The Death of a Campaign

John McCain’s presidential campaign is starting to do quite poorly.  According to the latest ABC/Washington Post national polling data, Democratic hopeful Barack Obama has opened a ten point lead –  53% to 43% – over his Republican rival.  Indeed, states that “should have been” solid red like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida are turning pall shades of blue.  Obama commands such a substantial lead in the electoral college – has currently pegged it at +119 EVs – that ultra-conservative pundits like William Kristol are calling for McCain to “fire his campaign.” Looking back at the history of presidential elections, the Rush Limbaughs of the world have good reason to fret.  Unlike MLB wild-card teams in the playoffs, the electorate does not side historically with the underdog.  Since 1936, only one candidate who was trailing by more than seven percentage points in October came back to win the presidential election – Ronald Reagan.  Needless to say, McCain is a few acting roles away from being Reagan and Obama is no peanut farmer from Georgia.

So far, McCain’s frequent and cringe-inducing attempts at stirring up those same “Reaganites” by referencing Cold War initiatives like Star Wars and listing assorted former USSR heavyweights one after another have been met by either liberal laughter or ignorant silence.  At some point, apparently, McCain’s advisers forgot to tell him that the world has changed since the Soviet Union fell.  McCain’s inability to demonstrate even a tacit understanding of the information revolution or globalization highlights the gap that he is so desperately trying to push back together.  From global capital markets to the importance of international coalitions apart from single-minded and exceptionalist moves towards “coalition-building”, McCain has been unable to grapple with the new political realities he is facing.  Forever tied to the hegemonic policies of the twentieth century by his experience with the Russians and his imprisonment with the Vietnamanese, McCain is slowly watching the death of his campaign.

For sure, almost every major trend that worked for Reagan is working against McCain.  The disintegrating economy, the extremely unpopular neo-conservative presidency of George W. Bush, and the unbelievable successes of liberal voter registration organizations like ACORN have constructed a political tsunami for anyone who rides an elephant to Capitol Hill.  If you need any further proof of this George Lucas-esque “Return of the Liberals”, just watch the smile spread across the face of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) when someone mentions the word “super-majority.”  In fundraising capabilities alone, the Obama campaign is outmatching their Republican counterparts two to one. Democratic National Convention workers outside of the Starbucks I frequent have lines long enough to suggest they are giving away tickets to the Dark Knight sequel.

McCain initially tried to combat the energy of the “Left in the America” by recruiting the mascot known as Sarah Palin.  Drawing on her folksy rhetoric and utter programmability, McCain saw a chance to swing the momentum in his favor by reminding people what “Main Street” is really about.  It turns out that the reason presidential candidates don’t nominate beauty pageant contestants for their number two slot is because they tend to be poor orators.  Independent voters, who at first responded positively to the populist conservativism that is Palin, came to realize that she more closely resembled the former Miss South Carolina than anyone else.  From disastrous interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, Troopergate inquiries that recently resulted in the finding of an ethics violation, and YouTube video of Palin taking part in a ceremony to exterminate witchcraft, the golden ticket that was her selection has turned into a lump of coal.  Ironic that coal is black, because that appears to be the color the McCain campaign has forced itself into constantly, although implicitly, decrying.

Conservative pundits have been quick to say that anyone pointing out racism in the 2008 presidential election has the moral equivalency of someone yelling “Fire!” in a movie theater.  I do not disagree that race should play no factor in this election.  But, to watch the events of the last couple of weeks with anything other than sad disdain for the utter dredges that Steve Schmidt and the Rove Boys have conjured up to spite Obama, the “racism card” just got a lot easier to pull.  It is true that no one associated with McCain ever says, “Don’t elect Obama because he black.” Instead, they say, “Don’t elect Obama because he is foreign.” The contention that William Ayers has any tacit connection to Obama is ludicrous and has been repeatedly debunked since the Democratic primaries. Yet, the newest words written for Palin to speak have her holding rallies in which she claims that Obama “does not see America like you and I see America”, because he is “palling around with terrorists.”  Not only are those incendiary claims patently false, but nothing short of an invocation of closet-racism.  With antagonists of Obama yelling things at Palin rallies like, “Terrorist!”, “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!”, McCain has entirely moved into the dark side of politics.  Bob Herbert of the New York Times aptly described the situation when he wrote, “The Republican mask has slipped.”

