Death throes of the McCain campaign

GRAPHIC: The McCain-Palin Campaign: A pig with lipstick

Pretend you’re John McCain.

Since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were effectively nationalized in early September, the economy – not your strongsuit – has been in the spotlight. Combine that with your fanatical support for an unpopular war and our failed president, a dangerous healthcare plan, proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, an unqualified and prodigious liar of a running mate and you have a recipe for a campaign freefall:

CHART: Polling trends starting to show an easy victory for Obama

So what would you do? Come up with some brave and innovative ideas to solve our economic and foreign policy crises?

Well, if you were John McCain, apparently you’d go 99.9% negative:

The McCain campaign has now shifted virtually 100 percent of his national ad spending into negative ads attacking Obama, a detailed breakdown of his ad buys reveals.

By contrast, the Obama campaign is devoting less than half of its overall ad spending to ads attacking McCain. More than half of its spending is going to a spot that doesn’t once mention his foe.

So get ready for a replay of the worst part of the Clinton-Obama primary battle. Remember Obama’s old associations with Rezko, Ayers and Wright?

Palin is already out in front doing the dirty work on two out of those three.

“Our opponent though, is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,” Palin said, referencing Obama’s trivial relationship with William Ayers.

“I don’t know why [Obama’s association with Rev. Wright] isn’t discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character,” said Palin in an interview with Bill Kristol.

But as Matthew Yglesias documents, perhaps this isn’t the best strategy for McCain given his own shady past:

  • Watergate crook Gordon Liddy has contributed money to McCain’s campaigns, hosted a fundraiser for him, and received praise from McCain for his adherence to principle.
  • McCain sought out, and received, the endorsement of the Rev John Hagee who believes that Katrina was God’s punishment to New Orleans for hosting a gay pride parade.
  • McCain was a longtime associate of S&L kingpin Charles Keating, a beneficiary of Keating’s largess, and a doer of favors for Keating for which conduct he was officially reprimanded by the United States Senate.
  • McCain has employed Richard Quinn, publisher of a Confederate nostalgia magazine.
  • McCain served on the US Council for World Freedom, a far-right group whose parent organization was described by the Anti-Defamation League as “increasingly . . . a gathering place, a forum, a point of contact for extremists, racists and anti-semites.”

Not to mention McCain’s deep ties to an important architect of our current economic crisis:

Chief among those to whom responsibility attaches for the financial crisis that is plunging the nation into recession is former Texas senator Phil Gramm, McCain’s own economic guru.

Gramm was always Wall Street’s man in the Senate. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee during the Clinton administration, he consistently underfunded the Securities and Exchange Commission and kept it from stopping accounting firms from auditing corporations with which they had conflicts of interest. Gramm’s piece de resistance came on Dec. 15, 2000, when he slipped into an omnibus spending bill a provision called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA), which prohibited any governmental regulation of credit default swaps, those insurance policies covering losses on securities in the event they went belly up. As the housing bubble ballooned, the face value of those swaps rose to a tidy $62 trillion. And as the housing bubble burst, those swaps became a massive pile of worthless paper, because no government agency had required the banks to set aside money to back them up.

The CFMA also prohibited government regulation of the energy-trading market, which enabled Enron to nearly bankrupt the state of California before bankrupting itself.

The problem with this exercise, of course, is that Gramm’s relationship to McCain is not comparable to the relationships that Ayers or Wright have with Obama. The idea that either Ayers or Wright would have any impact on the workings of an Obama administration is nonsensical. But Gramm and McCain do have an enduring political and economic alliance. McCain chaired Gramm’s short-lived presidential campaign in 1996; Gramm is co-chair of McCain’s current effort. McCain has not repudiated reports that Gramm is on the shortlist to become Treasury secretary if McCain is elected, even after Gramm labeled America “a nation of whiners.”

I’m coming back to feeling astonished that the race for president is even close.


Tonight I’ll be liveblogging the presidential debate at 9pm ET.


  1. Andrea

    Further astonishment that the race is so close:

  2. Ian

    I’ve been completely astonished that people would support McCain for a while now. When he took the lead in the polls after selecting Palin I was apoplectic. I just can’t fathom it. I just hope the stupidity doesn’t come back to haunt Obama with McCain’s negativity. It doesn’t appear to be working, but I just hope it doesn’t erode Obama’s support.

  3. strong52

    I am a registered Democrat who used to have a great deal of respect for John McCain. Even though I often disagreed with him, I found his willingness to speak “truth” to power to be a very admirable quality. However, his pick of Sarah Palin (who has been aptly described as “‘W’ with lipstick”… not even the most adamant right wingers could seriously believe she’s qualified to be the leader of the free world) , and his subsequent adoption of the same gutter campaign tactics Bush employed against him in the 2000 GOP primaries have unhappily diluted my admiration. On one level, I can empathize with McCain’s impulse of wanting to win so badly – it’s a very ordinary human impulse. However, by all accounts, America is facing some extraordinarily daunting challenges in the coming years, which could literally threaten our very existence. Such challenges will require extraordinary leadership, intelligence, wisdom and sensitivity to the needs of all the people and an ability to inspire “we the people” to a disciplined expression of our better selves. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character; and character “my friends”, is destiny.

  4. Ian

    Well put strong. I liked when Jon Stewart called her “the she-Bush”. Before the primaries I thought that I would actually have to think about whether to vote for Hillary, Obama, or McCain. That didn’t last very long. When faced with difficult situations throughout this campaign, Obama has always acted as I thought he should or at least in a well reasoned manner. McCain has too many times left me wondering what in the world he was thinking. Either his plans just don’t make sense (tax plan, healthcare, the “Surge” in Afghanistan) or they seem to me to be political pandering (Palin, suspending the campaign, the plan to buy mortgages). I feel like with Obama, I know exactly what kind of President we would be getting. McCain, not so much.

  5. Chris

    It’s a strange twist to be sure. Before the general election, the CW was that Obama would be considered the risky choice and thus McCain’s biggest advantage was being a known quantity.

    Luckily, people have actually realized that McCain is flailing about and looks positively insane depending on the day of the week. Obama couldn’t be more cool and reserved.