The hard times continue for Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who this week pulled up his stakes in Michigan, a state his campaign once thought worth contesting.
In the progressive cyberspace, we find McCain ever-so-slightly better off than the week began, on account of the fact that his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, failed to fulfill the dreams of liberals, a dream that would have had her imploding on the podium in a torrent of stammers, a potentiality foreshadowed by her supernova performance in a multi-part interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric.
In March, McCain changed his mind on waterboarding, voting to sustain President Bush's veto of a bill that would have banned U.S. interrogators from the practice; he seemed to be rewarded this week with a metaphorical version of a more traditional water torture, as steady drip, drip, drip of mortifying Palin responses to Couric's questions leaked daily out of CBS over the course of a week. Palin couldn't name the newspapers she read, the Supreme Court decisions she opposed (excepting Roe), explain why Alaskan proximity to Russia made her a foreign policy expert, or give more than one narrow example of John McCain's support for regulation of the financial sector.
Thursday Hnight, facing off with Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, Palin lived to fight another day, playing the game by her own rules, declaring to Biden that she "may not answer the questions the way you or the moderator want me to." Indeed, observed many progressive bloggers, she answered the questions she wanted to be asked, whether they were asked of her or not.
Earlier in the week, the McCain campaign began making noise about the fact that moderator Gwen Ifill, host of PBS's "Washington Week in Review" and an African-American, was the author of a forthcoming book about race and the Obama campaign. The inference by McCain campaign operatives was one of a lurking bias toward the Obama camp, even though McCain himself said he had no problem with Ifill moderating the debate. But, wrote Greg Sargent of TMP Election Central, the merits of the argument are beside the point.
At bottom, though, debating whether there's any merit in the attack on Ifill is beside the point, because as this is really just a transparent game, of course. The criticism is about trying to spook the moderators into going easy on Palin -- a "time-honored form of pre-debate spin," as [the Politico's] Ben Smith put it.
And, indeed, some commentators suggested that Ifill tossed softballs at Palin most of the night, and rarely challenged either candidate when they strayed from her questions.
Some feared that the novelty of Palin's gender posed perils for Joe Biden and commentators alike.Before the debate began, famed feminist Robin Morgan, writing at the Women's Media Center site, offered this helpful guide to those covering Palin:
Do investigate Palin's opposition to listing polar bears and other animals as endangered. Do not call her one: no chick, bird, kitten, bitch, hen, cow. Also no produce: tomato, peach, etc.
Morgan also reports that, like Palin, both of John McCain's wives were beauty queens.
In truth, Palinpalooza proved to be a mere sideshow to what appears to be chaos and confusion in the McCain camp. Last week saw McCain claiming to suspend his campaign to return to Washington to broker a deal on a financial bailout bill for which a deal appeared to have been reached before McCain showed up. Once he was on the ground the deal fell apart when a majority of House Republicans balked at what was on the table.
At first, wrote Ben Craw on Sept. 30 at Talking Points Memo, McCain pointed the finger at his opponent, then said he didn't:
To review: yesterday John McCain said in consecutive sentences, "Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to fix the blame"...
In a new interview with ABC News's Ron Claiborne however, McCain says he never blamed nobody...
According to Mark Schmitt, editor of The American Prospect, the House Republicans' rebuke of McCain and the first version of the bailout package is symptomatic of a problem much bigger for Republicans than any immediate concern:
Republican strategist Ed Rollins gave the game away on CNN: "At the end of the day, there's a lot of people thinking about how to rebuild this party, and do we want to rebuild it with John McCain, who's always kind of questionable on the basic facts of fiscal control, all the rest of it, immigration..."
The Republican coalition since at least Reagan has been a miraculous alliance of Wall Street and Main Street. Populist politics, such as the attack on "elites" now embodied by the enthusiasm for Gov. Sarah Palin, were the vehicle for Wall Street policies, the very policies that led to the crash. The alliance always seemed unsustainable.
Trying to straddle the factions of that "miraculous alliance" may well have proved the undoing of John McCain, according to Edward McClelland, writing at Salon:
McCain has run for the presidency twice, as two completely different candidates. His campaigns and his image have been shaped by the nasty partisanship of the late 20th and early 21st century, an era that may be remembered as the Late Culture Wars.
Writers loved McCain during his first run for the presidency, in 2000. But eight years later, they think he's a flip-flopping hack.
McClelland's essay comes to us in the form of a review of four books about John McCain, authored, respectively, by David Foster Wallace, Paul Begala, Cliff Schecter and Matthew Welch -- and argues for occasional forays by news junkies into the erudite realm of book reviews.
Addressing more immediate matters, Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones and Tim Fernholz of TAPPED give us the low-down on two conference calls with reporters by the McCain camp.
On Wednesday, Stein detected something of a ringer on a press call with McCain surrogate Rudy Giuliani:
The second question was from someone named Chuck Pardee. Pardee asserted that Tina Fey and many reporters make their living "embellishing the facts." After criticizing the press for treating Sarah Palin unfairly, Pardee concluded*:
"Do you think embellishing the facts is actually what the concerned voter is after? And specifically, Joe Biden seems to embellish and forget facts just to kind of impress people but when you take Sarah Palin she seems to impress others with her quick study without embellishing the facts. In other words do you think people want a straight shooter or do they want the stuff and fluff?"
Pardee, by the way, is the "founder and president" of Newsbull.com. He has donated the maximum $2,300 to McCain.
TAPPED's Fernholz, on the next day's called, reported a new "aggressiveness" on the part of the campaign:
But McCain political director Mike Duhaime and senior adviser Greg Strimple aren't worried, because they're aggressive -- in fact, everyone's aggressive. The word came up about 50 times in the call, used to describe everything from Obama's liberalism to President Bush! (Amateur psychologists, make of it what you will.) They also promised an aggressive last 30 days, which is no surprise as conventional wisdom is beginning to coalesce around the idea that the McCain camp needs to/will go negative to win.
That's because the polls continue to bode ill for McCain.
Also boding ill for McCain was an ad by Brave New PAC and Democracy for America that was airing on MSNBC, before Fox's Bill O'Reilly started slamming the rival network about it. The ad raises questions on the state of McCain's health, which some viewers found offensive.
In other health-related campaign news, Doug Cunningham of Workers Independent News reports that the AFL-CIO is targeting voters in battleground states with a leafletting campaign challenging McCain's health plan.
And so concludes another wild week in campaignland.
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