The only thing more egregious than the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune pummeling any Republican candidate for president in 2008 is the bunglingly inept campaign of a guy who’s been in politics forever, and even run for president once before.
No small part of the campaign’s ineptness is its predicate, either. McCain sold his soul eight years ago, when he let Rove bugger him like some mere Democrat, spreading rumors in South Carolina about the old man’s sanity and about how his adopted daughter from Bangladesh is actually a love child from a liaison with a black woman. It was lame enough that McCain didn’t just let loose and open a can of whoop-ass on Bush during the subsequent debate (which might have gotten him the nomination, given how much terrified GOP primary voters appreciate violent tendencies in their politicians), but then it just got worse, as the defeated war hero later traipsed around the country campaigning for the victorious war avoider. And then it got even worse yet at the convention in 2004, as McCain fawned all over Bush and ever since has gone to the wall supporting the Iraq debacle, transparently the worst foreign policy co*k-up in American history, and somewhat less transparently its greatest crime.
Now we see McCain committing stupid mistake after stupid mistake in a campaign that already once experienced a near-death experience from precisely such ineptitude. All this, it’s worth remembering, in a year in which any Republican running for president would need to be near perfect to have the slightest prayer of winning. Americans have hardly ever been more surly about their politics, nor despised an incumbent quite so much. They’ve never in recorded polling history expressed so much conviction that the country is headed in the wrong direction. The country is fighting two endless and losing wars. Just about every economic barometer in existence is in record awful condition, ranging from national debt to personal debt, from the trade deficit to the value of the dollar, from inflation to unemployment, from the Dow to mortgage meltdowns. That alone should be plenty to sink the aspirations of any representative of the incumbent party faster than a gaping hole in a concrete barge.
Remember the question Ronald Reagan used so devastatingly against Jimmy Carter in 1980? "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Like any good Republican campaign tactic, it was a lie, rooted in an appeal to the public’s most base attitudes. But, also like any good Republican campaign tactic, it worked great. It was a lie because conservatism was in fact the reason that people were less well off, and would be even more so after the thirty years of conservative policy ascendency which would follow. And it was base because the question – especially from such a cardboard cowboy patriot like Reagan – should have been, "Is the country better off than it was four years ago?" In any case, I hope Obama has the smarts to use either variation, and never cease to remind voters, when he does, that this was Reagan’s question, in order to innoculate it from any plausible response from that (nauseatingly frequently) self-described "foot-soldier in the Reagan revolution", John McCain. (Of course, McCain never mentions the part about how Ronnie and Nancy disowned him and wouldn’t talk to him anymore, after McCain unceremoniously and selfishly dumped his first wife, who happened to be their good friend. After that, he became the door mat in the Reagan revolution.)Anyhow, combine all of that with the corruption, arrogance, bungling and lies, with Katrina and Guantánamo and Social Security, with torture and domestic spying and ruined reputation abroad – put all of this together and it would be a miracle if any Republican could possibly win this year. There just aren’t enough swiftboaters out there to put this Humpty-Dumpty back together. There just aren’t enough looking glasses to step through before this Republican disaster can be twisted sufficiently into something that even vaguely resembles a desirable government. Even those greatest purveyors of those most absurd fairytales, evangelical preachers, don’t have the heart for it this year. And why would they? Having seen that they can influence politics, they are learning that it’s a two-way street, brother. George W. Bush is many things, but a recruiter for the religious right is not one of them. It doesn’t require a prophet to see that their (not so) little pious enterprises are going to go the same way as Republican members of Congress if they continue to be associated with the Boy Wonder.
So, this is the landscape for John McCain, on top of which, he’s a ripe old geezer who can’t tell a Facebook from the Internets, who can’t effectively deliver a speech to save his life, and he’s running against an opponent who regularly gets compared to Jack Kennedy, not to mention endorsed by Teddy. The guy, in short, steps out of the gate having to run an inspired campaign to even have a prayer under these conditions, and instead he clunks along from one ham-handed debacle to another. Is this what they mean by hoof-and-mouth disease?
The Phil Gramm bit was priceless. There’s the GOP desperate to prove that they care about equally desperate middle class voters – not just the Greenwich, Connecticut set – and here comes McCain’s top economic advisor to tell economically wounded Americans that they’re just making it all up, this nation of whiners. Brilliant! Though not quite as astute as McCain’s claim that Gramm doesn’t speak for him, on the very same day in which Gramm was doing precisely that, representing the boss before the Wall Street Journal editorial board (now there’s a pair to draw to!).
And let’s just talk about whiners for just a sec, shall we? Remember all these last weeks as the hapless McCain, trying desperately to find something that would stick against the opponent his campaign has now come in frustration to refer to as "The One", ragged on and on about how Obama hadn’t been to Iraq recently, and about how he hadn’t made the obligatory pilgrimage to the tent of Deity Dave Petreaus? Yeah, well, Obama called his bluff and went rampaging around the Middle East with just about the entire American news establishment in tow (snide comments from the McCain camp referred to the few remaining reporters left to cover boring stuff like Republican presidents or would-be Republican presidents, as the "JV Squad"). All this press attention on Obama only gave McCain something new to whine about, as The One drowned out completely any hope of McCain getting any news traction during The Sojourn. First Obama’s a jerk because he hasn’t gone to Iraq, then he’s a jerk because he did. Way to go, John. No doubt you’ll be picking up votes in droves with that attitude.
