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 – realclearpolitics.com 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.