Monday, October 13, 2008

Hiatt: McCain's Gone Crazy, But Only Because Obama's Just As Bad

And as the McCain campaign grew uglier last week -- casting Obama as dangerous, dishonest and un-American -- it was tempting to imagine the campaign McCain might have waged if he had based it on the respect for his opponent, and for the process, that he had long professed.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...

So let's imagine this hypothetical campaign about the issues. When there's daylight between McCain and President 23%, it's just as often to Bush's right (even deeper tax cuts, even more targeted to the rich, and even more of a hair trigger for war) as towards the center. Obama v. McCain reduces to a generic-D-vs.-generic-R campaign, in a country that's lost its stomach for more Republicanism.

Let's face it, Fred, that just wasn't gonna happen. For several cycles now, Americans really have preferred the Dems' positions to those of the GOP. Hence the standard GOP playbook:

1) Make the race about the candidates, rather than the issues.
2) But for safety's sake, (a) bamboozle the public about the degree of difference between Dems and the GOP on the major issues, and (b) bring up or invent a host of bullshit issues, and make the election about them. This feeds into:
3) Slime the Dem candidate. (The bullshit issues in (2b) were selected with this in mind, of course.)
4) Feed the gullible pundits a few anecdotes demonstrating the GOP candidate's 'character,' and watch them lap it up and sell the American people on it for you.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, on to the main entree:

I'm sure, in the crazed intensity of a presidential campaign, it's easy to start believing your consultants and television ads -- believing that the other guy is dangerous and that only you can save the country. That must be especially true when the other guy is insulting you. The mud flies both ways in this campaign, with Obama and his allies relentlessly pounding McCain as out of touch, erratic, dishonest and, over and over again, dishonorable.

Nice try, Fred, but anyone watching this thing knows that, when it comes to character issues, Obama has strictly been a counterpuncher. Hit Obama with a flock of 'celebrity' ads, and he'll take advantage of the fact that McCain doesn't know how many residences he owns. Claim he's responsible for teaching sex ed to kindergarteners when the 'sex ed' was more the 'good touch, bad touch' stuff, and he'll make sure the world knows just how dishonest McCain has been, just how low McCain has stooped.

This is NOT about Obama, Fred, not even tangentially. Did McCain release that 'celebrity' ad because the Obama campaign had engaged in character attacks? No, he did so because Obama had had a very successful trip to Europe and the Middle East, and McCain's team was looking for a way to turn the huge crowds in Europe against him. The mud may be flying both ways, but only because Obama hasn't let attacks on his character go unchallenged.

And honor is at the core of McCain's self-image. He's been running for president, more on than off, for almost a decade, but his determination hasn't had much to do with a highly defined ideology, program or set of policies. What underlies his ambition are values: service, patriotism, duty, honor.

It may be that it's easier for such a campaign to get blown off course. In an exceptionally pro-Democratic year, against an exceptionally unflappable opponent, it's not surprising that a campaign without bedrock policy goals would try first one thing, then another, with one of those things being character assassination.

Think about that, Fred: you're saying here that if honor is the core of your self-image and your campaign, you're more likely to behave dishonorably under stress than if you and your campaign were all about the issues.

Pardon me, but that makes no fucking sense at all.

But that's the sort of stuff you wind up saying, Fred, when you try to excuse the inexcusable.


MR Bill and nobody's sweetheart said...


Broder throws in the towel this morning... It's one of his thumbsuckers where he interviews those exotic creatures, the "Average voter"..

The piece ends in: "It's hard to see how John McCain can overcome these odds in Pennsylvania. "

low-tech cyclist said...

Yeah, there was so little 'there' there in Broder's column this morning that I'm gonna just let it slide.

It's kinda funny that Broder zooms in on the (essentially decided) horserace in PA, but puts it in no context. But the context is pretty devastating: without a shot at MI and now PA, McCain's got to run the table of 'swing' states that are mostly swinging blue: Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Nevada.

McCain would have to win all nine of those, and there's just no way he can do that, unless the national numbers take a major move in his direction.

At this point, I can't imagine that anything less than a significant terrorist attack in the U.S. or Europe would sufficiently change the dynamic of the race to give McCain a chance.