UPDATE: One reader has already pointed out that this post is significantly more caustic in tone than is usual for this blog. I make no apologies for this, because I see no reason to not express my annoyance with John McCain, who made the choices he did in this campaign and now has to live with them. My goal here is never to offend, but on the rare occasion when I have anger to express, I'm going to express it.
It's tempting to continue with the assumption that John McCain's just an admirable, stand-up guy who somehow blundered into surrounding himself with people responsible for his awful campaign, but the thing is, folks, organizations tend to reflect the managerial approach of the people at the top, and the McCain campaign is no exception to this rule. Nobody held a gun to John McCain's head, nobody forced him against his will to run the exact kind of campaign he cried about being run against him back in the 2000 primaries. What was done by the McCain campaign, and on behalf of the McCain campaign, was done with the full approval of John McCain.
I really hope, once all is done, that McCain's inevitable attempt to show contrition for his campaign's nauseating behavior and salvage what's left of his honor comes to pass, the national media doesn't let him get away with it. Lots of people have acted as though somehow McCain was convinced by his advisers to suppress his honorable instincts; lots of people have assumed that the McCain of 2000 was the real McCain, while the disgusting 2008 version was an anomaly. Well, folks, what we saw this year was the real McCain. And this was the management style he would have brought to the White House.
Anyway, the 2008 John McCain campaign will surely be remembered for years to come as the worst Republican national campaign since...well, I don't really remember a worse Republican campaign. So what were the worst things McCain did or said this year?
11. "Obama's a Socialist who's gonna take your money and give it to someone who doesn't deserve it!"
First of all, this is obviously nonsense to anyone with any functional knowledge of what Socialism actually is, unless one is some kind of Libertarian who worships on the altar of the Market That Can Do No Wrong No Matter Who Gets Screwed and who believes that anytime the government does anything other than wiping itself after going to the bathroom it's an instance of Socialism. Second of all, the question never seems to come up: "Hey, even if he was a Socialist, would that necessarily be a bad thing?" And thirdly, coming from McCain, who put on his ticket the governor of a state that literally taxes the shit out of the profits of the oil companies and then redistributes that wealth en masse to everybody living there, the charge of Socialism is pure hypocrisy.
10. "I'm reluctant to discuss my experiences as a POW."
Yeah...that's why back in the period between the primaries and the conventions, McCain brought it up every chance he got. Remember how Rudy Giuliani couldn't utter a sentence without a noun, a verb, and 9-11? Well, McCain for a time couldn't utter a sentence without a noun, a verb, and POW.
9. "Holy Financial Crisis, Batman! To the McCain-mobile!"
Has there ever been a more transparent bit of grandstanding than McCain's "suspension" of his campaign when the financial crisis began to unfold? What a bunch of play-acting that was: "Debate? Don't you know there's a
war rerun of Matlock financial crisis on?!"
The financial crisis that hit in September was quite the disaster for John McCain, wasn't it? Before that, he was holding steadily even with Barack Obama, because for the first couple of weeks after his convention, the topic of conversation wasn't on things that matter, and lots of people were on a "Wow! A not-bad-looking woman who shoots guns for Vice President! Who cares what she's done in politics or if her views on issues are just this side of the John Birch Society!" high. But then the real world intruded with an actual problem, and while Obama's approach was to react with calm and rational talk aimed at the American people, McCain's was to basically shit his pants. And boy howdy, did he shit them but good, thus proving that if you want your President to be the nation's Pants-Shitter-in-Chief, why, McCain was your man! He tossed around any way to blame the problem on Democrats that he could think of, he flip-flopped yet again (this time on economic regulation, which he'd never been for), and then threw up his hands two days before the first Presidential debate and said "I must be in Washington at this terrible time!"
