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Thursday, July 24, 2008

'It Smacks of Desperation'

Two people from the major parties are running for President this year, Barack Obama and that other guy. You know, that one guy. Farmer MacDonald or Geezer McQuaid or something. You know... [finger-snap, finger-snap]... John McCain! That's it, John McCain.

In the primaries, John McCain got a free ride from the media. In a way, that's still true. But the lack of media scrutiny has become a handicap for McCain in the general election. Only his flubs are being reported. To a certain extent, flubs are really all there are. He's betting everything on Iraq and it's a chump's bet. "The surge worked! The surge worked! The surge worked!" isn't really a plan. The sad fact of the matter is that McCain keeps telling us he's the one who'll win Iraq and that's the extent of his argument. You'll notice that he's a little sketchy on the details. He's not getting media coverage because -- let's face it -- there's nothing to cover. "Hole still a hole" isn't much of a headline.

Part of the disparity in coverage of McCain and Obama is Team McCain's own damned fault. Columnist and attempted vehicular homocide enthusiast Robert Novak wrote spoke with a source in the know and got this:

I asked one of the Republican Party's smartest, most candid heavy hitters last week whether John McCain really has a chance to defeat Barack Obama in this season of Republican discontent. "No, if the campaign is about McCain," he replied. "Yes, if it's about Obama."

Basically, McCain is trying to turn the election into a referendum on whether Barack Obama is ready to be the president. You don't need to be a brilliant political analyst to know how that's going to turn out. Hillary Clinton already tried it. It didn't work. If your entire campaign theme is "Look at Barack Obama!" the press is going to do something crazy like take you up on it.

-Continued after the jump-

The best and shortest explanation of the failure of this strategy that I've read comes from the snarky Wonkette, in a post titled, "McCain Tricks Obama Into Massive Global Win":

Like so many McCain campaign disasters -- choosing Phil “Poor People Suck” Gramm as financial adviser or announcing a press conference on an oil rig during a hurricane -- it probably seemed like a terrific idea at the time: Harass Barack Obama into embarking on an international fact-finding mission thing, which would obviously provide so many embarrassing gaffes and make Americans scared to death of the Boy Muslim President.

Except it didn't work that way. So far, Obama's world tour is gaffe-free. Wonkette lists a lot of things that have happened during the trip, including Obama making "a three-pointer from way downtown on his first try" and pointing out that he "struts around without body armor, a foot taller than everybody else -- in painful contrast to Ol’ Walnuts looking like a Kevlar burrito wearing an old lady’s sun hat." Also unhelpful was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorsing Barack Obama's plan over the "the surge worked!" mantra that McCain is calling a plan.

And this isn't just McCain's A-game, this is McCain's A-game with help from the refs. On CBS, McCain told Katie Couric that the surge was responsible for the “Sunni Awakening in Anbar.” The Anbar Awakening was a move by Sunni Sheiks in the Anbar province against al Qaeda. It happened before the surge was even discussed. "I mean, that’s just a matter of history," McCain told Couric.

Scoop! "McCain gets basic fact about the Iraq war wrong." Except CBS didn't play it that way -- you know, the way a news gathering organization might do it. No, they fixed McCain's flub in the editing room, cutting out the part of his answer that was dead wrong. Like I say, his A-game with help from the refs. Also unreported by the mainstream media is that Team McCain claims the surge protected a Sheik who was, in fact, assassinated.

Given this astoundingly softball treatment, McCain's complaint that the media is biased toward Obama seems more than a little crazy. Sure, a McCain op-ed was rejected by the New York Times, but that's because the paper saw it as an attack on Obama. Obama had written an op-ed about his plan for Iraq and McCain wrote one about how Obama was wrong (the "referendum on Obama" strategy again). The NYT suggested in its rejection letter that McCain might offer his plan, rather than attack Obama's. But, since Baghdad Johnny doesn't actually have a plan, Team McCain decided the best thing to do would be to freak out, accuse the NYT of pro-Obama bias, and claim a right to equal time. That's right, Republican John McCain invoked the Fairness Doctrine. With a straight face.

With the way things are shaking out, you might expect John McCain to do something different. And he is -- kind of. He's not abandoning the tried and untrue "referendeum on Obama" strategy that failed so well for Clinton. He does what Republicans often do when their ideas aren't working; he assumes he's not being a big enough dick about it.

To that end, his course correction takes him on a heading directly toward "complete prick" -- which isn't striking a lot of people as very presidential. To a crowd in New Hampshire, he said, "This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign." That didn't earn him a lot of points.

"This is the ninth presidential campaign I've covered," wrote TIME's Joe Klein. "I can't remember a more scurrilous statement by a major party candidate. It smacks of desperation. It renews questions about whether McCain has the right temperament for the presidency. How sad."

That was Tuesday. Given how well that attack worked, McCain tried a similar tack Wednesday, with an aide suggesting -- after Barack Obama had visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Isreal -- that Obama was soft on genocide and would sit by during a second Holocaust. "Today he says ‘never again.’ A year ago stopping genocide wasn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces in Iraq. Doesn’t that strike you as inconsistent?" said McCain campaigner Michael Goldfarb.

"There’s something deeply wrong with these people," wrote Carpetbagger's Steve Benen in response. "I know McCain brought in Rove’s team to run the show, but his campaign operation is getting … ugly."

Of course it's getting ugly. McCain has decided that the only thing he has to run on is "Obama sucks!" Meanwhile, Obama stubbornly refuses to suck. The McCain campaign have painted themselves in a corner and the only way out is to make Obama -- the calm, unflappable, almost serene Democratic choice -- suck. And it's not working. When a neocon's doing something that's not working, the only solution that occurs to them is to do more of it. In McCain's case, that means lie more, attack more, smear more. The real world result of all of this is that McCain flubs more and reinforces the already well-cemented impression of him as a grumpy old man. At the same time, Obama -- like Tiger Woods -- seems to practically live "in the zone."

Foundering and desperate, Team McCain needs to find another strategy for the campaign. But, like George W. Bush before him, he seems to believe that doing things differently is some sort of moral failure and the only right way is to "stay the course."

Even when that course sails straight into a hurricane.


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