Friday, November 07, 2008

Political casualties of 2008, part I

In a landslide vote, John McCain has been selected to succeed Bob Dole as the nation's next Viagra spokesman. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has received the consolation prize: to become the 44th president of the United States of America.

Instead of crying over spilled milk, it is the job of responsible Republicans to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it for 2012.

Casualty #1: McCain's Political Career

If the events of the 2008 campaign have proven anything, it is that John McCain has lost his grip on political reality. McCain's response to the collapse of the housing market was probably the single most inept political judgement that any presidential-level politician had made in a generation.

Simply put, the housing crash put McCain's conception of honor for a senator in conflict with his conception of honor as a presidential candidate. When the crisis hit and Henry Paulson began pushing for a major bailout, McCain reacted, as he thought an honorable senator should react, by suspending politics as usual and unifying with the president's plan. That's fine for a senator, but not fine for a presidential candidate. A presidential candidate has honor in his duty to the electorate to honorably assembling an electoral constituency to address problems.

McCain is openly contemptuous of this second possibility, of course, although McCain the presidential candidate has spent years successfully misleading the public into thinking that he was capable of both being an honorable senator and an honorable presidential candidate. With the warm glow of mainstream media approbation that he enjoyed during the second Bush's presidency, it seemed like he wouldn't have any problems maintaining appearances or escaping the consequences. In 2008, the housing crisis finally forced McCain to make the tough decision without the mainstream media's safety net, and suffice it say that McCain totally bungled it.

Update: Donald Luskin points out that the "Wall Street Journal"'s editorial page makes the same point in a defense of Sarah Palin:
We are asked to believe that Mrs. Palin was not ready for a national campaign. On what evidence from any part of this election are we to conclude that anyone on the McCain campaign team was ready for a national campaign? ...Let's remember too that the only time Mr. McCain surged ahead -- in the polls, in the volunteers, in the mojo -- was when he picked Mrs. Palin. Before that he and his staff had been flying solo, and they were losing. When the contest returned to the top of the ticket, as presidential campaigns inevitably do, Mr. McCain and his team drove their lead into the ground.

It wasn't Mrs. Palin who dramatically flew to Washington promising a legislative answer to the most important economic issue of our day -- and then, in the words of a New York Times campaign profile, "came off more like a stymied bystander than a leader who could make a difference."

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