It's probably time for the Republicans to panic.
Reason the first: despite all of the McCain campaign attacks of the last six weeks and, naturally, Senator McCain's whiteness and military service, the McCain campaign can't, as Pat Buchanan likes to say, "close the deal." He can't overtake Senator Obama in the polls given the roster of assaults on Obama's patriotism and character as well as the continued accusations that Obama, according to the McCain campaign and the barbecue media, is a skinny, exotic, infanticidal, egg-headed evildoer.
Reason the second, and more importantly: Senator McCain appears to be losing his shpadoinkle. When he admitted that he doesn't know how many houses he and his heiress wife own, it might not have been because he owns too many houses to count. Instead, it could be that he simply couldn't remember how many houses he owns.
Brit Hume once called this kind of glitch "a senior moment," but how many senior moments can a guy have before we seriously begin to question whether, for example, in the middle of an international crisis, he's going to forget who the president of Russia is and then bomb Berlin thinking that Putin is the president of Germany. Oh. Wait.
Ask any homeowner how many houses they own and they'll probably answer correctly -- or, if they're crazy rich, they'll at least answer within the margin of error (+/- one house). Ask Senator Obama and he'll probably answer correctly (one). Yet Senator McCain simply couldn't remember. Slipped his mind. Even if he had answered, but answered incorrectly, it still would've been a problem, but nowhere near this level.
"I think -- I'll have my staff get to you. It's condominiums where -- I'll have them get to you."
He could've totally invented a number like Grandpa Simpson, "I got 'dickety' houses! Why 'dickety'? Because the Kaiser stole the word 'eight'!" But McCain blanked. "It's condominiums," was the extent of the information he could muster. That's sort of like asking your bank for your checking account balance and they reply, "Errrm. It's dollars."
It's no wonder he's considering Senator Lieberman to be his running mate. He'll need someone around who can remind him of important facts -- such as when he forgets that Bin Laden is a Sunni, and that Iran is predominantly Shi'ite.
To put it frankly, Senator McCain is showing the signs of being too old for the gig, and his recent history of forgetting things (whether simple details like the number of houses he owns, or more complicated facts like Sunni vs. Shia) ought to be the source of some serious panic inside the Republican loop -- far more panic, by the way, than is being generated by the prospect of a pro-choice running mate.
The numbers agree. A Gallup poll from last year indicated that Americans are only slightly more comfortable with a 72-year-old president than they are with a gay president. (72 years of age: 57, 42. A homosexual: 55, 43.)
Of course, we're all well-aware of the Republican Party's proud record of homophobia, so when Senator McCain underscores his soon-to-be 72 years by forgetting how many mansions he owns, it's really no wonder why he can't seem to "close the deal." Never mind that he owns more houses than most of us will own in a lifetime -- so many houses that it's impossible for him to remember the exact number -- and this during an economic and housing foreclosure crisis no less. Never mind that he ostensibly needed his hired help to count his many, many mansions for him. And while we're here, never mind that even though he couldn't remember how many mansions he owns, and needed a cue card to remember the price of milk, he boldly claimed to know the exact metaphysical instant when an eternal soul enters a zygote -- an awesome display of televised omnipotence that exceeded the holy powers of the Pope himself.
Speaking of holy powers, for the last eight years we've suffered the antics of a super-rich president who's repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for basic rationality and reason (for the sake of contrast, President Bush owns just one multi-million-dollar estate). And take a look around at the consequences. We've had a president who, despite his intellectual shortcomings and the speculative evidence of some form of neurological infirmity (what was that jaw twitching thing from 2005?), has overcompensated by making ludicrous decisions based on his gut.
Now imagine more of the same thing, but this time from a president who's caught in the grips of some kind forgetful dementia -- in addition to his spastic hair-trigger rage. In other words, the most dangerous combination of character traits possible.
And yet it's only August, 2008. Senator McCain hasn't even had to endure the stresses the office yet -- the mental and physical rigors that go along with being the nation's chief executive. What would he be like a year from now? Two years from now? For someone in his condition, nuance and diplomacy is likely an abandoned set of options. The easiest approach is for bellicosity. For attack. It's the most basic, instinctive, direct approach -- one that's easily grasped by men of limited capacity. So I suppose the more important question is: what would America be like a year from now, or two years from now if McCain and the Republicans end up winning this thing anyway? How many more wars will you fight, Senator McCain?
Oh. Sorry. Didn't mean to ask a tricky numbers question.
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