Some of John McCain's friends, from the good old days when he talked straight, feared that his Greek tragedy would be that he would be defeated by George Bush twice: once in 2000, because of W.'s no-conscience campaigning, and again in 2008, because of W.'s no-brains governing.
But if McCain loses, he will have contributed to his own downfall by failing to live up to his personal standard of honor.
John McCain has long been torn between wanting to succeed and serving a higher cause. Right now, the drive to succeed is trumping any loftier aspirations. He cynically picked a running mate with less care than theater directors give to picking a leading actor's understudy. And he has been running a seamy campaign originally designed by the bad seed of conservative politics, Lee Atwater.
Reprising old techniques
It was adapted in 2000 in Atwater's home state of South Carolina by Atwater acolytes in W.'s camp to harpoon McCain with rumors that he had fathered out of wedlock a black baby (as opposed to adopting a Bangladeshi infant girl in wedlock). Sulfurous Atwater-style rumor-mongering by Bush supporters – that McCain had come home from a Hanoi tiger cage with snakes in his head – aimed to stop him during that primary after he had zoomed in New Hampshire.
Atwater relished teaching rich white Republicans to feign a connection to the common man so they could get in office and economically undermine the common man. In the 1988 campaign, the Machiavellian ran to help the elder George Bush defeat Michael Dukakis with this unholy quintet of charges:
The Democrat was a '60s-style liberal who would raise taxes and take away guns. He was weak and would not protect the country militarily. He was a member of the elite “Harvard Yard's boutique.” He had a foreign-sounding name and was not on “the American side.” He was on the side of the Scary Black Man.
Threat of the dangerous ‘other'
Certainly, at some level, John McCain must be disgusted with himself for using the tactics perfected by the same crowd that used these tactics to derail him in 2000. He's now curmudgeonly, even hostile, toward the press – the group he used to spend hours with every day and jokingly describe as his base.
He unleashed Sarah Palin to slime their opponent and suggested that the Democrat with the foreign-sounding name who came from the Harvard Yard boutique is not on the American side.
Campaigning last weekend, Palin cast their Democratic rival as “someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.”
The woman is sounding more Cheney than Cheney. Palin said that Obama's relationship with the former Weatherman Bill Ayers proved that he did not have the “truthfulness and judgment” to be president. Asked by William Kristol if the Rev. Jeremiah Wright should be an issue, she said, “I don't know why that association isn't discussed more.”
Atwater gleefully tried to paint Willie Horton as Dukakis' running mate. With a black man running, it's even easier for Atwater's disciple running McCain's campaign to warn that white Americans should not open the door to the dangerous Other, or “That One,” as McCain referred to Obama in Tuesday night's debate. (A cross between “The One” and “That Woman.”)
On Monday, McCain made Obama, who has been campaigning for almost two years now, sound like an ominous intruder, questioning his character and motives, telling a New Mexico crowd that “even at this late hour in the campaign, there are essential things we don't know about Sen. Obama . …
“All people want to know is: What has this man ever actually accomplished in government? What does he plan for America? In short: Who is the real Barack Obama?”
The new McCain TV ad, “Dangerous,” calls Obama “dishonorable,” “dangerous” and “too risky for America.”
We're already scared enough
McCain aides have been blunt in their need to change the subject from the economy. But, as with Bush Senior's re-election campaign, slithery character attacks don't scare as well when Americans are already scared about keeping their jobs and retirement savings. Maybe that's why McCain didn't bring up Ayers or Wright during the debate, instead leaving it to Sarah Barracuda.
Palin finally took questions on Tuesday from her traveling press corps on her campaign plane. Asked if she thought Obama was dishonest, McCain's Mean Girl meandered:
“I'm not saying he's dishonest, but in terms of judgment, in terms of being able to answer a question forthrightly, it has two different parts to this. The judgment and the truthfulness and just being able to answer very candidly a simple question about when did you know him, how did you know him, is there still – has there been an association continued since '02 or '05, I know I've read a couple different stories. I think it's relevant.”
Of course she does.