It’s been a bad couple of weeks for Senator John McCain in his bid for the presidency. He describes the economy as fundamentally sound on a Monday and proclaims it’s in crisis by Wednesday. He suspends his campaign (sort of, not really) in order to bring people together in Washington to solve the problem, claims victory before the House vote and then fails to bring even his own party together. His running mate, Governor Sarah Palin, is failing to impress anyone but Tina Fey fans. While her poor performance in the few unscripted moments the McCain camp have allowed her have been entertaining, if disastrous, they also bring into question Senator McCain’s judgement and undermine his claim that he puts the country before politics.
Add to the mix the general consensus that his opponent, Senator Barack Obama, either won or tied Senator McCain in their first face-to-face debate and it’s been a rough stretch for the Republican nominee. If Mulligans were allowed in politics, Senator McCain would be asking for a redo of the entire second half of September.
The polls reflect the McCain campaign implosion. Senator Obama has opened a lead in the key states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The RealClearPolitics.com poll-of-polls shows Senator Obama pulling away.
I don’t think polls this year are very realiable. And I’m not the only one. Sharon Begley, writing in Newsweek, points out how the rise of cell-phone only first time voters plays havoc with poll results (for the record, Sam Smith posted a comment on this blog to that effect back in September 9, 2008). Which means its too soon for Senator Obama’s supporters to celebrate and premature for Senator McCain’s supporters to despair.
But these polls, especially coupled with Senator McCain’s missteps, will change the McCain campaign. Up to now, several of Senator McCain’s campaigns have been questionable. A few have been downright distortions of his opponent’s record. But with Senator Obama pulling ahead, the slimeballs will now emerge from their dank caves and the junk will fly in earnest.
Most of the ads won’t be from Senator McCain’s campaigns or from the Republican Party. Some of the issues they raise may even be legitimate. They’ll be financed by independent committees and they won’t be pretty. Reverend Jeremiah Wright will star in several. Senator Obama will be described as nothing less than a murderer because of his past votes on abortion issues. The tape of his referring to gun and religion clinging rural Pennsylvanians will be aired over-and-over-and-over again in, wait for it, Pennsylvania (and Ohio and Virginia). Senator Obama’s faith, integrity, patriotism and honesty will be questioned, ridiculed and smeared.
A core law of physics is that for every action there’s an opposite and equal reaction. The unfortunate corollary In politics is that for every gain in momentum for one candidate, the reaction from the opposite side will be exponentially greater and more vicious. What used to be called mudslinging is now called Swift Boating, but it’s all the same. The airwaves will fill with lies, half-truths and innuendos, no subtlety required.
Senator Obama’s momentum kicked in with less than five weeks before the election. That means the slimers don’t have a lot of time to do their damage. But that won’t stop them from trying. Whether voters will put up with their misbehavior is the important question.
Note added after initial posting:
Well, it appears the sliming has begun and it’s not just coming from independent committees supporting the Republican ticket. The Associated Press reports that ads are hitting the airwaves in key states and on a few cable news stations some of which are, well, slimey. As predicted above, one features Reverend Wright and other colorful figures from Senator Obama’s past that question his qualifications to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court.
On the Democratic side, the California Nurses Association is running an ad described as showing “an EKG readout over a photograph of McCain followed by images of Palin and references to her controversies.”
It’s only October 1st. As the election gets closer, the spending will be greater and the mudslinging will get worse. It’s an odd way of electing a president.