Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Reading the blogosphere these days, I get the feeling that a lot of people think the election is over. Obama's withdrawal plans have been seconded by Maliki; he's being cheered by GIs in Iraq; McCain looks old and tired and cranky. Here's Michael Crowley of The New Republic:

...I can hardly believe how badly John McCain is getting routed in the television-imagery game. As Obama saunters through the Middle East, looking cool and relaxed, McCain has been holding events where he looks stiff, uncomfortable, and, in his bracing claim today that Obama would lose a war to win an election, sounding bitter to the point of nasty. (McCain flashed another bizarre forced smile after his scathing shot at Obama tonight, but it didn't prevent him from coming across as whiny and petulant.)...

And look, there's Obama in a helicopter with General Petraeus while McCain sits in a golf cart with Poppy Bush! McCain has really lousy optics these days, right?

And yet:

For the first time since shortly after clinching the Democratic nomination, we now have Barack Obama as less than a 60 percent favorite to win the election. Our simulations presently project Obama to win the election 58.4 percent of the time, with McCain winning the remaining 41.6 percent.

The main culprit for the decline are the new numbers out of Ohio, where Rasmussen shows John McCain jumping into a 10-point lead.... Obama's numbers had declined among Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike....

There is also new polling out from American Research Group, which has Florida and New Hampshire moving in John McCain's direction. In Florida, Obama now trails by 2 after having led by 5 points, and in New Hampshire, he leads by 2 after having led by 12....

And Gallup still sees a close race -- Obama's up by 3.

What's going on here?

Practically everyone in the left blogosphere has been reading Nixonland recently. I confess I haven't cracked it, but I think I grasp the premise: that Nixon won over a massive coalition of voters by persuading them that they were the bedrock of America and their enemies were radicals and elitists who wanted to destroy our civilization -- and we still live in Nixonland.

It seems to me that this wouldn't be a race at all if a significant percentage of the electorate didn't see McCain as Nixon rather than, say, Bob Dole. Being stiff and awkward was a mark of virtue for Nixon, as was being the object of sneers from the press; McCain wants you to feel the same way about him, and it's possible that some voters are responding.

Yes, I know: McCain has been a media darling for years. But he's getting some bad press now -- at just the right time.

And yes, I also know that in 2000 Al Gore was called stiff and awkward and that was supposed to be a sign of his lack of genuineness, while George W. Bush's backslapping marked him as "real." Well, that's the problem: Democrats can win elections under certain circumstances, but the deck is always stacked in favor of "real" Republicans as opposed to "slick," "phony," "elitist" Democrats.

This is a long way of getting around to the fact that I -- alas -- think McCain's videos accusing the press of excessive "love" for Obama could be the most effective ads he's done (yes, I know that's a low standard), and may really be sending a message that resonates with a not insubstantial bloc of voters.

The ads have some energy and a reasonably light touch. The songs are catchy chestnuts by Frankie Valli. And, somewhere in hell, Nixon is smiling: the point of the ads is that frou-frou East Coast media superstars are gushing over the new young star. The cringe-inducing thrill-up-my-leg remark by Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson's invocation of a schoolboy crush make the ads seem largely about sex; that's appropriate given the fact that Nixon's culture war was as much about discomfort with sex as anything else.

This all makes me wish Obama would turn around and come home right now, before he gets to Europe. He's established his foreign policy bona fides; far too much of what's left is the movie star/sex god part, and that has the potential to hurt him in Nixonland. This is the part where he runs the risk of seeming less like a political figure and more like a celebrity with political notions -- Richard Gere talking to the Dalai Lama or, to put it in Nixon-era terms, Warren Beatty in a turtleneck flashing a peace sign next to a kohl-eyed ingenue in a miniskirt. I fear Obama may actually drop in the polls until he gets back home and stops seeming like, as they'd have said in Nixon's day, a jet-setter.


UPDATE: No, this (from Joe Klein) isn't going to hurt McCain one bit.

John McCain said this today in Rochester, New Hampshire:

This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

This is the ninth presidential campaign I've covered. I can't remember a more scurrilous statement by a major party candidate. It smacks of desperation. It renews questions about whether McCain has the right temperament for the presidency. How sad.

My hat's off to Klein and the left blogosphere for trying to make this an issue, but it's always acceptable to accuse a Democrat of disloyalty to country. This isn't going to get traction.

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