Thursday, October 16, 2008

For McCain, An All-Day Hangover?

First, before I properly begin today's column, permit me to share with you the following two photographs, both of which were taken in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday evening's debate and neither of which have been altered or "photoshopped" in any way:

The video of these same moments is available on youtube and clearly shows Mr. McCain behaving strangely even for him, in a very specific way that had some folks in blogo-landia wondering if he'd been dosed with an exceptionally powerful stimulant (speed?) prior to the debate. This might almost be understandable, given the Senator from Arizona's age and frail physical health--but obviously it raises a brand-new festival of concerns regarding his capacity to govern if elected, and, inevitably, regarding that of his running-mate in a worst-case scenario, to boot. About the only thing saving Mr. McCain's bacon on this particular occasion is that essentially nobody was paying any attention, so relieved as we all were for the blood-letting up on the stage to finally be over.

It turns out that an improbably sizable 56.5 million people saw this final debate, a number that would have leveraged McCain's breakout potential with the electorate, if in fact he'd actually managed to cobble together a breakout. Instead the day's political coverage was dominated by the tidal wave of competing polling data showing that Mr. Obama won the contest decisively with persuadable voters, including one glee-inducing if also painfully awkward moment when Frank Luntz of Fox News turned to a room full of cherry-picked "undecided" voters to ask who'd carried the day, and found himself having to quickly terminate the discussion after the first four people in a row gave the nod to Team Blue.

What little of the political landscape that wasn't gobbled up with "Can McCain Come Back?" stories (and by the way, this just in--no), was dedicated instead to a series of medium-sized bomblets that each managed somehow to be even more damaging. And in what has become a familiar pattern this cycle, they started before most of us had even poured our second cup of coffee.

For reasons that might be easier to understand than they should be, the comely telecommunications lobbyist Vicky Iseman chose today to flatly deny that she and Senator McCain had been carrying-out an explicit affair aboard McCain's campaign jet during the primary campaigns. We could have wondered why, after no one had pressed the issue for months, Ms. Iseman would select this particular moment to go public with a denial of something that hadn't ever formally been asked, but then we'd be acting obtuse to wonder such a thing, now, wouldn't we.

Hey, at least Team Death-Star could plug its recently unveiled Campaign 7.0, featuring the scrappy and irascible Joe The Plumber, right? Well, actually, no. After a fifteen minutes of fame that seems to have lasted literally fifteen minutes, the ubiquitously mentioned Ohio citizen who spoke to Barack Obama several days ago about his plan to buy a business turns out not to have been vetted by McCain's campaign operatives (surprise, surprise). Among the many delightful tidbits we all learned today? That Mr. Wurzelbacher is a tax-cheat, that he isn't actually licensed to be a plumber in the state of Ohio (and mis-quoted the applicable law when pressed on the subject by a handful of intrepid reporters), that he isn't properly registered to vote, and that his first name isn't even actually Joe.

Best of all, because "Joe" is also a liar about his wherewithal to buy the plumbing business he's been coveting, a bit more research on the part of those same reporters revealed that his taxes would actually go down if Barack Obama were to go on and become President. Those of us who care enough about such an Orwellian outrage as was perpetrated on Wednesday night using this non-Joe the non-licensed non-plumber could theoretically start hitting the "contact us" links on every major news website in the land, demanding to know why this wasn't first-lead on every Thursday-evening network newscast, but hey: expecting a full exposure of this matter would be just nutty.

Meanwhile the supposed single strongest moment for McCain on the entire evening ("Senator Obama, if you wanted to run against George Bush you should have run four years ago"), was instantly spun into what is easily the most devastatingly effective Obama campaign commercial yet. After months of vague, muddled-message ads that were neither sufficiently focused nor sufficiently contrast-oriented, Team Blue has hit its stride in the air-war at the precise moment when its money advantage no longer need be divided between television and field office development. Mr. Obama is, according to another bombshell story that broke today, currently out-spending Mr. McCain on television advertisements by a jaw-dropping four-to-one margin, even before one considers the thirty minutes of uninterrupted network airtime he's booked for himself in the waning days of the election.

