Column for 27 July, 2008
“Be strong and be courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.”
It is rapidly becoming evident that John McCain is the albatross leading the GOP to what may well be a historic electoral whooping, in spite of the obsequious fawning of the Mainstream Media, which grants him a pass on every misstatement or flat-out lie. When McCain confused Sunnis and Shiites (several times), when he falsely stated that Hurricane Katrina spilled “not one drop” of oil, when he claimed the so-called “Anbar Awakening” was the result of the Surge (it actually began half a year before the Surge), when he forgot that the “Iraq-Pakistan border” is called Iran; in every instance, the supposedly liberal media scurried to cover McCain’s back. CBS even edited its own footage of McCain to cover his Anbar gaffe. To some extent, this media boot-licking is a function of the “man bites dog” meme; to the media, an election isn’t newsworthy unless it’s a horse race. Recent state-by-state polls have given Obama 300+ electoral votes, but the coverage is all about “voter doubts” over Obama. Additionally, the Mainstream Media remains cowed by a systematic and highly successful twenty-five year long conservative campaign to vilify them as “biased liberal elitists.” McCain has tried recently to plug into that tired trope, grousing that the media is spending too much time covering Obama’s triumphal tour through Europe and the Middle East, even though the only reason Obama went in the first place was because McCain taunted him for not going to Iraq. In fact, the Obama World Tour couldn’t have been worse for McCain; first President Bush endorses a “time horizon” for withdrawing troops, thereby undercutting McCain’s position of slavish devotion to a never-ending war, then the wily Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki publicly supports Obama’s plan for a 16 month withdrawal. Obama looked like a world leader and his erstwhile opponent was left to grumble, “It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.” Clearly, the Straight Talk Express is running on flat tires; while the Obama campaign is confidently opening twenty campaign offices in Virginia, Republican congressional candidates like Senator Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) are reduced to lamely claiming that they are Obama’s pals. And, sadly, Republicans are now adopting what may be the most annoying tendency of liberals: thin-skinned whining. Republicans in 2004 openly derided John Kerry’s war record, even mocking the Purple Heart on the floor of their National Convention. Just the other day, I saw one of those “Hanoi John Kerry” bumper stickers on the car of someone who clearly hasn’t read the news in the last eight years. Yet when Wesley Clark, after fulsomely praising McCain as a war hero, made the rather obvious remark that being a war hero doesn’t automatically qualify someone to be president, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Right Wing Howler Monkey Media Chorus that he had smeared all veterans and denigrated McCain. Of course, Obama is susceptible too; the better response to that tacky New Yorker cartoon would’ve been silence or better yet humor. And moving some Muslim women out of the background for a campaign photo was clumsy and stupid; at least he had the good taste to apologize for that one. You cannot help but wonder what’s going on with McCain; he nearly unseated the clear establishment candidate, George W. Bush, in 2000, and he brought his 2008 campaign literally back from the brink of catastrophe. Having secured the nomination, however, it’s been nothing but gaffes, missteps and flailing ever since. Part of it, of course, is beyond McCain’s control. The Republican brand is hopelessly tarnished after years of corruption and incompetence. It is worth noting that despite Congress’ overall single-digit approval ratings, Democrats lead the generic ballot by a staggering 15 percentage points, with the possibility of 239 House members and just shy of 60 Senators. In order to secure the nomination, McCain had to graft himself to a President only slightly more popular than Bird Flu and a war the public has long since wearied of. Still, McCain is also suffering from several self-inflicted wounds. He surrounded himself with troglodytes like Phil Gramm, only to be embarrassed when the Mouth That Roared acted like, well, like Phil Gramm. As the suburban middle class (who will decide this election) grows more and more anxious, calling them “whiners” and having your nominee admit that he doesn’t know much about economics is probably not a very effective strategy. McCain likewise eagerly sought the endorsement of loathsome tele-Pharisees like John Hagee and Rod Paisley, only to backtrack when some of their more repulsive utterances surfaced (finally) in the wake of Obama’s Jeremiah Wright kerfuffle. The ever-shrinking Republican base seems singularly unexcited; on an anecdotal level, I have to meet a Republican who even likes John McCain, much less is committed to his victory. I’m not yet prepared to make hotel reservations for the Obama Inauguration (assuming, of course, I even get invited), but more and more, slowly but surely, the question of this campaign is becoming not whether Obama will win but by how much.