Elections & Voting
The last ride on the Straight Talk Express
By Mike Whitney
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Nov 7, 2008, 00:30

In the end, all the fear-mongering and mud-slinging amounted to nothing. On Tuesday night, the McCain campaign fizzled out on the front lawn of the Biltmore Hotel in front of 7,000 downcast Republican loyalists.

�Big Mac� -- as the Arizona senator calls himself -- made a gracious concession speech and offered congratulations to newly-elected President Barak Obama, but his words were drowned out by the boos and cat-calls from the crowd. The same acrimony and viciousness which characterized the entire campaign, dragged on to the very end.

McCain ran the dirtiest campaign in recent memory and his attempt to cover it over with a few upbeat remarks won�t save his reputation from lasting damage. At no point, did McCain try to stay above the fray or address the central issues of war, domestic spying or the financial crisis. Instead, he chose the low road at every turn, invoking Karl Rove�s Swift Boat tactics by focusing all his attention on Reverend Jeremiah Wright, ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers and Professor Rashid Khalidi -- anything to avoid a real debate on the issues or expose a party platform which features just two worn planks; tax cuts and war. That�s what made McCain the perfect choice for the GOP, because he embodies the ideologically muddled worldview that pervades the party�s core doctrine.

Today�s Republican party is a rudderless ship drifting in an open sea. Everything it once stood for -- fiscal conservatism, small government, nonintervention, civil liberties -- has been jettisoned for the sake of staying in power and rewarding its constituents. McCain is just the last in a long line of Pharisees and opportunists who hide behind their lapel pins and faux patriotism, so they can smear their enemies with impunity while gorging themselves at the public trough.

The 2008 campaign proves that the only thing that mattered to McCain was winning, but he didn�t have the foggiest idea of how to get the job done. His attacks on Obama were not only sleazy and vindictive, they were counterproductive and a big part of why he lost the election. Bottom line: he disgraced himself for nothing.

The Sarah Palin choice was more of the same cynicism. It was a foolish attempt to abandon the political process altogether and win support via public relations. No one in either party thought that the gun-toting Caribou Barbie was the most qualified candidate. It was pure theater conjured up by poll-driven advisers who were desperate to create some kind of �buzz� around the faltering campaign.

Palin was supposed to attract angry Hillary Clinton supporters and independents (which made sense) but the whole matter was badly bungled and, instead of reaching out to centrist voters, she was dispatched to conservative backwaters where she served up hearty portions of red meat to the base. What a waste. An ABC survey showed that a significant number of independents and conservatives were turned off by Palin�s antics and shifted their votes from McCain to Obama after she was added to the ticket. Palin became just another albatross on a sinking ship.

Of course, McCain was a long shot, anyway, given his voting record and his close ties to his ideological twin, George W. Bush. Dick Cheney�s endorsement didn�t help either; it just gave the Comedy Central gang more material for lambasting him and rehashing the last eight years of failed Republican policy.

But what really killed McCain was his appalling lack of leadership on the economy, an area where he is clearly out of his depth. Instead of convening a group of experts to help him formulate a plan for dealing with the growing unemployment, the rising foreclosures and the daily gyrations in the stock market; he decided to suspend his campaign and rush off to Washington to affix his signature to the most unpopular piece of legislation in the last half century -- Paulson�s $700 billion banker�s bailout. McCain�s political grandstanding cost him dearly; fiscal conservatives across the country vowed that they would never support any candidate who voted for the bill. From that point on, McCain�s ruminations on the economy were limited to attacks on Obama �the socialist� or sentimental palavering over the near-mythic Joe the plumber, who, oddly enough, became the centerpiece of McCain�s fight for the White House. McCain would have been better off making constructive recommendations for calming the markets or alleviating the suffering on Main Street, instead of trying to convince the public of his deep admiration for the proletariat. It just made him look like a phony.

In truth, McCain is simply out of touch with everyday Americans and the troubles they face. He doesn�t understand that the recession has changed the political landscape and that people can�t be bothered with the �business as usual� demagoguery and character assassination. He�s out of step with the times. Like the French poet Rimbaud said, �One must be absolutely contemporary.� McCain�s time has passed.

The saddest moment in the McCain campaign took place on the last day of a nine-city blitz; an ordeal that was clearly too much for the 72-year-old veteran. McCain was at the podium, as usual, blasting away at Obama, waving his fist at the sky and fulminating in full-throat like a Pentecostal preacher, while his eyes flickered in their sockets like the shutters on a broken camera. It was quite a spectacle. All the while the crowd kept milling around nervously like they were watching their revered elderly uncle slip slowly into dementia. It was a bit like the closing scene in Stanley Kramer�s classic �Inherit the Wind� when the disoriented William Jennings Bryan exhorted his flock to join his struggle against godless atheism and follow him to the Promised Land. There was a touch of madness in McCain�s behavior; the old guy is really losing it. Imagine a man like that with his hand on the big Red Switch!

Less than 24 hours later, the Straight Talk Express ran aground in sunny Phoenix ending McCain�s life-long ambition to become the president of the United States.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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