Thursday, October 16, 2008


McCain goes hat-in-hand to Letterman. It's nice to see him admit a mistake. Twice. But he is so freaked out, you just can't imagine Obama acting like that, let alone getting himself into the situation in the first place. Note that the admission of screwing up is a bid for absolution, not a real admission that he screwed up by lying to Letterman. One doubts Obama would lie, at least so brazenly, or wouldn't have been on Katie Couric to run interference with a running mate he can't trust alone with a network news anchor.

Obama was right today, anyone who thinks it's okay to get complacent doesn't remember New Hampshire. However, I'm still thinking of last night's third and final Presidential debate, and how much it felt like we were watching the climax of John McCain's nervous breakdown. Pictures like these (oh especially that now-famous last one with his tongue hanging out in reptilian pose) don't help. But it's more like George Packer nails it in The New Yorker:
It made me sad, watching the tight-necked, pop-eyed, clenched-jawed, eyebrows-twitching, shoulders-heaving, ghoulish-smiling, rapid-blinking John McCain go from pale to translucent as he flailed away on TV last night, to remember the man I saw at a town-hall meeting in Salem, New Hampshire, last January—years ago. Back then he was witty, he was relaxed, he was appealingly combative, he was generous. For sheer talent at engaging with voters he had it all over both Obama and Clinton. The contrast now is so severe that it makes running for President seem like a personal disaster on the scale of a prolonged nervous breakdown leading to physical and psychological ruin. This campaign has done something terrible to McCain. And it’s entirely his own fault. Character is fate.
While Obama understood what he needed to do in the debates and delivered with profoundly together coolness, per Mark Kleiman (per David Gergen):

David Gergen made the most important point of the evening, one that related to all three debates and one that, I thought, Obama grasped and McCain didn't. These were only formally and secondarily clashes between Obama and McCain. The voters weren't really measuring them against each other. These debates were the final step in Barack Obama's job interview for the Presidency.

The voters (like those in 1980, as Ed Rollins pointed out yesterday) had already decided they'd had about enough of the ruling party. But they needed to be reassured that the opposition candidate wasn't a fool, a lightweight, or a kook. What mattered was whether the challenger could get above the bar, put himself in the voters' comfort zone. Once that happened, there was sure to be a landslide.

Obama's super-controlled performances were all aimed at that end. Unlike his opponent, he knows deep in his bones the difference between tactics and strategy.
Tonight Obama and McCain met again at the traditional Al Smith formal dinner in NYC, a big Catholic establishment event, as Al Smith was a failed 1920's Democratic Presidential candidate, smeared due to his then-unaccepted Catholicism. It's a foundation dinner as well, and the candidates are supposed to let down their hair with written comedic monologues that singe but don't burn, usually climaxing with a tribute to the other candidate, who's sitting right there at the dais table. This is the dinner where Al Gore was specifically not gracious about his opponent while then-Gov. Bush spoke kindly of Al as a family man, feeding into the Gore cold elitism disdain meme. So it's weird to watch McCain and then Obama speak in such a collegial setting, getting digs in but also honoring each other. I have to say that if McCain wins he'll be the most surprised guy in America, because you can see the acceptance, the this-side-of-tears resignation written all over his face.

It feels like he wants Obama to be his President. And it would certainly spare him the humiliation of his own first term. By the time this is over, he's going to be grateful to his opponent for winning, or maybe for winning in the honorable way he's on track to do.

But until then, you'll find John's navigating the gutter.

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