McCain as Eeyore, and the “Dow of poo”
Posted by James McPherson on October 7, 2008
John McCain’s Desperation Express continues, with McCain and Sarah Palin furiously throwing mud as fast as they can, inciting crowds to scream hateful and scary epithets, hoping something will stick to Barack Obama–even as they hope that such tactics don’t bring too much attention to such things as McCain’s involvement with the Keating Five or his involvement with the radical Council of World Freedom (think neocons plus Iran-Contra scandal–gee, what could go wrong?). Not to mention Palin’s “Troopergate” problems, her “witch doctor” pastor, or her husband’s involvement with a separatist organization that advocates Alaska’s possible succession from the union.
It’s turning so ugly that even the slash-and-burn media that normally thrive on scandal and controversy are becoming disgusted by it. In the meantime, the tactics–once denounced by McCain–don’t seem to be working anyway, and are turning off even some conservatives who weren’t already abandoning ship because of Palin’s clear lack of qualifications, and who recognize that the attacks are an attempt to avoid discussion of the economy.
Obviously many Republicans still think McCain can win (as do skittish Democrats, particularly those concerned about the possibility of stolen elections in Ohio, Florida, fictional Springfield, and elsewhere). With a month to go, they’re right, but McCain’s odds grow longer each day. Barring unforeseen and dramatic events, the final two debates are his last chance to turn the tide, and even there his timing is bad. While time as a POW forty years ago doesn’t qualify anyone to be president or make someone a foreign politcy expert, such experience is even less relevant to economic expertise–McCain’s admitted weakness.
Tonight’s debate will feature the “town hall forum” that McCain generally likes, but such forums work best for candidates who are viewed as affable and compassionate. The strategy adopted by the McCain campaign, however, is neither of those, and he may find himself on the defensive against an audience (which, unlike with his previous forums, will not be made up of Republican supporters) that is more concerned with keeping their own jobs (or someday being able to retire from them) than with helping some rich guy from either party get a new job.
A defensive McCain can come across as an angry McCain, probably the worst tone he could adopt tonight. As Slate’s John Dickerson points out, “One thing we know: You don’t want Joe Six Pack calling you out.” Or a hockey mom, for that matter. One oddity not discussed enough in the media is how McCain keeps blaming his propensity for lying on Obama’s unwillingness to engage in more town hall meetings. Another problem for a candidate trying to make up ground, based on a half-dozen conversations I’ve had today, is that potential debate viewers disdane what has happened to the process. “I’ll probably watch part of it, but if it’s like the campaign has been lately, I’ll turn it off,” one coworker said about the debate.
What most Americans care most about right now is the plunging Dow and other negative economic aspects. Like Winnie the Pooh, their concerns are relatively simple and immediate, not about someone who engaged in bad behavior when Obama was 8 years old or McCain’s experience as a POW. And while the donkey is a Democratic symbol, it is McCain who is coming across as the old, gray, pessimistic, thistle-eating Eeyore who is yet again about to lose his tail.
Assuming the next two debates don’t dramatically change the electoral map–and I predict they won’t–I have another bit of advice for John McCain: “Live up to your motto, ‘Country first.’ Admit that your campaign is essentially defeated, and that it’s time to get to work on problems. Start talking about how conservatives and liberals can work together to solve tough problems. Note the great things about being an American, and how you’ll continue to work with anyone to make the country even stronger. Send Palin home to Alaska, tell your surrogates to shut up, and offer to turn over any money left over from your campaign to people who are losing their homes or jobs. Now that would be a ‘maverick’ thing to do. It might even restore your once positive image, and conceivably turn the election from a potential rout to a close contest.”