Of course, McCain was only a Senator at the time and not any of the chief economic officers of the Administration; nor are any of his committees devoted to those kinds of concerns. And of course, McCain had to that point missed over 400 (out of a possible 600) votes in the Senate this term, making him the most-absent Senator currently working. But now, it was essential that he be there! Even though, once he got there, he didn't do much of anything and messed everything up and anyway then the crisis got worse a few weeks later he kept on campaigning instead of going all "steely-eyed muscle man" on us again.
I can actually understand the impulse for him to grandstand; he'd been able to do some play-acting earlier in the campaign when some unpleasantness erupted in the Ukraine. But this time he bit off more than he could chew. It wasn't a case of "Fly somewhere and look like a concerned Presidential type"; here he set himself as the one person who could DO something, and then he simply didn't deliver what he never could have delivered anyway.
8. "I'm still the same guy! I never once flip-flopped!"
Whatever you say, John.
7. "She sold the state plane on eBay for a profit!"
No she didn't, you nitwit. She didn't sell it on eBay (its listing didn't sell), and it wasn't sold for a profit. Facts? Why check them before citing them? That's for guys who were never POWs.
6. "I'm not President Bush. I just really like his policies, I voted for them more than just about any other Republican, I plan to continue the worst of them, I've filled my campaign with Bush loyalists, and I will almost certainly staff my White House with people from his administration seeing as how that's where all of the Republicans with any experience at doing anything are. But I'm not President Bush, all right? Because I'm all mavericky and stuff."
Well, that says it all, I guess. Moving on:
5. "I don't really know much about economics, but...."
No. You don't say. I can't believe that, John. I thought for sure that a guy who'd married a filthy-rich heiress and then with that filthy-rich new wife bought himself more than a half-dozen houses would surely have his finger right on the economic pulse!
4. "He pals around with terrorists!"
Yeah, but look at the bright side, Senator McCain: at least Obama's non-existent connection with some guy nobody gives a shit about gives you something to talk about when you sit down to coffee with your convicted felon friend, G. Gordon Liddy.
(By the way, thanks to the Charles Keating scandal and Troopergate in Alaska, this year the Republicans offered up a ticket where both people had been found to have committed ethics violations in their respective offices. Country first!)
(And I know, he didn't say it, his running mate did. Tough. He put her on the ticket.)
3. "I wouldn't have had to run a nasty campaign if Obama had just agreed to all those town-hall debates I wanted!"
That was the choice, was it? Debate my way or I'm going negative? Were there no other options available to McCain, such as, oh, I don't know, maybe not going negative when Obama refused the town-hall debates? If Obama had had those debates, McCain wouldn't have run incredibly noxious robocalls or provide scripts to callers that were so obnoxious that many of the callers simply walked off the job rather than read them? If Obama had done the town halls, McCain wouldn't have had to send out mailings designed to scare the shit out of Florida's Jewish voters? If Obama had done the town halls...well, you get the idea.
Nah, that's just crazy talk. McCain the Maverick had no choice in the matter. For a steely-eyed maverick, John McCain sure found himself in a lot of powerless situations this year, didn't he?
(Oh, and David Broder? You suck. The Dean of pundits, my ass.)
2. "What we need is some salt-of-the-earth type so we can prop him up as the symbol of our campaign! So let's take, er, that guy! He looks plumbery! And Joe-like!"
Joe the Plumber? Seriously? I wonder if that idea came from Phil Gramm, who tried to ride "Dickey Flatt"'s coat-tails all the way to...whatever state it was where Gramm ended up dropping out of the 1996 Presidential race when he completely tanked, years before he ended up becoming one of John McCain's most trusted advisers. Citing some guy or some woman who would be affected by policies is a tried-and-true rhetorical trick in modern campaigning, but McCain turned SuperPlumber into a fetish object, even going so far as to say that Joe the Plumber was his "role model" -- and this after Joe the Plumber was all over the media saying one gonzo thing after another.
And the worst thing John McCain said or did in his campaign:
1. "I can think of no one in this entire country better suited to take over if I drop dead than this person who's been a Governor for less than two years, who has never given a single thought to any major issue of national import, because I've talked to her for an hour or so and I'm just that good a judge of character."
