Monday, September 29, 2008
The Week Just Past. A New Monday Feature.
After three days of erratic-appearing fumbles on the bailout crisis, John McCain returned to the debate stage last week the underdog, lucking out in the economic portion but whiffing a real chance to trump his opponent-- rallying on the foreign policy segment, swinging a roundhouse right therecontrasting his grizzled experience with his opponents naiveteto win the first bout on points. Thats my opinion, but surprisingly most polls and focus groups say his opponent won decisively which might signal the almost irresistible public mood against Republicans.
The cruel rumor spread by his enemies that McCain has a loosened cerebral wire from his 5-year POW encampment, gained followers unjustifiably at the beginning of last week as he gained eye-popping attention following the Wall Street meltdown. When he announced he was suspending his campaign and his participation in the first debate at the University of Mississippi, Republican operatives groaned. Liberal Democrat Chris Matthews on MSNBC said it was because McCain feared to debate the formidable Barack Obama. But even knowledgeable liberals including David Axelrod (Obamas chief strategist) said privately, please! McCain had been taunting Obama to debate for nine months and he was running away now? The cowardice charge spawned only in Catholic pro-abort Matthews fevered brainso leftish that even the Democratic shill MSNBC had dropped him from anchor duties next election night.
The real story: As he was preparing for the debate, McCain got word that a huge bloc of Republican House members were unalterably opposed to the Bush-Paulson plan to rescue Wall Street with taxpayers money and for good reason. They saw Bush-Paulson as having too little oversight: McCain agreed. They wanted a voice in the deal and felt left out by Bush and Paulson. They insisted on pay curbs for Wall Streeters: McCain not only agreed but insisted, pointing out that no one should be paid more than the president of the U. S., $400,000 a year (although the CEO of Goldman Sachs makes more than that in two days). They pointed out a hidden joker that would convey a slush fund for ACORN: McCain was appalled. They cited favoritism for the trial bar: McCain readily agreed. Most of all they wanted an FDIC-style insurance program for the toxic assets the rescue would address without taxpayer risk. He quickly assented.
Now he saw himself in a dilemma. On one hand, as Republican nominee he could be blamed for leading a party that went along with risking $700 billion to shore up Wall Street multi-millionaires without the aforementioned reforms. On the other, his chestnuts would be in the fire if the package failed due to lack of GOP support and it triggered a Depression. So he did the right thing, decided to temporarily suspend his campaign, ditch the debate, go back to Washington to muscle himself into the negotiating fray to change the package and be seen with sleeves rolled-up working night-and-day while Obama would be seen merely talking. By intervening in behalf of the House Republicans, he saw that most of the issues they cared about got included in the final package. Much of the credit for the improved package should go to McCainalthough due to the liberal medias intransigence in blocking it, it wont. But the p.r. he earned was awful.
But It Had to Be Done.
At the time, all McCains aides disagreed with him, saying this abrupt change in tactics suspending his campaign, ditching the debate would give Obama the full stage at Old Miss. But as with so many other things, it is impossible to dislodge the old fighter pilot once he opens the throttle. (No one since Andrew Jackson ironically the last POW to become president has operated so freely on instinct as this similarly battle-scarred warrior). So the nation was informed the McCain campaign would be on hold and if the show was to go on at Old Miss it would have to be held without McCain. For this he took a series of salvos, from Democrats and some Republicans.
In a very real sense, it would be, in football terms, a desperate long-range forward pass with a low percentage chance of completion (first named by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, a Catholic, for his game-winning heave on Dec. 28, 1975 in the NFC semifinal playoff game. Staubach, threw the ball toward the goalposts at the opposite end of the field and breathed this prayer: Holy Mary/ Full of grace/ I hope someones down there, someplace. Lo a Cowboy caught it and raced for a touchdown. Such desperate political passes rarely connect. But by signaling he would once again hurl a Hail Maryhe gained the onus as more than a maverick, a real wild card of unstable personal demons.
The 2 Prior Hail Marys.
