script as her running-mate's mantra about steady-handed experience being the key to our many challenges.

As successful as this strategy of biting the hands that feed her has been for Sarah Palin in the past, however, she would be well advised to bear in mind the extent to which she is playing in a completely different league these days. She is still considered significantly over-matched by the demands of high national office in the eyes of almost every Democrat and a comfortable majority of independents, according to the polls taken immediately following her debate with Joe Biden. She is still being damaged by the reprieves of her assorted misstatements by Tina Fey. And, most importantly, her past ruthlessness could still get her into a great deal of trouble--perhaps even enough that she ends up having to withdraw herself from the ticket.

On Sunday, as the rest of us were distracted by the back-and-forth on the subject of Obama's would-be connections to William Ayers, seven of Palin's current- or former employees in the Alaska State House quietly agreed to testify in the Troopergate investigation--possibly signaling the first large-scale crack in the Governor's stone wall. Seasoned journalistic veterans of such campaign tactics are speculating that Palin's unapologetic misrepresentation of Obama's non-existent connection to William Ayers might in the end severely weaken Mr. McCain's already weakened candidacy--both for the retaliatory strikes that it authorizes from the other side, and for the appearance of last-ditch underhandedness that it brings down upon her own ticket. GOP lawmakers are bracing for what could well be another round of massive losses in both chambers of Congress, and if it happens the way they are semi-secretly expecting, Ms. Palin could easily be identified as an Alaska-sized scapegoat, most notably for her atrocious performance with Katie Couric, if not for her shameless departure from the campaign's message.

Regardless of motive, context, or even proper thought-process, Governor Palin seems to be undertaking a gamble that is at least as high-stakes as the recent gambits undertaken by Senator McCain: She could still emerge as the heroine who rallied the base, scared the middle, and saved the day. She could emerge as the woman with the better ideas for how to win, but whom no one would listen to in time. Or she could be unwittingly positioning herself as the vindictive, self-promoting ingrate that a great many of us thought she was six weeks ago, when John McCain first asked her to run.

...And goodness knows--if she turns out to be the last of these three, the surprise of it won't be attributable to the thorough consideration she received before he made the call, now, will it.

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


Anonymous said...

We loyal Democrats are all hoping that the swing voters are paying attention to the antics of this Palin. I wrote a letter to the editor this morning that states: Which do alert voters think is worse; to be officially censored on the floor of the Senate over the Keating Five, as McCain was, to have an official investigation into the firing of a State Trooper as Palin is; or to simply live in the same neighborhood as a man who is now a college professor?
Like Obama is saying, "theirs is a campaign that is out of ideas and out of time."

Dave O'Gorman said...

Harold Wolfson (who, admittedly, isn't exactly an impartial source on the subject), says unequivocally in his New Republic blog, "it's over."