Actually, though, given the caliber of the campaign he’s running, McCain’s lack of press coverage might not be such a bad thing. The McCain team’s idea of a cool press event is to run up to Kennebunkport and hang with Poppy Bush, the much-loved father of the much-loved president who brought us the much-loved war Obamster was off trying to figure out how to end. What in the world were they thinking? That the 84 year-old ex-prez was the only guy with his boots still above ground that their candidate could stand next to and actually look younger? That the Bush family endorsement will bring a ‘surge’ of voters to carry McCain over the finish-line this November? Wow, that’s some strategic acumen, eh? Take good notes, children – you don’t very often get to see pros in action at the top of their game like this. The only stupider public relations screw-up I’ve seen in American politics for a long time was when a Republican presidential candidate secured the nomination in the primaries and rushed off the very next day to be photographed at the White House with the despised current president from his same party. What was that idiot’s name? Holy cow, Batman!, that was McCain too! Wham! Kapow! Thwack!
You can tell how deeply the handwriting has been jack-hammered into the wall when Obama goes to Iraq and gets an endorsement from the Prime Minister there for his troop withdrawal plan. Didn’t any wisp of a raison d’etre for the entire McCain campaign just immediately evaporate into thin air at the moment the supposedly sovereign government of the country we invaded said we should get the hell out, just like Obama wants, and just when Obama wants? The outrageousness McCain’s response was matched only by its ho-hum coverage in the media. Maybe we’ve all just grown too comfortable with a Republican arrogance that could make Caesar blush, but when McCain pooh-poohed Maliki’s polite but firm get-the-hell-out request by pulling rank and claiming "I know what Iraqis want", this entire country should have fallen of its collective chair. So let me see if I have this straight: We went to Iraq to fight for freedom and democracy, but the democratically elected government of this sovereign state, which we fully support, is less qualified than John McCain to decide when the occupying force which invaded their homeland should buzz off? He knows what the Iraqi people want and need better than their own prime minister?
I guess it does make sense if we remember that McCain is the foreign policy expert in the race. He won’t have a learning curve in the White House. He’s the guy you can trust when that call comes in at 3:00... Oops, sorry, wrong political prostitute. Anyhow, you get the idea. One small problem, though. Every other time the guy opens his mouth he demonstrates one of two things, neither one of which exactly emerges from his campaign’s playbook. Either he isn’t quite the foreign policy guru we’re supposed to believe he is, or he’s, ahem, having some senior moments here and there. Which is not entirely unexpected given that he is, well, you know... senior. Either way, on some days he is running a better campaign against himself than is Obama.
Memo to McCain, the great foreign policy expert in the campaign: Czechoslovakia is not a country. Repeat, not a country. Hasn’t been for about 15 years now. Stop using the term. Especially, don’t use it three times in a row!
Memo #2: If you’re gonna be a foreign-policy expert, get your freakin’ Sunnis and Shiites straight, whouldya? In this particular decade, it matters. And, no, it won’t do to have Joe Lieberman standing behind you holding your crib sheet. Unless, that is, you plan to have him in bed with you every night, just in case that call comes in at 3:00 AM. And, if you do, then you’ve got a different problem, and don’t expect to be getting any votes from Republicans in November. Maybe Hillary would be available, but then Republican voters don’t care much for adultery either. Oops, I mean adultery committed by Democrats.
Memo #3: You’d probably be right, as you stated just the other day, about the urgency of securing the Iraq-Pakistan border. Under one condition, that is – that there was such a thing. There isn’t in the real world, John, so it doesn’t look real good when the guy, whose only remotely plausible rationale for winning the election is to continue scaring enough people about national security one more time, tells us all how important this is.
Memo #4: Vladimir Putin is not the president of Germany. In fact, if you want to get all technical about it, he’s not the president of any country right now. But he was the president of this really big country called Russia (no, it’s not the Soviet Union anymore – that went out along with Czechoslovakia), and you should probably know something about it and its government if you’re going to be the go-to guy when that phone rings at...
Of course, the McCain campaign describes all the attention to these boners as unfair media coverage, to match the fawning treatment given to Mr. Senator The One. Apart from the fact that my dictionary defines such complaints as "pathetic whining", it beggars belief that John McCain, of all people on the planet, could complain about unfair media coverage. This guy has been stroking the press for decades, and they’ve been returning the favor in spades, with hardly ever an unfavorable article written about him or his flip-flops or his skanky associations, and hardly ever a report where his name is mentioned and the word "maverick" is not. This is no pot calling the kettle black. This is a concentration-of-matter-so-dense-that-its-gravitational-pull-actually-sucks-light-waves-into-its-complete-darkness black-hole calling the kettle black.
It’s all going completely wrong for McCain, ranging from every voter Bush alienates to every mistake McCain makes to every one Obama doesn’t. And because it’s falling apart so very badly, the desperation and ugliness is starting to set in – not coincidentally – with the new campaign staff drafted directly from Karl Rove Political Assassinations, Kneecappings and General Mayhem, Inc. McCain relentlessly hammers Obama for supposedly having gotten it wrong on the surge, and for continuing to refuse to admit that. Meanwhile – even assuming he is right about that, and it is not at all clear that this was the factor which brought down violence in Iraq – McCain is stupid to play that game. Okay, who was right on the whole friggin’ war then, John, from the very beginning? Hint: it’s not the guy in the same political party as George W. Bush. But the bigger question is, who cares? Does anyone think that voters are going to choose their president in 2008 on the basis of their Iraq policy? And even if they were to, would they pick the guy who wants to stay on the same path we’ve been on in Iraq? And even if they somehow want that, are they willing to choose someone because of that, despite his desire to continue the same economic policies that are currently crippling most voters?