Clearly what Senator McCain needed was a campaign appearance or two in friendly and supportive confines, with a clear takeaway message, and a happy ending to his day. So what did he and his running mate do with that information? Old Man POW went, of all places, back to Pennsylvania, a state that has been comprehensively lost to him for weeks now. It's been noted in these columns before, but the only plausible explanation for the McCain/Palin ticket's stubborn insistence on this Sisyphean waste of time is that they can't continue to fundraise if they can't make a compelling argument for how they're going to assemble 270 electoral votes--and they can't get to 270 electoral votes without peeling the Keystone State's 21 away from the good guys. As for any other possible explanations, there don't actually seem to be any: Since at least the collapse of the bailout bill and maybe longer, McCain and Palin have been plotting a campaign map that, against any other possible standard of success, seems downright self-immolating.

At least it made sense to send Sarah Palin to North Carolina, thence to whip yet another crowd of supposedly pride-inducing mobsters into a feeding frenzy of open calls for injury to the Senator Obama himself. One small problem: Governor Palin only spoke for twenty minutes, less than half the time that was invested by Hank Williams, Jr. in warming-up the crowd, and conspicuously failed to mention to the crowd that early voting had begun in the state on this very day. And here we come to the biggest single indicator of just where this race stands.

If the only plausible theory behind McCain's implausible return to Pennsylvania was to justify continued donations, then the only plausible reason for Palin's failure to mention early voting in the Tar-Hell State is even more ominous: The fact that the speech would run on the local evening news meant that non-supporters of the ticket would see Governor Palin mention early voting, and go vote. It's not easy to over-emphasize the significance of this decision: The McCain/Palin ticket is so panic-stricken and desperate to hold on--in North Carolina!--that they'd rather omit the standard early-vote invocation to their supporters than risk the fact that everyone else in the state might learn about early voting from them. I'm no political expert, but that looks like a very, very bad sign for their prospects of keeping the state red, indeed.

Friday is always a slow news cycle (mercifully for McCain, in this case), though we'll know pretty soon--not yet, as these words were being written--just how the kiss-and-make-up session goes between Old Man Get-Off-My-Lawn, and David Letterman. The early word is that McCain told Letterman that he "screwed up," though it's not obvious which of the 1,367 instances he has it in mind to apologize for. Otherwise little further incoming is expected.

As for the slightly longer-term future of this race, if the early returns on Wednesday's debate are anything like accurate, we may expect another bounce for Barack Obama in the national tracking polls and the electoral map by Sunday or Monday, though in fairness a further bump of comparable magnitudes to the last two is probably unrealistic, given that Mr. Obama probably already has the support of just about every single American that he ever stood a more than hypothetical chance of getting.

...And the best part is, they're already voting. Not just in North Carolina, but in Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico, and other states as well--and they're turning out in unprecedented numbers, and, by all accounts, turning out overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. And in a day of unusually damaging news stories for McCain/Palin, that is easily the worst of the bunch.

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


Anonymous said...

Another nice piece, Dave. You know, it's funny, but when the debate started thursday evening I mentioned to my wife that John McCain's eyes looked weird. You know how those drops given during an eye exam dilate the cornea? That's what Mr. McCain reminded me of. Wonder if he was hopped up on something?

Dave O'Gorman said...

The late news about Joe the Plumber is about as close to a death-blow as you can get in a Presidential election, even if the mainstream media didn't cover it as extensively as they should have, because it means that McCain can't bring the guy with him on the campaign trail.

A. Gordon said...

Doug, I'm thinking a Kubrick-esque "A Clockwork Orange" with respect to McCain's eyes.

Or maybe they gave him no-doze?

Dave O'Gorman said...

They gave him *something*.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so let's play "conspiracy theorist" for a bit...

If McCain was given *something* just to get through the debate, how in the world is this man going to govern the free world every day for the next 4 years? You can't keep a 72-year old body juiced and expect it not to crash... and crash hard... at some point.

Dave O'Gorman said...

I've been worried for some time now that his health will give-out at just the right moment to garner him some sort of bizarre sympathy vote on November 4th. Anyone who doubts it could happen should remember Mel Carnahan, the Missouri Governor who was running for Senate when he died in an October 17, 2000 plane crash. Three weeks later the people of the state of Missouri elected him, despite the fact that he was dead.