Wednesday, September 24, 2008
We're in uncharted waters here, folks.
When it comes to politics, anyone who's lived long enough has likely seen his or her share of strange bedfellows, October Surprises, clever gimmicks and underhanded, Machiavellian machinations -- but this is something new completely. This is lunatic trickery in its absolute purest form.
What the McCain campaign is attempting right now -- what this latest desperate play amounts to at the end of every other desperate play that's come before it -- is nothing short of staggering. By announcing the temporary suspension of his campaign, John McCain hopes to lure Barack Obama into a kind of trap that only the most craven and cynical of political operatives could dream up. He truly believes that he's concocted his own little Kobayashi Maru scenario whereby Obama, no matter his move, can't win: If he agrees to McCain's ludicrous suggestion that both sides call a truce until the economic bailout bill is negotiated -- which would include postponing Friday night's debate -- McCain can claim victory; if he refuses to relent and continues to campaign even as his opponent doesn't, McCain can point to it as an example of Obama putting his own interests above those of his country. McCain once again can wrap himself in the big banner of "Country First."
It's a Hail Mary pass like nothing we've seen in American politics in, well, perhaps ever.
And it won't work -- at least not the way McCain hopes.
First of all, it would be a different story if Obama weren't lurching so far ahead in the national polls right now -- tainting what might otherwise have seemed like a moment of mad genius with the stench of utter desperation. What's more daunting, though, is how ironically unsurprising this gambit is in the context of the rest of the McCain campaign. For weeks now, we've watched McCain play parlor trick after parlor trick; tell lie upon lie; go backward then forward then sideways; issue confirmation then denial and back, all in an effort to win at any cost. He pulled Sarah Palin out of his ass to grab women voters, energize the base, and capture the narrative, then hid her from the press in the presumptuous hope that no one would notice how frighteningly unqualified she is -- to say nothing of outright dumb. He called for the head of SEC chairman Chris Cox, then the very next day called him "a good man." He threw ads on the air which made claims that weren't simply dubious, they could be disproved by any 6th grader with a laptop. He drew a hardline in the sand that in essence would plunge this country into a tense standoff not just with its enemies but with an ally, all because he was unwilling to admit that he made a mistake and misunderstood the question he was being asked in the first place.
And now, most confusingly, he sounds an alarm of American Armageddon -- saying that the current economic crisis requires that he suspend his campaign, otherwise the country will face a new Great Depression by next Monday -- when just nine days ago he declared that the fundamentals of our economy are strong.
Feel free to call all of this audaciously shrewd. Feel free to say it smacks of Rovian brilliance.
It doesn't prove McCain is crazy like a fox -- it proves he's just crazy.
The reality of what he's hoping to accomplish with this tactic is nothing so sublime as to even qualify as canny political opportunism. The reality is that McCain hopes that by moving this Friday's presidential debate to October 2nd, he can then push the debate scheduled for that night -- the vice presidential debate between Job Biden and Sarah Palin -- back, well, maybe indefinitely. He's calling a time out not only to give himself some breathing space while his team, which is down heavily with very little time left on the clock, figures out its next play -- he's doing it in the hope of keeping the cheerleader he drafted on a whim from ever having to get in the game.
Thankfully, Obama is calling him on this bullshit. He's insisting that America, now more than ever, needs to hear from the two people who are vying to become its next leader -- that there should be no mistaking what each candidate plans for the future of this nation if elected. Likewise, he's laying into McCain for the latter's tacit admission that when things get bad -- really bad -- the only option is to take a break. A president has to be able to deal with not simply one crisis but ten if necessary, and not back down, no matter the conditions.
What Barack Obama is saying, without actually coming out and saying it, is that debating the fate of our economy and every other issue confronting us is nothing less than a necessity -- a patriotic duty -- right now.
Come to think of it, Obama should go ahead and just say it:
He's the one putting "Country First."