Folks, Sarah Palin was a complete and utter disaster. I'll quote John Scalzi here:
[T]he Palin pick did firm up the support of the GOP base, a fact which should terrify anyone with a working brain. Palin is indisputably the single worst major party candidate for high office in living memory, a proudly ignorant political automaton whose only notable qualities are a pretty face, a sufficient lack of awareness to blind her to her own incompetencies and a quality of ambition that can only be described as voracious. The GOP base should have been insulted that this was all it was given by the McCain campaign; instead it embraced her and has declared her a frontrunner for 2012. Which tells you that the GOP base has learned nothing in the last eight years; Palin, in every way that matters, is nothing more than Bush with boobs. The GOP base doesn’t want a president, it wants a mirror.
It’s appalling that the GOP base holds up Palin as the sort of person it wants as president of the country, and it points to the sort of intellectual and moral vacuousness that party has that the rest of us simply can’t afford anymore. McCain’s decision to pick her as his running mate is something politics wonks will discuss for decades, one of those credibility-destroying moments that in retrospect simply defies belief.
As for how I felt about it personally, let me put it this way: before the Palin pick, I was going to vote for Obama. After the Palin pick, I was also and most emphatically voting against McCain. The only way Palin should be in the White House is on the public tour. Shame on McCain for proclaiming she’s competent to actually be president. He deserves to lose for that single decision alone.
That about sums it up. Not a single day went by since her arrival on the scene that she didn't turn with something new and stupid coming out of her mouth. Did anybody believe it for one second when McCain said that he had sought her advice on any number of issues? Did anybody believe it for one second when he said that she was one of the country's foremost experts on energy? Does anybody think she's an expert on, well, anything? Her only major accomplishment was looking more telegenic and less gaffe-prone than Dan Quayle, but how hard is that, anyway...and she did commit a number of gaffes, so many that she eventually got cocooned off away from any possibility of being asked a question that couldn't trigger a talking-point response. It's worth noting that the only reason she managed to get through that debate without making a serious error was that Gwen Ifyll didn't ask any follow-up questions. Remember, the most famous debate gaffe of all time – Dan Quayle's "I'm as experienced as Jack Kennedy was when he ran for President" line, which prompted Lloyd Bentsen's devastating rebuttal – came as an answer to a follow-up question. And as Katie Couric proved, if you hit Sarah Palin with a follow-up, she's dead in the water, unable to come up with anything better than "Uhh, all of them!" when the question is some kind of liberal-MSM gotcha question like "What newspapers do you read?"
Everything I read about Palin's governing style nauseated me. She had the gall to claim that she'd be an advocate for parents of special needs children, despite having done pretty much nothing to advocate for parents of special needs children in her own state. She filled her gubernatorial administration with people she'd known from high school and before. She showed zero evidence of ever having thought about a single issue at all; her every interview was like one of those drumming machines teenage rock bands use, the ones where you push a button and a pre-programmed drum beat comes out of the speakers. It was ask-question, get-memorized-talking-point, all the time, even if the talking point she remembered wasn't even related to the question that had been asked. The Right swooned over her ability to read a speech before the Republican Convention, a speech that had been mostly written before the person who'd be giving it had even been determined.
The worst thing is that McCain didn't even want Sarah Palin; he wanted someone else, but his advisers told him he couldn't have who he wanted, so he and they basically grabbed the first name they could, in an effort to make the Christian Right happy and win the news cycle the day after Obama's acceptance speech. When the chips were down, once again, the steely-eyed Maverick bent his knee and said "Yes, my Christian Right overlords!"
By picking Sarah Palin, John McCain made clear that the only thing John McCain cared about was John McCain becoming President, by hook or by crook. One thing he said last night in his concession speech was absolutely true: the failure of his ticket was his failure. Too bad he almost certainly doesn't understand how.