(At right, John McCain courts his next wife.)
First, a big WhiskeyFire congratulations to our favorite Nobel Prize winner, economist Paul Krugman! Personally, I think it was his panel on DFH Economics that put him over the top. As a bonus, clearly it's driving MoDo around the bend, so there's that.
But my concern this morning is with the Republican candidate for the presidency, who I genuinely think is losing his mind. Sad, really. You know, the way that seeing someone who blew by you on the highway pulled over ten minutes later is sad. But what's even sadder is watching the wingnuts scuffle--while not actually admitting that they've already lost this thing--to apportion blame. Perennial faves include the darkies (They never should have gotten mortgages! They wanted to live in houses?!?!?!?) and the hippies, of course (They tried to register people to vote and then reported irregularities! As they are legally required to do! OMG!!1!eleven!!) but there's also the icky girl factor: Bobo called Palin "a cancer on the party" the other day. In public and everything. (Note Bobo: bringing up cancer might not help your guy. Just sayin'...)
I've been ruminating about all this for a couple of days, but I was pushed to write by the spectacular mental acrobatics of Michael Gerson, who, in what appears to be a defense of John McCain, argues, Gloria Swanson-like, that McCain is still a great man, it's just the pictures that got small. Or something.
Following the onset of the crisis, McCain was left with flawed options. He reasonably chose to work for a responsible bailout while hoping the markets would stabilize quickly. Instead, the bailout proved politically unpopular and the markets gyrated like the Pussycat Dolls. Then McCain raised Obama's past association with William Ayers -- a valid attack if properly raised. (Can anyone doubt that the past political association of McCain with a right-wing terrorist would attract some attention?) But this accusation naturally looks small compared to the nation's outsized economic fears.
Obama's task has been easier. He needs only to ride a historical current instead of fighting it. And this plays to his greatest political strength: the easy, laid-back self-assurance of a 1940s crooner. During the financial crisis Obama has contributed nothing of note or consequence. His only recent accomplishment has been to say questionable things in the debates -- attacking Republicans and capitalism for a credit meltdown that congressional Democrats helped to cause, blaming America for Iran's nuclear ambitions, talking piously about genocide prevention when his own early Iraq policies might have resulted in genocide -- all while sounding supremely reassuring and presidential.
Obama's current success is not enjoyable for conservatives. But this does not make McCain an incompetent. Maybe he is a great man running at the most difficult of times.
Are you all with us now, people? Obama says nothing, does nothing, but he does it well. John McCain struggles to be heroic, but he has been, in Gerson's title "Ambushed By History" and forced to "look small." Naughty history! Spankings for you!
A note to Gerson: McCain acted--foolishly and flailingly--because he thought he should look like he was acting. It did not work. (Also because he was justly terrified of debating the crooner, but you knew that.) McCain looks small because he is--and I hope you're sitting down--a very small man. And I'm not talking about osteoporosis. I'm talking about the pettiest, meanest, most self-centered person you could possibly have running the country. Take the USS Forrestal, for example, McCain's ship in Vietnam. An accidental launch of a rocket starts a fire, other explosives go off, 134 die, 161 are injured. McCain, instead of fighting the fire, runs away and hides, interested only in saving his own skin.
As the ship burned, McCain took a moment to mourn his misfortune; his combat career appeared to be going up in smoke. "This distressed me considerably," he recalls in Faith of My Fathers. "I feared my ambitions were among the casualties in the calamity that had claimed the Forrestal."
This is in his fucking campaign memoir. Small man indeed.
Throughout his career, he has repeatedly violated all kinds of moral and ethical and legal codes for his own advancement. He is a selfish, pampered playboy with an outsized sense of his own gifts. And frankly, we've already been down that path. But no, for Gerson, this is all about the situation changing around McCain, not McCain contorting himself to fit what he mistakenly perceives to be the situation. The Ayers stuff is playing badly for McCain because it's a bullshit tactic and everyone knows it. Palin is pulling his numbers down because she's just like him, only more provincial. These are decisions McCain made, and bad ones. (Do you get the sense that somewhere Mike Huckabee is giggling over his fried squirrel au gratin over this?)
Make no mistake, Michael Gerson: John McCain is a very, very small man. If he were any smaller, Lemuel Gulliver would piss on him.
But Gerson won't listen. Because the point of all this is to emphasize that Your Republican Daddies do not make mistakes. James Joyce once said: "A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery." Well, sure. But we're not dealing with a genius here. We're dealing with a Tim Healy-like opportunist, and Joyce had nothing good to say about them.