Jonathan Berger
Jonathan Berger

McCain’s ever-diminishing bag of tricks

In just three weeks, Americans go to the polls to elect a new president. All the polls strongly suggest that if the election were held today, That One would sweep to victory.

FiveThirtyEight.com, which aims to “accumulate and analyse polling and political data in way that is informed, accurate and attractive … to give … the best possible objective assessment of the likely outcome of upcoming elections”, gives Barack Obama close to a 95% chance of winning the election.

RealClearPolitics.com, which “culls and publishes the best commentary, news, polling data, and links to important resources from all points of the political compass”, records the Democratic hopemonger leading comfortably in enough states to garner more electoral college votes than are needed to paint the White House blue.

While early voting has started in many states, including the battlegrounds of Virginia and Ohio, November 4 — at least as far as undecided voters are concerned — is still a way off. And according to conventional wisdom, the battle for their votes is what it’s all about.

But you’d never guess if you followed the recent antics of the McCain campaign, which had — until just a few days ago — conducted itself as if the only way for Republicans to win in 2008 is to shore up the conservative base. Day after day, lynch mob by lynch mob, the governor from the largest state in the union was trotted out to do the dirty work. By the look on her face and the swagger in her voice, you could tell she was having one heckuva good time.

The problem, however, is that when you stoke the fire, it burns more brightly. So when you tell a partisan crowd that Obama pals around with terrorists, it’s only a matter of time before someone actually calls him a terrorist. When you run adverts calling him dishonourable and dangerous, claiming that he has placed the lives of American troops at risk, don’t be surprised when one of your thugs calls for his blood.

To his credit, McCain had already indicated some willingness to tone down the rhetoric. At a town-hall-type rally this past week, a woman claimed she could not trust Obama: “I have read about him and he’s not he’s not uh — he’s an Arab.” Before she could continue, McCain took the microphone back, shook his head and said that Obama’s “a decent family man”, that he just happens “to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about”.

But others in his campaign continued their shameful attacks. And instead of taking responsibility for these acts of desperation, the senator from Arizona merely feigned righteous indignation at those who called him to account. At least that was until Saturday, when John Lewis — a Democratic House representative from Georgia and a veteran of the civil rights movement — upped the ante, accusing McCain and Palin of “sowing the seeds of hatred and division”.

In a prepared statement released to the DC-based Politico.com, Lewis drew comparisons with the “atmosphere of hate” created by George Wallace — a four-term governor of Alabama in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s who opposed desegregation — that resulted in the death of four young girls one “Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama”.

“As public figures with the power to influence and persuade,” Lewis argued, “Senator McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.”

In response, McCain called Lewis’s attacks “shocking and beyond the pale”, saying: “I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I’ve always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.”

“I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election.” And then came the mea culpa: “Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America,” said the man whose campaign has sought to sidestep the very debates that matter most to undecided voters.

True to form, the response to McCain was measured. “Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies,” said an Obama campaign spokesperson. “As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together.”

To date, Obama has not distanced himself from Lewis, who later clarified that he was in no way suggesting that McCain could or should be compared to Wallace. Despite the initial outrage, McCain has not followed up on his call that Obama repudiate the comments. And even the Alaskan pit-bull, complete with lipstick and a new hairdo from hell, has shifted her focus to substantive issues.

Meanwhile, Obama’s national lead solidifies. In certain key battlegrounds, such as Colorado and Florida, his lead widens. Who knows what’s left — if anything — in McCain’s ever-diminishing bag of tricks.