With centrists fleeing McCain-Palin stump speeches faster than you can say “1930’s Weimar Germany”, it appears that the long road of service to his country has finally ended for John McCain.  McCain, the self-described “straight-talker” who used to consider the media his “base”, abandoned any remnants of his former honorable self when he gleefully participated in the overtly xenophobic and implicitly racist “Act III” of his campaign.  Honor turned to ambition as soon as he saw his post-convention boost sink faster and disappear longer than the sun in the Arctic Circle.  Then again, I suppose that’s what you get when you nominate a religiously fundamentalist Alaskan to your ticket.

11 thoughts on “The Death of a Campaign”

  1. I don’t see the Ayers thing being implicitly about racism. McCain definitely knows he is behind and his campaign appears to be acting desperate, but I doubt that this would be any different were he running against (and trailing) a white candidate who had a connection to Ayers.

    Is there another example of race being used by the McCain campaign?

  2. I agree that the Ayers indictment is not intrinsically racist. It is the way that the Ayers charge is being used to distort facts beyond recognition that is clearly an attempt to incite racist fear and hatred. To suggest that an American presidential candidate is “palling around with terrorists” is not a small charge, and one that would normally be laughable if the candidate was white. But Barack is black, and a lot of people hear “black guy” and “terrorist” and they reach their own conclusions, despite the fact there is little to no connection between anything radical Ayers did and Obama, who was 8 years old at the time of the bombings. Watch a video of Palin or McCain speak at a rally within the last week or two; they’re frightening gatherings of people who are admittedly racist. Yet when people say racist things, McCain and Palin do nothing to correct them. Instead, they usually smile.

    Remember the attack ad that said Obama wanted to teach kindergartners comprehensive sex education? The picture of Obama couldn’t have looked smarmier and the whole ad was dripping with racist undertones. Obama, in fact, wanted to teach kids to avoid sex predators. That is not a small difference and one that would have been just strange if Obama was white. Even George W. Bush, with the anything-goes Karl Rove at the helm, didn’t accuse Al Gore of being a child molester or a terrorist.

    McCain also recently said that he was going to “whip” Obama in the third debate. That is actually true. I’m not calling McCain a racist, but comments like that certainly makes me more inclined to.

    Here are a couple of the best articles I’ve read on the problem:

    Remember, political campaigns are all about manipulating people to come to conclusions “on their own”. Just because McCain never overtly says, “Don’t elect Barack because he is black,” doesn’t mean that he isn’t saying it other ways. Calling him a “foreigner” is a slightly less offensive way of saying it, but still absurdly xenophobic.

  3. McCain would almost definitely use the same tactics regarding Ayers against a white candidate. To call the tactic racist because Obama is black smacks of a double standard. (Full disclosure: I think the Ayers connection is ridiculous. Just not racist.)

    What McCain’s supporters think is irrelevant. Yes, there are some yahoos who don’t like Obama because he is black and are so stupid as to think that Obama is a terrorist of some kind. That doesn’t mean that what McCain is doing is racist.

    I can’t really speak to the other stuff (I’ll look at it in a few days) so I’m not saying that McCain has not been using any racist tactics, only that the Ayers thing doesn’t seem to be racist to me. Exaggerating dubious examples of McCain being racist only undermines your case.

  4. Once again, I agree that the Ayers indictment is not intrinsically racist. For instance, I could accuse you of being friends with Ayers and that would obviously not be racism. It would be stupidity.

