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McCain and Palin: The Dead-End of GOP Politics

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Don't cry for Sarah Palin, America.

She -- ferociously ambitious and with an icy heart more durable than the frozen tundra beneath Alaska -- won't be embarrassed by the anger over her $150,000 fashion makeover. Or, we can be sure, let the extraordinary contribution she's made in a few short weeks to the well-deserved wrecking of her party's presidential hopes deter her from future pursuit of national office.

Instead, consider her enablers' actions as one more example of the GOP's long slide to the bottom -- its collapse into dead-end politics.

Perhaps some are puzzled at the idiocy of the McCain camp -- just when an economic crisis is exacting an alarming toll on Americans -- spending so outrageously to outfit someone they've been trying to sell as a "you betcha!" hockey Mom.

But, as Robin Givhan, the sharp Washington Post fashion writer, noted, this let-them-eat-cake behavior underscores the GOP's dynamic of "dissemblance" -- the difference between conservative rhetoric and the reality of conservative political behavior -- that's become more and more tawdry the past eight years.

Listing how that played out during the Bush years would require a booklet. And John McCain, in his brief moment atop the party whose base so dislikes him, has racked up his own impressive record of dissemblance, too.

That's why Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama Sunday was the more powerful.

Not just because Powell's high-level military and governmental experience and his considerable personal stature directly undermined key GOP arguments against Obama.

Nor just because of the compelling case he made that Obama is a "transformative figure" who would be "a successful president... an exceptional president."

It was the more powerful because Powell's words underscored John McCain's near-total dependence on negative campaigning - and the fact that dead-end politics now seems to be the only kind of politics the GOP can play. And his stand confirmed a marked repudiation of the Republican ticket's "culture wars" strategy by critical segments of voters, too.

The erosion of support for the McCain-Palin ticket during the past month has been charted in numerous polls. Taken collectively, they've found that "going negative" has backfired: the mud McCain and Palin have churned up has stuck, not to Obama, but to them.

For example, a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week found that 53 percent of those surveyed have a favorable impression of Obama, an increase of 10 percentage points since late September. That compares to 33 percent who say they do not.

By contrast, just 36 percent of voters polled view McCain favorably -- the same percent that did so in late September. But the percent of voters who now view McCain unfavorably has increased by 10 percentage points -- to 45 percent.

In other words, Obama's gain has been McCain's loss.

Not surprisingly, the growing gap stemmed from more voters losing confidence in McCain: 23 percent said their opinion of him had changed for the worse (only 12 percent said it had changed for the better).

The reasons that segment of voters gave for their negative assessment of McCain were, in order of importance: his attacks on Obama; his selection of Palin as his vice presidential choice; his performance in the debates with Obama, and his "erratic/unsteady" actions on the campaign trail.

Another poll, released this week by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, also had Obama leading McCain by ten points. And, among other things, it, too, found that Sarah Palin was a major cause of voters turning from McCain.

That repudiation is what Colin Powell articulated in his appearance on Meet The Press.

Ever the diplomat, Powell spoke in measured terms about his "friend," John McCain. He said at one point, "it isn't easy for me to disappoint Senator McCain ... I regret that."

Nonetheless, he zeroed in on the most dramatic example of the GOP's worthlessness as a national party. That is the "demagoguery," in Powell's words, of the attempts of McCain and Palin and their surrogates to smear Obama as a "Muslim" and a "Socialist" who spends his time "palling around with terrorists."

This line of attack has infected their campaign with an unmistakable racist undertone; and - along with the ludicrous choice of Palin herself -- produced a shock wave of disgust that has even led several prominent conservative pundits to criticize both of them in strikingly harsh terms.

One can wonder why McCain and his advisers would resort to negative campaigning when the American electorate had already made clear they were fed up with the Republicans' bare-knuckled and cynical practice of politics -- when it overturned the GOP lock on the Congress in 2006 and put the Democrats in charge.

That McCain did return to that brutal, cynical approach indicates that, in this moment when multiple crises are tearing at the fabric of the society, he and the GOP are bereft of any ideas and any spirit worthy of the American people.

Lee A. Daniels is a former journalist for the Washington Post and the New York Times, and former editor of the National Urban League's The State of Black America. His book, Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America, was published in June by Public Affairs Books.