Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Politics: The Time for Schadenfreude Has Passed

I was aware of the post-GOP convention polls in the Obama-McCain match-up on Sunday evening. McCain had gotten a substantial bounce out of the convention, with one poll showing him ten points up. However, nothing prepared me for what I encountered on Morning Joe Monday: David Axelrod was on in a telephone interview, and he was having a near-panicked meltdown. He was desperate in his efforts to get every negative talking point about McCain and Sarah Palin on the air, and he sounded absolutely ridiculous. Even co-host Mika Brzezinski--probably MSNBC's biggest shill for Obama after Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow--could barely keep herself from laughing at him. In her repeated efforts to wrap up the interview, Brzezinski finally interrupted Axelrod and told him that there wasn't time for him to keep reading down the list he obviously had in front of him. I started out the morning with a smile on my face. After months of the Obama campaign's obnoxious, undeserved swagger, its mastermind was clearly terrified that it possibly had been all for nought.

Everything I've seen since then indicates that he's right to be worried. There's the distraction of the stupid "lipstick on a pig" controversy today. There was the distraction of the controversy over an ugly ad attacking Obama for a sex education bill yesterday. On Monday evening, Obama taped an interview for airing on Keith Olbermann's program, which is a waste of his time; anyone who watches that show is all but certainly going to vote for him anyway. Obama should not go out of his way to preach to the converted at this point; his job as a candidate is to go to venues where he can reach voters who have yet to make up their minds. Worse, the Olbermann interview was aired in competition with another Obama interview that Bill O'Reilly had done on his program, and given the inevitably contentious nature of an O'Reilly interview, that's the one most likely to convince people one way or the other. Obama's stepping on his own efforts to reach the voters he needs to reach, and going on Olbermann at this point just makes him look like he's in need of reassurance.

And throughout at all, it's "Palin! Palin! Palin!" Neither Obama nor his supporters can get over their obsession with her, and it's starting look like 1988 all over again, when the Dukakis campaign became so preoccupied with Dan Quayle that it seemed to forget it was running against George Bush the Elder. Obama has learned nothing from Dukakis' mistake. People don't vote against a ticket because of the Vice-Presidential candidate. If you direct all your fire at the opposing ticket's Vice-Presidential choice, it makes the person at the top of that ticket appear like he or she is above the fray. John McCain is now looking like he's above all the ruckus, and he doesn't deserve that aura. This is pathetic, and I'm not smiling anymore.

Perhaps I've set aside my enmity towards Obama because everything I dreaded happening if he became the nominee is coming to pass. Obama's preferred approach to elections--and this goes back to his first State Senate race in Illinois--is to quickly and decisively knock out the opposition and coast across the finish line. In that first State Senate race, he got every opposing candidate, including the Democratic incumbent, thrown off the ballot because their nominating petitions had such problems as names being signed in print instead of cursive. In his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign, his people ratfucked the expected Democratic candidate, Blair Hull, with unsubstantiated allegations that came up during a divorce years earlier. After Obama won the Senate nomination, the campaign turned around and did the same thing to Jack Ryan, the expected GOP nominee. Obama then got to run against Alan Keyes, who couldn't have won an election against Odie the Dog. Obama tried to knock Hillary Clinton out early as well, but he failed, and the race against her exposed his biggest weakness: he's incapable of rolling with punches, and he doesn't know how to shift gears in response to changing circumstances. After making a big first impression, he seems to think he can take victory for granted, and we saw what happened when he's wrong. Clinton cleaned his clock in the second half of the primary season, and it ultimately took Howard Dean, the DNC, and Nancy Pelosi to run interference and carry him over the finish line. McCain's choice of Palin has changed the dynamics of this race, and in response Obama's flailing around. The time for big, splashy moves has passed, circumstances don't allow him to coast, and he doesn't know what to do.

Other decisions are coming back to bite him as well. Obama made it clear to pro-Dem organizations that he wanted no 527 advertising from them in the general election campaign. The situation against McCain has forced him to change his mind, but it may be too late; months that could have been used to develop ads and lines of attack have been squandered, and now there's only eight weeks left. Obama's running into money problems, too. He turned down public financing for the fall campaign becuse he arrogantly assumed he could raise more money on his own, and it appears this is not turning out to be the case. The reason is probably because donors don't like throwing money away on a candidate who's looking more and more like a loser. Most think Obama can all but certainly raise the money necessary to compete, but he's going to have devote time away from campaigning to do it, and he doesn't have it to spare.

Momentum, control of the message, no financial distractions--Obama appears to have lost it all. The election will likely be close regardless of what develops between now and November, but a McCain victory is looking increasingly imminent. I've always felt that choosing between an Obama presidency and a McCain presidency was a choice between disasters--I won't vote for either of them--and that may be why I'm now looking at this election with nothing but disgust. Watching Obama and his campaign fall apart has had its satisfaction, but that satisfaction is past, and now it's time to gird oneself for the long, difficult next four years.

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