John McCain has to be pleased that this week is finally over. Following ten full days of neverending foulups and foolhardy gambles, for better or worse the pressure of the first faceoff was relieved. The polling results over the next few days might not fall in his favor, but the margins would be recoverable. Days before the final thirty day dead sprint to the White House, the weekend following the first debate afforded both sides a rare Sabbath. For a maverick moved to bold indiscretion, Saturday morning must have been a welcome sight.
But after this brief calm passes, the snarky aside to his opponent during Friday’s debate will come to haunt John McCain. In the height of McCain’s recurring condescension over the ninety minute debate, McCain alleged Barack Obama didn’t know the difference between tactics and strategy. The comment seemed particularly hollow given the performance of McCain and his campaign in the week that passed. For his entire political career, McCain’s strategy has been forever impaired by imprudent and unnecessary tactical gambles. Putting a premium on decisiveness comes with a cost that too often leaves John McCain in untenable situations, often with none to blame but himself. This week was no exception.
Thursday night, pressing by Tom Brokaw on a decision on his debate attendance, John McCain replied to Brokaw’s common cliche by affirming, “Well Tom, I am a betting man.” Within the context of the week that was, that statement was the most accurate he had made. Erratic zigzags marred every political move made by his campaign since the meltdown proper began, leaving McCain on a defensive entirely of his own doing going into Oxford. A host of tactical blunders had him painted into a corner.
1. Firing the SEC Chairman
Immediately following the AIG bailout announcement, McCain submitted a statement to the press suggesting that Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission, should be fired. His cries that Cox had fallen asleep on the switch ultimately fell on deaf ears. Repeated for only a few days on the campaign trail, McCain’s scapegoating barely got any attention from anyone, let alone the Obama campaign. The week passed without any action from the White House whose attention was focused on selling Paulson’s bailout, leaving McCain looking like a bananahead.
2. Cloistering Sarah Palin
After enduring a month of limited access, CNN finally told staffers to stick it when reporters were barred from Wednesday’s Palin / Karzai photo spray. Sensing a serious press corps revolt on the horizon, the McCain campaign finally relented and sent Sarah Palin into the now infamous interview with Katie Couric. Another tactical miscalculation in reaction to a strategic mistake, Palin’s crash and burn rendered her unable to participate in post-debate spin for fear of further exposing her incapability.
Source: Daily Kos
Further, options for loosening the access restrictions are limited before the debate with a Palin interview win/loss record that now stands 0-2. The month spent cramming for to handle press questions has now left her in a precarious position. With less than a week left to go, her unsteadiness in unscripted situations now virtually assure every waking hour spent in debate prep while the press corps has nothing to write about but the previous week’s fuckup.
Had a painful baptism of fire been endured by the campaign early on, Palin may have gotten a handle on the extemporaneous skills needed to survive a national campaign. As it is, half her campaign calendar has been squandered keeping her from the press to avoid an impromptu meltdown, virtually assuring she will be unable evade either. After the interview, right-wing writers are calling for her dismissal and her unfavorable internals are in freefall. Now the stakes in her faceoff with Biden have elevated from must-not-fail to must-not-lose.
3. Threatening the No Show
A retard rodeo by every measure possible, McCain’s campaign “suspension” drew vigorous derision by the likes of David Letterman and Jon Stewart, questions of capability by his opponent, and even accusations of posturing by his Republican Congressional colleagues. The delay was never a serious option for McCain and waiting until Friday morning to commit served only to cement the folly of the stunt.
Merely suggesting it implied impulsiveness. Following through to the 11th hour only to reverse course broadcasted recklessness.
4. The White House Powwow
Source: Intrade Prediction Markets
Looking to snatch the claim of closer for the bailout deal, McCain requested and received a meeting at the White House with the principals of the bailout, including President Bush, party leadership and a reluctant opponent. What may have been a smart play on Tuesday had by Thursday afternoon corroded the negotiations into political protectionism.
Another tactical misread, McCain sought to be seen as the saviour of a bailout close and in so doing close his own claim to the White House. Unwittingly falling into exactly the condition Obama described at the week’s beginning, by the time everyone made it to the table, friend and foe were so entrenched for fear of losing limelight the discussion descended into unproductive bedlam.
McCain walks out without a deal, leaving nothing to show for the substantial withdrawl in his Congressional capital account.
The chorus of Democrats calling for a more aggressive Barack Obama is one I’ve joined, singing a sympathetic tenor lamenting missed opportunities. As McCain’s campaign strategy continues to get boxed in by tactical blunders, calls for Obama to capitalize have been frequent, but largely unheeded. Last night’s debate was endemic of a Barack loathe to empty a broadside into the exposed side of his opponent’s ship. We’re all worried his cool prudence may sacrifice our best shot at turning around this compassionate conservative nightmare that has proven to be neither compassionate nor conservative.
But, after the first debate’s clear, but not overwhelming, Obama victory, I’m beginning to come around to the conclusion that he might be wiser than us all. In the longview, Barack Obama’s behavior may prove less to be overly prudent and more fully presidential. An hour in, Obama’s smile was evidence that he knows something that all of us don’t. That this campaign was playing exactly as he would like, giving John McCain and Sarah Palin just enough rope to hang themselves.
In so doing, he defeats his opponent, but not to such a humiliating degree that he is uncooperative in a future that will definitely need both John McCain and Barack Obama. On Inauguration Day, I hope John McCain remembers the feverish Friday night where he failed to look his opponent in the eye. And when Barack Obama returns a firm McCain handshake on that triumphant day, I hope McCain will be convinced that the man before him is perhaps more presidential than any this nation has seen.