Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Has John McCain lost his mind?

Ok, so it is time for another political blog post. I've actually been planning a political post for some time, one titled "The Vilification of Arugula." It was supposed to be about my irritation at the use of "arugula eating" as a negative character description not too far removed from, say, "crack smoking." That and how this whole irritating Sarah Palin bubble and the bad-Disney-movie "Hocky Mom VP" story line was, well, like a bad Disney movie. Possibly even about how undeserved her MILF label was and how completely non-MILF-able I found her, probably not least because I find her stultifyingly not-intellectually-interesting-at-all and have some serious issues with her Jesus-in-our-lifetime belief and her understanding of the physical laws which govern the universe. But mostly about how the whole evil-arugula thing and the Palin thing both pointed to what I find to be a depressing over-appreciation of mediocrity and rejection of excellence that seems to be sweeping our country. Oh no, let's reject people who try too hard, because they might make us feel like I could be doing something challenging or interesting instead of (literally or figuratively) sitting on my ass...

images.jpgBut that's not what this is about. This is actually somewhat more pointed (though I managed to sneak in a summary of the planned post quite nicely). This is about the interesting choices being made by the McCain campaign and/or the Senator himself. It's about this campaign-on-hold/skip-the-debate thing. Now I'm sure that, just as, as an Obama supporter, I am predisposed to see this move entirely in a tactical light, there are plenty of McCain supporters who see the Senator's decisions as those of a selfless patriot willing to put aside his own ambitions and instead do what the nation needs in a time of crisis.

Balderdash, I say! But if you disagree with my call of balderdash, so be it. I have a separate line of reasoning should my initial judgement call be false. It comes later.

For the moment, assume that this is a tactical decision. "I know," says Karl Rove, John McCain, or some unnamed strategist, "We'll sit out the debate and stop running ads and play the moral superiority card!" There is something to be said for that -- it is certainly an act of differentiation and in line with McCain's image as a hip-shooting rogue. And never mind that I feel like we've had quite enough hip-shootery around this country of late. It is a strategy, if strategy it is, that lies so far outside of the normal conduct of electoral politics as to constitute very nearly an ace of desperation. Remember that Palin thing? I also viewed that as an almost-act-of-desperation move. And coming from a guy who, at the time of both of these decisions, was not exactly running away with the race but was far from out of touch with the lead.

So, if you are still in touch and don't need to pull out the desperate rogue strategy, why do so? And what does it say of your decision making that, with 40 days to go and a yet close race, you opt to make this sort of move?

Now let me return to the more charitable viewpoint that John McCain really did make these decisions based solely out of concern for the financial well-being of his country. That this is a selfless gesture, a unilateral move aimed only at helping fix a trillion-plus dollar cluster f*&%. That there is no intention of stealing some press attention, reinforcing the "rebel" image, or scrubbing the VP debates and keeping Palin under cover or of forcing the Obama camp into a potentially loose-loose situation.

What selflessness. But, and I'm going to go back to that hip-shootin' thing again, why? If you, Senator McCain, really do believe that you are the best (or at least better) man to run this country, shouldn't you be devoting a good portion of your attention to that pursuit? The presidency is not just a vanity prize and a ticket to a recording contract (by the way, Clay Aiken's coming out -- the only thing less surprising would be Jodie Foster's. Yawn. But I digress).

If you want to be president you must believe (or should -- and should project the image that) you are the best man for the job. You should, in my mind, therefore think strategically and recognize that your campaign is not just a foolish act of vanity but something vitally important to the future of our nation. And you should know that pursuing that goal is a strategic necessity. In other words, you should not drop your campaign at the drop of a hat and rush (almost eagerly) to the first emergency that comes along.

I know that I occasionally see this sort of opportunity at work. You're running behind on a project, things aren't going well, you can't get buy-in from your supposed "enterprise partners" (that's a phrase word 'round the office these days) or vendors, and then all of a sudden the database crashes in flames and you get to (oh, I'm sorry, I mean "have to") spend the day managing recovery efforts and can (I mean "have to") push back whatever it was that was giving you fits in the first place and take a fresh start at it. And I'll certainly admit to having had a few "convenient crises" in my time.

Convenient from what? Convenient to revitalize a campaign that might have been loosing some momentum (though, and see above for more, not enough to warrant such drastic action). Convenient to delay a debate that the McCain camp appeared to have less optimism about lately (recent comments seeming to downplay his expected performance against the admittedly streaky Obama). Convenient to push the presidential debate back into the slot reserved for Palin vs. Biden (and don't forget how dramatically media sheltered Palin has been).

But, again, what if this is an honestly motivated reaction -- exactly as it is claimed to be? A drop-it-all-to-deal-with-an-emergency reaction. That might be a fine way to handle things when your toddler spills a glass of milk on the hardwood floor and you have to put down whatever it is you're doing for five or ten minutes of wiping. But when you want to be president, that ain't cool. Stay on target, multitask it out between the strategic vision and the immediate emergency. That is, after all, what you will have to do when you are president -- at least if you want to do well or even excel. You can't afford to sacrifice this goal -- that you are (or should be) convinced is the best possible thing for the nation you love.

So in a whole different way, I find this version of McCain's actions equally questioning of his ability to serve as president. Reflexive reactions, hip shooting, and instinct trusting are something that I'm very, very tired of. The last guy to try "suspending his campaign" or anything similar was Ross Perot -- who will surface in this post again later -- and we all know how well it did him. Ross was a different, and larger eared, situation and was already facing the stiff challenge of running as a third-party candidate. But there while maverick can be a desirable trait, so can direction, discipline, and consistency.

Three months ago I had quite an appreciation for John McCain, Senator, pilot, war hero. I respect the hell out of that kind of background. He was, at the very least, the most attractive of his Republican counterparts and I approach the primary season with the goal of supporting the best candidate of each party so that, regardless how things turn out in November, I'm left with, at the worst, the best-of-the-bad. Unfortunately, since that time he seems to have begun running a very enthusiastic smear campaign against himself. Three months ago I supported Obama because I welcomed his vitality, intellectualism, and spirit of change. Increasingly, however, his merits matter less and less to me as I find McCain's erratic and questionable decision making -- and therefore capacity to act as president -- more and more of a real and palpable concern.

Either way I look at it, McCain's actions increasingly remind me of the brilliant Saturday Night Live satire, performed, I believe by the late, great Phil Hartman, of Ross Perot's one-time running mate and McCain's fellow former naval aviator and POW, Admiral James Stockdale, and Stockdale's very nearly incoherent performance at a vice presidential debate during Perot's ill-fated and, perhaps significantly, at times bizarrely and indecisively managed, campaign of 1992.

For the record, coming at the conclusion of a post where I've managed to outdo even myself for comma use and intricate constructions, that might be the most complex single sentence I've ever written. Draw, from that, your own conclusions about my politics and my opinion of arugula.

No comments: