Sunday, October 19, 2008

Frank Rich Nails What Is Wrong With McCain

I might say that is wrong with McCain's campaign but if McCain is not in charge of his campaign then his lack of control only shows another weakness of McCain. Here is some of what Rich wrote:

As the G.O.P.’s long night of the long knives begins, myths are already setting in among the right’s storm troops and the punditocracy alike as to what went wrong. And chief among them are the twin curses of Bush and the “headwinds” of the economy. No Republican can win if the party’s incumbent president is less popular than dirt, we keep being told, or if a looming Great Depression 2 is Issue No. 1.

This is an excuse, not an explanation. It absolves McCain of much of the blame and denies Obama much of the credit for their campaigns. It arouses pity for McCain when he deserves none. It rewrites history.

Bush’s impact on the next Republican presidential candidate did not have to be so devastating. McCain isn’t, as he and his defenders keep protesting, a passive martyr to a catastrophic administration. He could have made separating himself from Bush the brave, central and even conservative focus of his campaign. Far from doing that, he embraced the Bush ethos — if not the incredible shrinking man himself — more tightly than ever. The candidate who believes in “country first” decided to put himself first and sell out his principles. That ignoble decision is what accounts for both the McCain campaign’s failures and its sleaze. It’s a decision McCain made on his own and for which he has yet to assume responsibility.

Though it seems a distant memory now, McCain was a maverick once. He did defy Bush on serious matters including torture, climate change and the over-the-top tax cuts that bankrupted a government at war and led to the largest income inequality in America since the 1930s. But it isn’t just his flip-flopping on some of these and other issues that turned him into a Bush acolyte. The full measure of McCain’s betrayal of his own integrity cannot even be found in that Senate voting record — 90 percent in lockstep with the president — that Obama keeps throwing in his face.

The Bushian ethos that McCain embraced, as codified by Karl Rove, is larger than any particular vote or policy. Indeed, by definition that ethos is opposed to the entire idea of policy. The whole point of the Bush-Rove way of doing business is that principles, coherent governance and even ideology must always be sacrificed for political expediency, no matter the cost to the public good.

Like McCain now, Bush campaigned in 2000 as a practical problem-solver who could “work across the partisan divide,” as he put it in his first debate with Al Gore. He had no strong views on any domestic or foreign issue, except taxes and education. Only after he entered the White House did we learn his sole passion: getting and keeping power. That imperative, not the country, would always come first.
I read this while listening to Colin Powell's interview on Meet the Press. McCain comes across as wanting the White House because he deserves to be President because he is 1) John McCain and 2) he is a Republican.

Interesting that Palin bothered General Powell. He calls her an indication that the Republicans are moving even further right. That is about as close as anyone else has come to asking if Palin is truly a Republican or something that only looks like a Republican. Rich also mentions Palin:
If politics strongarm everything, you end up with the rampant cronyism, nonexistent long-term planning and abrupt, partisan policy improvisations that fed the calamities of Iraq, Katrina and the economic meltdown. Incredibly, McCain has nakedly endorsed the Bush-Rove brand of governance in his own campaign by assembling his personal set of lobbyist cronies and Rove operatives to run it. They have not only entangled him in a welter of conflicts of interest, but they’ve furthered cynical political stunts like the elevation of Sarah Palin. At least Bush and Rove didn’t try to put an unqualified hack like, say, Alberto Gonzales half a heartbeat away from the presidency.
I wait for the day that we get the full story of her selection. Every day I thank he did not select Romney, but her talents and how this campaign used those talents tell a story. I suspect that we have not heard the last of Mrs. Palin - she may come to represent the far right wing of the Republican Party as a victim. (Unless the Alaskans dispose of her first. Take a look at Troopergate from The Atlantic.com.)

David Brooks puts the final nail in the idea of Obama as raving loonie leftie:
He doesn’t have F.D.R.’s joyful nature or Reagan’s happy outlook, but he is analytical. That’s why this William Ayers business doesn’t stick. He may be liberal, but he is never wild. His family is bourgeois. His instinct is to flee the revolutionary gesture in favor of the six-point plan.

Of course, it’s also easy to imagine a scenario in which he is not an island of rationality in a sea of tumult, but simply an island. New presidents are often amazed by how much they are disobeyed, by how often passive-aggressiveness frustrates their plans.

***

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull.
The day after the debate, I had the misfortune to listen to Rush Limbaugh. I was stuck in the car and trying to stay awake and could think of anything better than yelling at Rush's idiocy. Limbaugh floated the idea that the media was at fault for McCain's failure in the debates. Having watched the debate on MSNBC and listened to their commentary (McCain won), I think the MSNBC pundits and Rush missed a point. The point being we all saw McCain's behavior. Again, going back to Frank Rich who got it right:
The former Bush speechwriter David Frum has facetiously written that McCain could be rescued by “a 5,000-point rise in the Dow and a 20 percent jump in home prices.” But the economy, stupid, can’t be blamed for McCain’s own failures, any more than Bush can be. Even before the housing bubble burst and Wall Street tumbled, voters could see that the seething, impulsive nominee isn’t temperamentally fit to be president.

That’s where the debates have come in. There may have been none of those knockout blows the press craves, but the accretional effect has been to teach the public that McCain isn’t steady enough to run the country even if the economy were sound, and that Obama just might be.
Joe Scarborough just mentioned that Palin and the the attack post-convention raised McCain. He said but for the economic/financial meltdown things might have been different. I like listening to Joe but he misses the point (more likely he just ignores it in an attempt to find something good for McCain) - a President has no chance to dictate what events will come his way. Bush had no desire for 9/11, FDR did not plan on Pearl Harbor, Herbert Hoover had no wish for the Great Depression, and you can probably add more to that very short list. We judge those Presidents on how they dealt with the unexpected, and so we need to judge McCain on how he dealt with the unexpected economic/financial meltdown as part of his campaign. (I also suggest taking a look at James Fallows' Last words from me about debates until 2012 (at the soonest) from The Atlantic.com; Brooks also has a good review of the last debate).

The Atlantic.com published More Racism, Please which gives another perspective on the errors of the McCain campaign:
What went wrong with McCain’s attacks? The audience’s shouted slurs ruined the classical Republican approach of plausibly deniable racism. Imagine if at the old boy's country club someone said, “Well, I’m not sure the Cohens would fit in here.” Wink wink. And his buddy responded, “Oh yeah. You mean because they’re Jews, right?” It ruins the ruse, like the sitcom stooge who asks “Hey, why are you kicking me under the table?”
I leave with this paragraph from Frank Rich because it is another instance where he writes what has been on my mind (and he does write better than I do):
At least McCain had half a point on Wednesday night when he said, “I am not President Bush.” What he has offered his country this year is an older, crankier, more unsteady version of Bush. Tragically, he can no sooner escape our despised president than he can escape himself.

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