The first came when, the only vocal supporter of winning the war in Iraq among Republican contenders who were parsing their views, McCain discovered his unpopularity was falling to 4th among the GOP contenders and his money dwindling away precipitously. McCain fired his senior staff, directed his campaign live off the land--and rather than trim his sails called for a surge more troops to be sent right away to Iraq. Luckily his call coincided with a decision by Bush to shift direction of the fighting to Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus himself agreed on a surge, sold Bush on it. The surge worked in short range. McCains forward pass connected. His fortunes rose, money poured in by the zillions and he returned to top billing among the candidates.
The second: All but nominated, he saw his candidacy fading because Obama fresh-faced, exciting seemed to have a corner on the issue of change. While his staff was interfering nice but dull candidates for vice presidentMitt Romney of Massachusetts, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesotathe old man slyly intimated he might pick liberal Democrat Joe Lieberman (Connecticut) or pro-abort Republican Tom Ridge (Pennsylvania) which threw the media off the scent. All the while he had sent a private emissary up to Anchorage to interview a young lady governor McCain had met only a few times but with whom he had been early impressed: an exciting gutsy 5-star social conservative, not only pro-life but who celebrated her 5th babys birth, an infant with Down syndrome. The pass sent his campaign soaring and baffled the Obama people into a gaffe-ridden three weeks as they hemorrhaged female votes including angry-Hillary supporters like Lynn Forrester de Rothschild the liberal feminist multi-millionaire announcing exuberantly for McCain.
Two long-range passes without a receiver in view in one campaign was scary enough but now McCain had hurled yet anotherthe decision to suspend his campaign and not show up at the first climactic debate in favor of getting House Republicans to conservatize a rescue package for which he could get the credit. So he said he was pulling his TV commercials and would forsake the debate because of national emergency. But to this Obama responded sagely, brilliantly, saying that the definition of a president for these times is someone who can walk and chew gum at the same time and the idea of suspension was crotchety: therefore he, Obama, would continue. McCains pass floated in the air seemingly interminably as criticsmany of them Republicanssaid this was an wildly improbable exercise which Obama was winning on points.
Bush Blocks Interception.
The critics were right. After McCain announced it, the forward pass wobbled, was in danger of falling flat on the field or worse--being intercepted by Obama. Then someone far downfield leapt up to try to save the day. It was, of all people, George W. Bush, a former hated McCain enemy but who, no matter the past, didnt want a Democrat to win the game. Bush jumped for the ball, blocked Democrats from intercepting and invited McCain to attend a White House bipartisan tussle on the package an attempt to give the grizzled GOPer credit for a high level agreement. Then, brilliantly, Bush also invited Obama to join them in the White House parley as wellmandating that Obama would have to come in off the campaign along with McCain. Obama would but, unlike McCain, never known to fret or work up a sweat even if he were sitting naked in a sauna,, insisted he would keep the Old Miss date. Then he went to a nearby gym to toss buckets.
But What 90 Minutes!
McCain spent only 90 minutes in the Capitol itself. Now he fervently sided with House Republicans who had derailed the deal earlier and kept the House Republican revolt alive. Worried, Democrats by now began to see Republican conspiracy at every turn and reasoned that McCain and Bush would work it to see that McCain would get the credit if the Republicans fell into line. So the Democrats in the personage of the disheveled, rumpled Barney Frank, chairman of the Financial Institutions committee (formerly Banking & Currency) decided to throw a monkey-wrench into the machinery.
The frog-like Frank, bulging eyes with chin perched on his open shirt collar, is the only man since the late Mayor Richard J. Daley who can speak seemingly without moving his lips. Ive sat before his hugely cluttered desk and watched him closely: sound comes from his visage down to the last effeminate lisp but Ill be damned if I can identify lip movement with the guttural sound that appears to come from his tightly compressed mouth. Its like a bad film where lip synch is out of whack. That, of course, is the nicest thing to be said of him.
