Sunday, October 5, 2008

The newkiller option

John McCain, a man who apparently never met a craps table he didn’t like, is scuttling back into the casino to rattle the bones again, taking an uncalculated gamble that a pivot away from important issues and back to matters of personality and character will rescue a presidential campaign more and more a part of the bizarro world than our own.

But considering the way the economy has become Issue #1 for the country; his admitted weakness on matters economic; and inconvenient reports of how he handle his own personal finances, McCain may be doubling down on dumb.

In the wake of a week that would have ended the quest of a less obstinate politician, the McCain campaign has announced plans to go back to assailing the personal trustworthiness of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

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“With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain's team has decided that its emphasis on the senator's biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama,” The Washngton Post reported Saturday. “The Arizonan's campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls.”

"We're going to get a little tougher," a senior Republican operative told The Post. "We've got to question this guy's associations. Very soon. There's no question that we have to change the subject here," said the unidentified McCain op.

It’s hard to know what to make of the new old McCain strategy of innuendo and character assassination — the primary-season plan of attack that brought us the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko and other figures McCain hopes to Super Glue to Obama’s ascendant presidential bid. Guilt by association? More like guilt by desperation.

This new old approach will include a raft of fresh television ads. One of them, which asks "Who is Barack Obama?" claims that "Senator Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. Ninety-four times. He's not truthful on taxes." Never mind the fact that this claim has been called misleading (at best) by independent fact-checkers, who found most of those votes were on nonbinding budget resolutions. The McCain campaign’s new “aggressive tone” (quoting another McCain op) will be the basis of the McCain strategem from now to the election.

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Oddly enough (and maybe not so oddly given the increasing desperation of the GOP), the water carrier in chief is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the toweringly unqualified Republican choice for vice president.

"Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country," Palin said Saturday to campaign donors in Englewood, Colo. Consistent with her talent for sticking to a script, Palin used the line at three separate events that day, The Associated Press reported. It’s a blatant reference to Obama’s previous encounters with William Ayers, a member of the Vietnam-era Weather Underground who once hosted a political event in Chicago for Obama early in the candidate’s career.

“This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America. We see America as a force of good in this world. We see an America of exceptionalism," said Palin, obviously continuing her flirtation with the thesaurus.

The McCain brain trust seems to think they've got a full slate of time-outs. "The four weeks that are left are an eternity. There's plenty of time in the campaign," Republican strategist Joe Gaylord told The AP. "I think it is a legitimate strategy to talk about Obama and to talk about his background and who he pals around with."

But not really. Four weeks are hardly an eternity; they are the blink of an eye for a campaign whose very strategy of vicious, cornered desperation indicates just how short the clock really is.

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Greg Strimple, a senior adviser to Mr McCain, confirmed the new campaign direction for The Telegraph (UK). “We’re looking for a very aggressive last 30 days. We’re turning the page on this financial crisis and getting back to discussing Mr. Obama’s liberal record and how he will be too risky for Americans.”

Left unsaid is how the McCain campaign hopes to implant the element of doubts about the gamble of voting for Obama when McCain himself, an admitted gambler, has a personal history that manages to combine casino wagers of sums of money most Americans don’t earn as a salary with apparent tax improprieties.

Martha Miller, a tax attorney, wrote in The Huffington Post that McCain’s tax returns concealed gambling. Citing a Sept. 27 New York Times story and a section on gambling winnings in an IRS publication, Miller accused McCain of concealing information on his winnings from his returns.

“As a casino gambler, McCain is likely to have lost more than he won,” Miller wrote Friday. “But by not reporting his winnings, the different percentage calculations built into the tax calculation are thrown off, and if he gambled much at all, he has underpaid his tax.”

Great. Just what the American people need: an inveterate gambler and possible tax cheat in charge of the national purse, in the middle of the most severe financial crisis this country’s faced in more than 75 years.

This is, to paraphrase a mispronunciation by someone named George Bush, the newkiller option — the mother of all Hail Mary passes, the last Gotterdammerung attempt to achieve a victory where none is otherwise possible. McCain is back in the casino again, with less and less cash to work with than he had before. The betting window closes in 30 days.
Image credits: McCain-Palin: Mason Votes, republished under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. Palin: Illinois2011, republished under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license 3.0, GNU Free Documentation License. Craps table in Vegas: © 2004 Martin Ouellet. McCain: Marc Nozell, Merrimack, N.H., republished under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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