Presidential politics ran on two tracks this week. Barack Obama roaming the world to widespread applause and great pictures. And John McCain and his campaign griping about it all.
For Thursday, McCain, a noted gambler, thought he had an ace in the hole to counter Obama's big Berlin speech. He would chopper out from Louisiana to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Which would do two things. Remind everyone he was a naval aviator. And push his big new theme that more offshore oil drilling is the way to bring down sky-high gas prices. (The existence of which he blames on Obama, curiously, in his latest TV ad, ignoring that gas prices have tripled under President Bush.) All with really cool pix.
But his campaign had to cancel late Wednesday, officially because of the threat of inclement weather from nearby Hurricane Dolly. Which might have been a tip right there that the whole offshore drilling thing is, as putative panaceas go, pretty problematic.
McCain reportedly bemoaned the lost opportunity all yesterday.
It's somewhat surprising he's upset it didn't happen, as I think it would have been a real debacle.
Here are six reasons he is very fortunate he ended up at Schmidt's Sausage Haus -- no relation to campaign director Steve Schmidt -- in Ohio yesterday, rather than on a pitching oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico:
1. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, all offshore oil drilling opponents, were all scheduled to be in New Orleans to promote their national infrastructure project the same day as McCain's fandango off the coast of Louisiana. One, Schwarzenegger, is one of McCain's most famous backers, who has several times already derided the offshore drilling scheme. Another, Bloomberg, is a rumored running mate. As it happens, Schwarzenegger had to cancel Wednesday afternoon, on account of the state's ongoing budget crisis. But he would have been asked about it again had the stunt occurred. And Bloomberg and Rendell were in Louisiana, also at the ready to criticize McCain's move.
2. McCain would have had to answer questions about his evidently false statement attributing a $10 a barrel drop in oil prices to Bush's executive order on offshore drilling. It was after he made this gaffe that he exited a town hall meeting without doing his constant press avail.
3. He would have had to answer overall questions about offshore drilling as a false way to bring down current gas prices, since it would take a very long time for it to impact prices. McCain reversed his long-held position against offshore oil drilling, and attacks Obama in his new ad for continuing his opposition to offshore drilling, thus, somehow, causing high gasoline prices. However, the federal government's own energy information agency noted just last year that it would probably take some 22 years before new offshore drilling would have a significant impact on prices at the pump.
4. Then there is the matter of Hurricane Dolly. If it's a problem for the would-be next President of the United States to take a helicopter out to the rig because of a hurricane in the vicinity, isn't that a problem for his new energy policy?
5. There was also a big oil spill in the Mississippi River flowing into the Gulf. Very awkward timing, to say the least. And bad pictures. Over 400,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil spilled into the Mississippi River after a collision between a tanker and a barge, creating a picturesque 12-mile oil spill.
6. Finally, there is the matter of McCain's constant efforts to cut into Obama's media from abroad. He and the campaign were actually quite nasty about this, with a lot of personal denigration of Obama from staff and not one but two web videos deriding the press. And McCain himself practically called Obama a traitor, declaring that the freshman Illinois senator "would rather lose a war than lose a campaign."
Stunt choppering out to an oil rig to try to cut into the news flow wouldn't have looked too good.
As one top Republican consultant said, "Mac should have gone on vacation this week. This looks bad." Or maybe just done his thing campaigning intensively in a big swing state.
Instead of griping about missing his big opportunity on that Gulf oil rig, McCain should be thanking his lucky stars he didn't make it out there to face a raft of embarrassing questions and about 200,000 fewer people than were cheering on Obama and waving American flags in Berlin.