Only in todays decadent culture could a Barney Frank avoid richly deserved public repudiation and humiliation. In all other eras he would have been forced to resign in disgrace and would be censured, even impeached, by a House determined to save its reputation by condemning him. He was found guilty in 1989 of hiring as personal aide a male prostitute and convicted drug possessor, fixing his parking tickets in D. C., letting him live in his apartment which the aide converted into a gay bordello during daylight hours when Frank was in the House. Frank admitted all except knowing his pad was being moonlighted as a gay bordello. The House Ethics committee, run by Democrats, exonerated him and Frank trumped the odds to become the leading gay rights advocate in Congress. That one can survive such scandal and indeed trade on it and pronounce on others ethics is a sickening testimonial to current debased political morality.
Frank charged that McCains entry into the tag-team wrestle in the White House Roosevelt Room endangered passage of the package. The Capitol Hill media heavily pro-Obama took up the message: McCain was blocking progress. Result: the impression has been made that McCain goofed up the negotiations but actually by intervening he strengthened the conservative hand. McCain, footsore and blamed by Dems and the media, decided he could return to the campaign trail and the debate.
Prepping Cut Short.
On the plane to Mississippi, McCain dawdled with his homework and got to the stage exhausted. In the first half of the debateon the economyhe dangerously courted disaster. He didnt hit Obamas high tax plan effectively, allowing Obama to get away with the 90% tax cut mythology and didnt call his opponent on the fact that 40 million dont pay taxes at all and what Obama was doing was trying to enact George McGoverns old demigrant idea of $1,000 for every man, woman and child. I clapped a hand to my forehead as that opportunity vanished. Obama blamed Bush for lessened regulation that produced the crisis; McCain didnt bring up a crusherthat he, Bush and Alan Greenspan had supported a plan to cut back on the excesses of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and most of the Democrats including Obama voted the wrong way.
Elementary Debate 101 and he blew it. . But Obama didnt go for the kill and the old man, unaccountably, talked about ending earmarks which has only a peripheral very peripheral application to the economy. The economics portion ended with a slight edge for McCain which I dont think he deserved. Round two on foreign-defense policy saw McCain almost perceptibly sigh with relief. Iran was his best overall. Obama tried to say that Henry Kissinger agreed with himObamathat a president can go to the table with the president of Iran without preparation. Although being Obama, he shaded his own prior contention and quoted Kissinger correctly that staff should be involved. Kissinger told Christiane Amanpour of CNN I am in favor of negotiating with Iran...[but] I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level. McCain didnt have that quote handy (incredibly) but he got through it with his own grizzled eminence nevertheless.
The Baffler: Focus Group Support of Obama.
My view and I gritted my teeth so as to try to screen out partisan bias is that McCain was lucky on the economic question and did thunderingly well on foreign and national security. I must say I was dismayed by the reports of the polls Frank Luntzs focus group for Fox which ruled Obama had won CBSs poll that Obama won and some others. I accept their view but feel that the American public is so tuggingly in favor of a change in the presidency that even a light-pusher like Obama can get the nod.
In summary: McCain had no business lucking out on the economics side of the debate forgetting to trump Obamas putting blame on Republicans by neglecting to bring up his own support of trimming back Freddie and Fannie but he did. He HAD the right to win on national security. But the polls show me that this may very well be another election where the man destiny meant to serve in the presidency doesnt get it. The debate was held on the anniversary of the first televised presidential debate in Chicago. Don Hewitt who by now must be at least 90 years old ran the TV techniques of the debate. He was interviewed as saying that his breath came in short gasps as he viewed how incomparably handsome JFK was compared to the grey and sallow Nixon.
Hewitt is still marveling at Kennedys handsomeness. He hasnt learned anything in his 90 years, has he? Handsome Kennedy botching the Bay of Pigs by losing his nerve and canceling air cover leading Khrushchev to decide Kennedy was not up to the presidency leading to the Berlin Wall being built and the Summit after which Kennedy confessed to James Reston that the Soviet leader believed he didnt have requisite toughness Kennedy saying that to prove it, we would have to reintensify our troop buildup in Vietnam.
But godammit, Kennedy was a handsome lad, wasnt he? Obama is the Prince of Cool, isnt he? Can you see history begin to repeat?
Thats what I fear.