In another wild week in American politics, Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain began the week on the losing end of public opinion polls, unscripted comments by his surrogates, more reports of his links to lobbyists and a tanking economy branded, in voters' minds, with the GOP logo. And looming not far in the background was the specter of tonight's debate in Oxford, Miss., scheduled to be McCain's first direct confrontation with Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama.
Examining a tide of factors moving against him, McCain did on Wednesday what he had done successfully the last time trends moved against him: he found a game-changer -- not one to merely change the existing game, but rather to create a new game altogether into which he could drag his opponent. Claiming to suspend his campaign, he would ride into the Capitol Building on his white horse, save the nation from economic devastation and and sacrifice the opportunity to confront his opponent face to face in the first presidential debate, urging Democratic nominee to follow on.
It helps to remember what McCain faced on Monday: a New Washington Post/ABC News poll that showed Americans favored Obama over McCain by 14 points as best suited to deal with an economy that is, by nearly all estimates, teetering on the brink of catastrophe, thanks largely to the craze for deregulation led by Republicans in Congress over the course of the last eight years. In a series of articles, the New York Times outlined payments made by the disgraced mortgage enterprises FannieMae and Freddie Mac to the firm owned by McCain's own campaign manager, Rick Davis.
By Wednesday, more bad news was on its way; an interview by CBS News anchor Katie Couric with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's vice presidential nominee, had gone terribly wrong and video had surfaced of a prayer ceremony showing Palin receiving the hands-on blessing of a witch-hunting preacher during the Alaska gubernatorial race.
Palin's performance on CBS was so appalling that it led Salon's Glenn Greenwald to correct his own prediction of Palin's formidability.
[S]he is either (a) completely ignorant about the most basic political issues -- a vacant, ill-informed, incurious know-nothing, or (b) aggressively concealing her actual beliefs about these matters because she's petrified of deviating from the simple-minded campaign talking points she's been fed and/or because her actual beliefs are so politically unpalatable, even when taking into account the right-wing extremism that is permitted, even rewarded, in our mainstream. I'm not really sure which is worse, but it doesn't really matter, because with 40 days left before the election, both options are heinous.
Late last week, The Nation's John Nichols reported from Alaska that the Alaska state government seemed to have fallen into the hands of the McCain campaign, as campaign advisers sought to effectively shut down the legislature's investigation of the scandal dubbed Troopergate -- Palin's firing of her chief public safety officer.
And, New America Media's Earl Ofari Hutchinson reports word was leaking out of Alaska of an April meeting between Palin and 14 black leaders in Alaska at which, alleges Alaska African-American Historical Society President Gwen Alexander, Palin said that, as governor, she didn't have to hire blacks, and had no plans to do so. Palin spokesperson Sharon Leighow disputed the charge, telling Hutchinson "that Palin did not hire staff persons based on color, but solely on talent and skill." Hutchinson here quotes Leighgow directly: "Governor Palin is totally color-blind."
Color-blind, protected from witches and stumped when quizzed on McCain's record on regulation and her own on Russia, Palin was on the verge of being a two-time game-changer (good change, bad change) when McCain decided that game wasn't working for him anymore. Though the debate was meant to focus on foreign policy -- said to be McCain's strong suit -- questions about the economy were sure to arise. Time for a new game.
Before McCain set foot back in the nation's capital, reports Greg Sargent of TPM Election Central, Senate Majority Leader asked him not to inject presidential politics into the negotiations under way for a deal to save a raft of financial institutions with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. Early on Wednesday, the Democratic chairmen and Republican ranking members of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee announced they had arrived at an agreement that boded well for a legislative deal. Then McCain arrived, and the deal was off when House Republicans suddenly balked.
Salon's Joan Walsh questioned the wisdom of McCain's tactics for the sake of his own campaign.
Clearly McCain's gambit is political, but I think it's bad politics. I actually think a foreign-policy debate was the only hope McCain had for taking back momentum after a week in which his lifelong devotion to corporate deregulation caught up with him... it would have...provided McCain with an opportunity to taunt Obama about his opposition to the so-called surge in Iraq, and to change the subject generally -- and that could potentially be good news for McCain.
Perhaps McCain reads Walsh, because today came word that he was going back on his original word that he would not debate tonight unless there was a deal on the billions-bailout. (Word!) But that came only after McCain told the cameras after yesterday's meeting at the White House with President Bush, Barack Obama, and a host of other luminaries that the package needed some work.
Or perhaps McCain never expected Obama to call his bluff, which the Democrat apparently did when, even in the absence of a deal, he flew to Mississippi today for the debate.
Unless he aces tonight's debate, McCain may find he succeeded in creating only a momentary diversion from his troubles. More lobbyist questions have arisen. Despite McCain's promise to deliver Washington from the clutches of lobbyists, the numbers of lobbyists associated with his campaign are legend. David Corn of Mother Jones this week broke the story of Wayne Berman and James Jay Baker, "two prominent [McCain campaign] supporters" who, according to Corn, "are lobbyists for the National Rifle Association" which "recently began airing harsh attack-ads against Barack Obama." Their activities seem to break the McCain campaign's own rules.
At the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog, Steve Benen comments that revelations of the relationship between McCain transition team leader William Timmons, Sr., and Freddie Mac -- one of the companies whose near-failure sent markets spiraling downward -- seems troublesome, at best. Timmons "earned more than a quarter of a million dollars this year representing Freddie Mac," Benen writes.
John McCain personally spent most of last week railing against Barack Obama's associations with former Fannie Mae officials were extremely important, worthy of attack ads and overheated speeches. At one point, about a week ago, McCain told CBS, "[T]he influence that Fannie and Freddie had in the inside-the-beltway, old-boy network, which led to this kind of corruption is unacceptable."
As it turns out, though, Americans may not be as worried about the global financial meltdown as politicians seem to think. Mother Jones' Jonathan Stein decided to see how the term "financial crisis" fared among terms on which people conducted Google searches. (See graph in Stein's post.) "Turns out 'wizards', 'cupcakes', and 'sex toys' retain their popularity in times of national emergency," Stein writes. All outpaced the less alluring "financial crisis."
Which means, the week could end up being a bust for McCain. If trends in his home state are any clue, he may not have much pull there, either. Writing in Salon, Mike Madden, conceding that McCain will win Arizona's electoral college votes, writes:
Despite McCain, Democrats in Arizona are very much looking forward to the elections. Come November, McCain will almost certainly win his home state -- but he may find he doesn't bring a lot of Republicans to victory along with him. Instead, Democrats look likely to pick up a House seat, hold on to two others they won in 2006, and at least challenge -- if not overturn -- Republican control of the state Legislature.
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