Wednesday, October 15, 2008

As of late, the air has been heavy with the stench of a soon-coming GOP rout in Congress and the Executive branch. Indeed, I can scarcely recall such a complete unanimity across the punditocracy and elsewhere to the effect that John McCain will not prevail over Barack Obama in November. Worse yet, it seems that McCain himself senses that his campaign is essentially over. While there is much to be said about Obama's dubious past associations (see below), his thin qualifications and his creeping socialism (see "Joe the Plumber"), McCain's strident attacks on Obama now appear to be based more out of desperation than in any attempt at differentiation, making him appear even more like the crotchety old man that he already resembles.

It was the crotchety McCain that arrived at Hofstra University for tonight's debate. And to be sure, while McCain landed punches on topics as varied as government spending and tax policy, offshore drilling and free trade, it was the frequency and severity of the McCain's bitchslaps that made him look less like a presidential candidate and more like a dyspeptic senior who forgot his Rolaids after partaking in the early-bird Chinese buffet.

McCain's jabs at Obama notwithstanding, as was more salient in tonight's debate than previously, Obama and McCain now have one thing in common; they are both engaged in attacking President George W. Bush for his policies over his terms. But what McCain sees as "straight talk" creates a strategic advantage for Obama in that McCain has to fight across two fronts. The difficult task that McCain has left himself is to hold aloft the conservative banner while making (what he considers to be) important distinctions between himself and Bush without alienating Bush conservatives who form much of the GOP's base.

The issue of abortion reared its head tonight as the debate turned to the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court. If the McCain campaign has one rationale left, it is that the ideological tilt of the Court hangs in the balance. And while McCain rejected the notion of applying a litmus test to judicial nominees, Obama reiterated his interest in nominating judges who have "a sense of what real-world folks are going through," as if socio-economic realities have any bearing on the application of the Constitution and prior SCOTUS rulings to lower court decisions.

As to the matter of Obama's associations (see recent commentary from Charles Krauthammer), Obama and the Left continue to pooh-pooh Obama's linkages to former Weather Underground activist (and current University of Illinois Professor) William Ayers. It occurs to me that the surreal equanimity occasioned by any discussion of Ayers' past activities would not exist were he involved in the bombing a black church 40 years ago instead of the Pentagon. Indeed, any sanguinity that we may have vis-a-vis Ayers' involvement is reflective of the idea that the folks there somehow "had it coming."

But in this election year's grand scheme, Ayers hardly seems worthy of note. What is more than obvious is that John McCain has resigned himself to fighting the last battle in his campaign's great war. As he is being outspent, out-messaged and out-campaigned (this is especially so given the McCain camp's reputation for operating with very little discipline), all indicators point to a Democratic sweep; the only question being the magnitude thereof. Nevertheless, McCain remains the type who will see his mission to its conclusion. Besides throwing punches, McCain was doubtless hoping he could throw one more "Hail Mary" pass tonight. Sadly, as it is in real life, his metaphorical throwing arm is not what it once was.

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