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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, November 01, 2008

McIlheran Watch: Black is White, Up is Down, and McCain is a Grown Up

by folkbum

I am a lucky guy. I think. Somehow, after all these years of duels and ripostes, in the last couple of weeks Patrick McIlheran has added me to his mailing list. That means every few days or so I get an email from him with the full text of a column of his slated to run in the next day or two.

Thursday night I got his preview of Friday's column*. (Confidential to PM in Bay View: Next time, use the BCC field. Your sole liberal correspondent might feel a bit weird about being your sole liberal correspondent, and was probably happier when he believed there was a more even distribution.) "Here’s an early look at my column in Friday's Journal Sentinel. You’re seeing it because I send a heads-up to a select group of talkers and bloggers whose work I admire. You’re among them." See? Lucky!

It certainly perked me up when I read on in his emailed introduction: "[I]n Friday morning's paper, I’ll note one good reason to vote for McCain rather than Obama is that the old guy, for whatever his faults, simply seems more grown up." I'm still cracking up.

The actual column is also a hoot. I mean, no one should be surprised that McIlheran is encouraging people to vote for John McCain instead of Barack Obama. But the "grown up" argument really is kind of the crux of his argument.

It's absurd to begin with, seeing as how eight years ago we were assured that if we elected George W. Bush, the grown-ups would be in charge again. The administration we are not yet finished experiencing has proved to be anything but grown up. What kind of crazy person thinks that making the argument again is a winner?

But here's what he says in the paper: "If you're still undecided, it's likely because you realize that either man's presidency will be shaped by events and issues yet unknown. All we can go on is our judgment of their judgment. I'll put it simply: Judgment is formed by experience. Obama has little and asks us to trust him anyhow. McCain, by contrast, has a record you can judge."

I have a hard time believing that anyone who's still undecided hasn't already considered the "experience" issue an discarded it. I mean, it was Clinton's biggest club in the primaries. It was, for a long time, the most effective argument John McCain himself had against Barack Obama. I say "for a long time" because John McCain has repeatedly done the best he could to undermine not only his own experience, but also the judgment that supposedly comes with it.

I have written previously how the McCain campaign has seemed like one hail mary after another. McCain's campaign has always been uphill, given that the present president from McCain's own party is currently about as popular as gonorrhea. McCain, having run towards Bush in the primaries to placate the Republican base, is now running away from Bush as hard as he can. But to rely, as I wrote then, on the hail mary as the first-down play (not to mention second, third, and fourth) is kind of the opposite of sound judgment. It certainly belies his experience of having run two honorable and sensible (but just one victorious) primary campaigns. The John McCain of 1999-April, 2008, was not a hail-mary thrower.

Recent stories have made it clear just how it happened that McCain blew it on that score, and it was with yet another hail mary--his hiring of Karl Rove protégé Steve Schmidt. When you're John McCain, and you've been standing up to (and the victim of) Karl Rove politics for the last decade, how do you then embrace them? (Answer: You embrace them because all your previous campaign staff, professional lobbyists almost to a one, belied your anti-lobbyist image.) I think by now you've seen those stories--this one being particularly instructive--and you get the sense anymore that McCain's campaign is anything but grown up. They want to win the news cycle, not the White House. They want to make a splash, not a difference. And McCain is letting it happen.

McIlheran isn't done there. He tries to make McCain look like the grown up during the financial crisis when McCain suspended his campaign (where "suspended" means kept running ads and making campaign appearances for a few days) and Obama didn't. McIlheran suggests that Obama didn't know what he was talking about during that time, and yet we know that when the two sat with President Bush and Congressional leaders at the White House, it was McCain who was unprepared and unable to talk intelligently about any of the proposals. McCain took credit for the first bill's passage just before it failed. Even Republicans involved in the bill's writing agreed that McCain politicized it--again, looking to win the news cycle. McCain first, I guess.

McIlheran defends Sarah Palin with the same tired and ultimately ridiculous excuses you hear everywhere (plaints about "Katie Couric's pop-quiz ambush about newspapers," for example). He brings up McCain's time as a prisoner of war, and how it supposedly shaped his judgment--but that was 40 years ago and McCain has repeatedly failed just this year to live up to the promise of that judgment.

In the end, McIlheran's argument is unconvincing to anyone who has paid even a modicum of attention to this election. There are plenty of people who will back McCain because of his stand on particular issues, and those people are making (the wrong but) sensible decision based on the facts in front of them. This argument--that McCain has the judgment to be president--flies in the face of those very facts. Hard-core conservative Republicans, including at least one former McCain advisor from the pre-Schmidt era, have been saying exactly that left and right over the last month, and urging a vote for someone whose judgment they trust--Barack Obama.

Luckily for McIlheran--and McCain--the groundwork has been extensively laid for scapegoating Wednesday morning. It's Palin going rogue, maybe, or all ACORN's fault. All of that, however, is just a convenient way for McIlheran and his ilk to avoid the real failure--McCain.

*Note: While I was working on this post last night, the preview of Sunday's column rolled in. It's a doozy, too. Something to look forward to, I guess.

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