    I disagree with your contention, however, that the McCain campaign would have still brought it up in the same manner if Obama was white. To quote McCain, I think you’re missing the strategy for the tactic. There is simply no credibility to the Ayers attack and such rhetoric can only function positively for the McCain campaign in a hate-mongering environment i.e. Palin rallies. When you say that a black guy is a terrorist to a bunch of clearly racist mobs, what is the intent? Exacerbated racism? Violence? At best, it is completely irresponsible and reckless.

    I am not saying that McCain is a racist, but, if you watch video of him reacting to audience members yelling, “Kill him!” etc…, he does not tell them they are out of place. He looked like he was kind of enjoying it until the media got wind of the story. Then, under pressure, he started countering racist supporters by saying that Obama was “decent”. This is precisely why the audience matters; not because their views are relevant to the general population, but because of how McCain reacts to them. Any responsible person would have said “Shut up, you don’t speak for me,” as Joe Biden pointed out yesterday.

    Indeed, low brow tactics are not confined to politicking against Obama. Tactics are, however, ultimately neutral events without their contextual strategy. Bush used the equally ridiculous “Swiftboat Veterans For Truth” attack against a rich white guy like John Kerry, which, on the surface, appears similar to the Ayers attack. The Swiftboat attacks also had the intention of undercutting Kerry’s experience and judgment. At no point, however, did Bush imply that Kerry was plotting to overthrow the United States and kill civilians with the intent to invoke fear. Bush never said that Kerry was himself “dangerous”, to quote Palin about Obama, but that his POLICIES were dangerous. It would have been ridiculous in the minds of the American population to say otherwise.

    McCain is playing off of the collective fear many white Americans have about a black president. That appears to be his strategy. He just won’t say it explicitly, because that would be political suicide. Why do you think the Ayers indicts weren’t mentioned at the second debate? Because only crazed racists, or people who irrationally hate “liberals”, would be willing to connect those dots.

  5. “I disagree with your contention, however, that the McCain campaign would have still brought it up in the same manner if Obama was white.”

    Here’s the crux of my objection: We can’t tell what manner McCain would have brought this subject up were he running against a white candidate (though I think we both believe McCain definitely WOULD bring it up.) I maintain McCain’s campaign would use the Ayers-Attack in much the same manner. That it would be less effective against a white candidate is no indication of racism, only of deep stupidity among a portion of Americans.

    Your memory of the Bush campaign never having said “that Kerry was himself ‘dangerous’… but that his POLICIES were dangerous” is rosy but ultimately inaccurate. See: and: . I know those articles don’t mention Kerry “palling around with terrorists” but surely the Bush campaign would have made that connection had it been there.

    The Ayers-smears are incredibly stupid and deserve to be torn apart by commentators liberal and conservative alike. I am disappointed (though not surprised) that the McCain campaign’s response to the racists in the crowd has been so subdued. It is clear that he has been irresponsible; it’s not clear that he’s been racist.

  6. With regards to the crux of your objection – fair enough, but watch some of the other ads that the McCain campaign has been running. The sex education ad was the worst, but the one with Obama superimposed in front of prison bars is also pretty sketchy.

    As for Bush v. Kerry, we’ll never know if they would have made those connections, much like your contention that we don’t know if McCain would have made the Ayres claim against a white candidate.

    On your last point, I think we’re in agreement. Thanks for the discussion.

  7. Eh. Watch yesterday’s episode of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC’s website. It’s a very small improvement in reality. Not to mention that it was a solely political move. Nothing about McCain’s or Palin’s judgment told them to fix it until they saw their numbers plummet.

  8. “Not to mention that it was a solely political move. Nothing about McCain’s or Palin’s judgment told them to fix it until they saw their numbers plummet.”

    Call me a cynic, but that’s precisely what’s encouraging to me–that silly scare tactics are not working and that politicians using them are seeing a dip in poll numbers.

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