Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Palin and McCain Campaigning Together???

You may or may not have heard that on Wednesday John McCain referred to either the US Senate or the American people (it's not actually possible to tell which) as "my fellow prisoners." Some pretty major news sources--notably NBC--ran with the story, while others--notably CNN--did not, but the blogosphere veritably exploded with speculation that Mr. McCain is unwell and getting worse.

Referring to fifty-seven states when one means to say forty-seven probably comes across, in the minds of most decent and up-standing Americans, as a brain-fart; being a rehabilitated POW who at age seventy-two refers to a group of free citizens as "my fellow prisoners" is, or at least could be, something different altogether. The McCain/Palin ticket, it is argued, could be in the advanced stages of full emotional meltdown, and the stress of this realization might be eating away at John McCain's mental faculties in a way that could justify worrying about the guy.

And yet, for all the cyber-back-and-forth that took place today regarding the comment, one relatively under-exposed aspect of the story was that Sarah Palin was standing directly beside McCain when he said this. And that, friends and colleagues, is an alarming sign to say the least.

As we all know, Presidential- and Vice Presidential candidates are manifestly not supposed to be traveling together in early October: One of them is supposed to stand on stages in toss-up states, acting stoic and Presidential and wholly above the fray, while the other is supposed to stand on stages in their own party's "leaner" states and fan the fires of resentment toward the other guy. Every speaking event at which Palin and McCain take the stage together, obviously, represents an empty stage somewhere else in the country--a terrible misuse of resources, particularly for the ticket that Gallup showed on Wednesday as trailing Obama/Biden by a whopping eleven points, 52-to-41. When you're down by eleven points, you don't waste your running-mate's time by making her stand silently through your own speech.

Unless you don't have any choice.

Governor Palin may not be as popular as she once was with persuadable voters in the middle (indeed she is not), but she is still wildly popular with the hate-and-switch crowd on McCain's right flank, and if she is McCain's warm-up act on the stump at this crucial stage in the campaign, then there really can be only one explanation: The crowds wouldn't come to see McCain speak by himself. He's just not popular enough at this hour, even with the people who have already been pre-screened as supporters so staunch as to deserve invitations to hear the candidate talk.

While most of us were opining about McCain's unnerving strolls across Tuesday night's stage, his dismissive and possibly racist reference to Obama as "that one," his terrible jokes, and his inability to counter Obama's observations about his behavior over the past year, we seem to have missed that McCain's only tangible effort at changing the discussion--a government buyout of home mortgages--would be so despised by the rank-and-file members of his own party so as to spark full and open revolt, if one of them thought he was the tiniest bit serious. The cautiously soporific event scored an eye-popping 41.2 share, according to Nielsen, and after it was over there were multiple indications that previously undecided voters were breaking for the first time in large numbers to the Obama/Biden. Team Blue is out-spending their opponents by a 17-11 margin, playing almost all of their enormous money advantage on the Republican side of the field, all the while consolidating their holds on the four easiest states to peel from Bush'04: Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and Virginia--the last of which has been showing on as "Likely DEM" for well over a week, now. And there is late word that both of the Obama campaign's top field commanders have been dispatched to Florida.

So what options are left to Senator McCain? If the initial answer is "very few," then this must also be immediately qualified with the recognition that the candidate has very few obvious scapegoats on whom to place the blame. In a series of strategic and tactical errors so egregious as to leave some of us wondering who could possibly have been responsible, McCain has in rapid succession...

  • sloughed the experience card by picking Palin
  • waved-off the financial crisis by declaring the fundamentals of the economy strong
  • painted himself as a hip-shooting debate skipper by suspending his campaign
  • conceded his own ineptitude by showing at the debate with no bailout compromise
  • squandered the opportunity to assail Obama's character until it was too late
  • embraced government interventions wildly unpopular with his own party and completely at variance with his own record on the subject

Columnists are now openly wondering if Obama has reached his ceiling: a 52-41 popular vote margin would rival the largest electoral landslides of the modern era, and further inroads by Obama are, it is argued, unlikely in the face of systematic prejudice. "The people who are still undecided are all f---ing racists," one canvasser told a fellow columnist, "and yet they're scared to death of what will happen to the economy." Clearly, when the remaining pool of undecided voters is talking in these kinds of bizarrely self-contradicting tones, we may take it as read that one of the two candidates has summarily and spectacularly failed to close the deal.

Mr. McCain has, at the end of the day, painted himself into a corner from which he essentially cannot emerge. He can no longer call his opponent reckless, inexperienced, or a fan of big government. The mainstream press is increasingly quick to point out the desperate straits in which his campaign has found itself. He inverts the tandem of character-then-policy attacks at the inescapable risk of appearing desperate. He loses among persuadable voters not just on likability and empathy, but now on competence as well. In such a poisoned environment, it is no wonder that Mr. McCain seeks the solace of his running-mate on the stage.

The question now, given her record, may well be that of how much longer she will give it to him.

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


Anonymous said...

This is probably his economic populism: adopting the language that the American people are prisoners of economic injustice!

Anonymous said...

Did you hear that some fan of Palin's cried out, "Kill him" at a rally in Clearwater, FL? Now the Secret Service is trying to locate that person. And I have heard some Black people say that they won't vote for OB because they are afraid someone will kill him. I try to gently point out the error of that kind of thinking. However, it is chilling and repugnant that the R's have sunk to this level. Perhaps it, too, will backfire and those D's who slam the phone in my ear, will finally decide to listen to reason!
Something else that I have never heard mentioned is OB's tremendous ground-game. Never before has my little town had its very own Dem office, and I have persuaded many people to come and volunteer for us--who have never been involved before. That kind of boots-on-the-ground troops cannot be ignored.

Anonymous said...

I have heard similiar comments to what Anonymous mentions above... my wife's grandmother lives in an assisted-living facility in Albany, NY. She says she has overheard many of the African-American staff state they will not vote for Obama, because they fear he will be assassinated if elected.

I fear for what this country will become if Obama is not elected.

The hate-mongering at the Republican events this past week is scary. This is 2008... As a people, I naively thought we were past this kind of hate. Guess not.

Dave O'Gorman said...

Obama's unbelievable ground-game -- the best in history -- will more than make up for reluctant AA's who fear reprisal (though you are all right that this is a ghastly state of affairs to be witnessing in 2008). The 2008 election is over in all but official counts. McCain cannot win without holding all four of Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida (among others), and at the moment he's behind in all four. None of them were crucial to Obama's 270-vote strategy and his leads in all four have steadily widened over the past two weeks.

Anonymous said...

How do combat this type of ignorance? It's almost like these people don't want to know facts. Hate and rumor are enough for them...

Dave O'Gorman said...

I think the best strategy at the moment is to riff on the "more of the same" line from the campaign, since it's both effective and true. "Yep," we can say, grinning after someone has told us why they aren't voting for Obama, "and the other guy running will be just like the guy we've got now."