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Friday, August 1, 2008

The Wall Street Journal - yes, the same one now owned by News Corp head Rupert Murdoch - published a column today by Daniel Henninger that, in our meme-obsessed political media, should gain some real traction. Especially since it raises a far more important question than any they've been discussing in the few days. (Though I will comment on the "race card" nonsense very soon.)

Daniel Henninger wonders aloud whether John McCain is stupid:
On Sunday, he said on national television that to solve Social Security "everything's on the table," which of course means raising payroll taxes. On July 7 in Denver he said: "Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I won't."

This isn't a flip-flop. It's a sex-change operation...

What I'm asking is, does John McCain have the mental focus, the intellectual discipline, to avoid being out-slicked by Barack Obama, if he isn't abandoned by his own voters?...

The one thing -- arguably the only thing -- the McCain candidacy has going for it is a sense among voters that they don't know what Barack Obama stands for or believes. Why then would Mr. McCain give voters reason to wonder the same thing about himself? You're supposed to sow doubt about the other guy, not do it to yourself.

Yes, Sen. McCain must somehow appeal to independents and blue-collar Hillary Democrats. A degree of pandering to the center is inevitable. But this stuff isn't pandering; it's simply stupid. Al Gore's own climate allies separated themselves from his preposterous free-of-oil-in-10-years whopper. Sen. McCain saying off-handedly that it's "doable" is, in a word, thoughtless.

He expounds below:

While calling for all guns on deck with his recent, virulent and vitriolic attacks, John McCain has accidentally pointed them at himself.

His negative advertising was expected well in advance by the Obama team. While they did their damnedest to exploit Obama's fairly innocuous "dollar-bill" statement (and Obama should've known better to even crack the door open), they'll get a day's action out of that, tops. Plus, the media's already noted that Obama said something even more explicit several weeks ago - the "did I mention he's Black?" comment - and seems to have collectively shrugged its shoulders. (Here, the race-baiting of Hillary Clinton's campaign appears to have finally produced something positive - the collective exhaustion of the media with regard to race.)

The all-negative, all-the-time approach of the McCain campaign only serves to highlight the fact that Senator McCain's candidacy is an increasingly empty one. As much as the racist Pat Buchanan tries to smear Obama by saying that a mere response to a negative ad is evidence that the ad "works", he provides us a useful measure to evaluate Obama's foreign trip. If Obama's trip was so ineffective, as the Republicans claim, then why has McCain put Obama so frantically on full blast?

Granted, some of the polls show McCain's drive-by is bearing some fruit. But what does this mean for his overall campaign? Sure, demonizing the Democrat is sure to win back some of those GOPers that had been hesitant to support him and still may stay home on November 4. And as Salon's Joe Conason notes, his deal with the very devils that destroyed him in 2000 began long ago. But what about the independents, or the aforementioned Hillary Holdouts that he seeks to woo? Is this at all a smart strategy for the long-term? As Conason notes, even his beloved "base", the media, is to the point of pleading with the Arizona senator to be the guy they fell in love with again. No one seems to know what the hell is up with this guy:
For many of the journalists who regard John McCain as an unusually honorable politician, listening to his increasingly dishonorable campaign rhetoric is a painful and puzzling experience. They are openly wondering what has driven him to denigrate and even smear Barack Obama in a style more reminiscent of McCain's old enemies in his own party than the straight-talking maverick. They want to believe that he has not really changed, and that somehow these lapses can be blamed on someone else. Like a spouse in a bad marriage, they have yet to face up to the fact that he actually changed years ago -- or to ask if he was ever the man they once thought he was.

McCain's ahead in the short term, but it looks as though this may be damaging to him in the end - especially since Obama was smart enough to pre-empt this stuff long ago. So was going so desperately negative a wise strategy?

Considering that McCain's honor is his selling point and not his Bushist policy, how could it be?

Henninger agrees:
The forces arrayed against Sen. McCain's candidacy are formidable: an unpopular president, the near impossibility of extending Republican White House rule for three terms, the GOP trailing in races at every level, a listless fundraising base, doubtful sentiments about the war, a flailing economy.

The generic Democratic presidential candidate should win handily. Barack Obama, though vulnerable at the margin, is a very strong candidate. This will be a turnout election. To win, Mr. McCain needs every Republican vote he can hold.

And even that may not be enough. Smarten up, Senator. (Or better yet, don't.)


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