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McCain vs. McCain - When Strategic "Genius" is Mortal Blunder.

10/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When Counterpunch and the Washington Post contain opinion pieces that agree, it is time to sit up and take notice. Something is happening.

Two recent op-eds -- "The Maverick Who Has No Clothes" in Counterpunch and "The Ugly New McCain" in the Washington Post offer an excellent analysis of how John McCain is destroying his moral authority. As one would expect, CP beat the Post on such a subject-- in this case it was by only two days! Meanwhile, the pundits on the Right are seeing things differently and some are even crowing about how McCain's brilliant "Palin distraction" has gotten inside Obama's Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loops -- see for example, Michael Barone's "analysis"in the New York Sun here.

[Note: the idea of getting inside your opponent's OODA loops is the centerpiece of the late Col. John R. Boyd's strategic theory of conflict. Boyd's ideas are now widely seen as being generally applicable to any type of conflict/competition, be it military, business, or politics, albeit tailored to the particular nature of the conflict in each case. For example, in war, a conflict is directly determined by the interaction between the adversaries, whereas in politics or business the outcome of the competitive interaction is mediated by the decisions of a third party -- the voter or the customer. A search on Google yields hundreds of references to Boyd and the OODA loop. Readers interested in learning more about these theories and the power OODA loop will find a brief description of Boyd's theories here, a compendium of Boyd's work here, and Robert Coram's definitive biography of Boyd here.]

The essays in Counterpunch and the Washington Post also suggest that McCain may have done so much moral damage to himself at this point that he can not recover. If true, whether he appreciates it or not, McCain is now in a race against time, because this kind of rap is going to spread thru the mainstream media and into pop culture, like the Daily Show or Saturday Night Live or YouTube -- and the only question is whether or not the echo chamber of mismatches (between what McCain says he is, what he really is, and the world he has to deal with) will get loud enough to alienate a majority of the undecided voters by election day.

Already some conservative "intellectuals" (e.g., David Brooks, George Will, David Frumm), not to mention Karl Rove, are sensing the danger of blowback and are getting nervous. In one sense, it would be a pity if a financial panic hides what is taking place, because McCain's evolution could become a very informative case study of how self-induced moral isolation alienates voters in a political competition. Ironically for Mr. Barone, it was Boyd who showed how the alienation unfolds if a person exhibits an OODA loop that violates the codes of conduct he professes to uphold and others expect him to uphold. In fact, the theory of moral isolation lies at heart of John Boyd's strategic theory, even though the OODA loop is cited so breathlessly and with such certainty as a source of McCain's advantage by Michael Barone. Boyd explained the effect of moral blowback in his capstone presentation "The Strategic Game" [pdf], and showed how it flows out of his theory of OODA loops, a subtlety that is lost to Barone's banal understanding of Boyd's thinking [doubters should review especially Boyd's Moral Design for Grand Strategy, beginning on Slide #53 of "The Strategic Game."

But even more interesting is the curious fact that John McCain is familiar with Boyd's work, but it is unlikely that Obama knows anything about it. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it is Obama who has shown the better instinct to stay above the mud, and thereby let McCain hang himself in a way that is entirely consistent with the thinking laid out in Boyd's "Strategic Game." In this regard, it will also be interesting to see if Obama slyly eggs McCain into digging himself into an even deeper moral quagmire, as he did so cleverly with Hillary/Bill on the race issue. Boyd also coined the term "auto-enchilade" -- a shorthand to describe the art of successfully encouraging your adversary to hose himself by adding too many peppers to his own enchilada.