The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Nate Silver of the invaluable has a post on McCain's suspension stunt in which he faults McCain for wanting to put off (or even cancel) one or more debates:
Let me digress for a moment. One of the reasons I probably turned out to be a Democrat is because of Ronald Reagan and Bugs Bunny. When I was a kid, once every now and then, they had Bugs Bunny specials scheduled for prime time ... I looked forward to these for weeks. But invariably, invariably! -- or so it seemed when I was six years old -- they'd be preempted by Ronald Reagan giving a speech. I was sure what Mr. Reagan was saying was very important ... but I absolutely hated him as a result.

Americans feel about the debates they way I felt about Bugs Bunny. The cumulative audience between the three Presidential debates will likely significantly exceed that of the Super Bowl. They like watching them, and look forward to them. If McCain denies them that pleasure, they are likely to be angry with him, perhaps in ways they have difficulty expressing.
I will admit, that's about right. I felt the same way about Pee Wee's Playhouse when I was eight years old, and when CBS interrupted it to show live coverage of the Tienamen Square massacre, I was practically in tears. But look at me, now I'm digressing.

My problem with this analysis is the following graf:
Imagine instead if McCain had called on Obama to return to Washington, and also called on him to meet him at Georgetown University on Friday night for a "civil discussion" (a.k.a. a High Noon showdown) on leading America's economy forward. That could have been brilliant. Obama would probably have had to agree to the change of venue and subject matter. McCain would have needed to follow-through by actually winning the debate, but if he had, that would almost certainly have been a game-changer. But that's not what McCain did.
And of course this could have happened... but it's not a matter of what McCain did, it's a matter of who McCain is. The simplest explanation tends to be the correct one, and when you sift through everything that happened today, only one conclusion can be drawn:

McCain wanted out of the debates, at least for the time being, and he wanted out at any cost. This was his way of trying to get out of them.

Yes, some of this move was about attempting to "white knight" the Congress on the big banking bailout (ahh, malignant narcissism), but in the eyes of the campaign that was little more than a potentially positive by-product of his greater need. The economy itself -- something he has repeatedly confessed he "doesn't understand as well as [he] should" -- was little more than a useful circumstance to help him try to accomplish his wussification.

McCain and his people made a calculation very similar to the one that produced Caribou Barbie: Running Mate.

Status Quo: 100% odds of losing by 2-5%
Do Something Crazy: 90% odds of losing by 6-10%, but 10% odds of somehow pulling it out.

It was this calculation that gave us Sarah Palin, which looks pretty dumb now -- did you hear about her interview with Couric? -- but people could understand why he picked her from a political standpoint at the time.

What's absolutely startling about today was that McCain and his campaign decided that the status quo of the rest of the race meant certain defeat, and this included holding a debate, which are supposed to be his chance to change the game, put the young and inexperienced Obama on his heels.

But nope, that's not what happened. Instead we have McCain concluding that any debate right now is a huge political loser for him. If his people felt confident that he could best, or even hold is own with, Obama in a debate setting, today's events would not have occurred.

And you can't really blame them, can you? McCain has been on a different side of the economic crisis issue every day since Lehman's collapse. (First he said the economy was still strong, then he called for a commission, then he called for the firing of the SEC head, then he suddenly became a pro-regulation populist, and now we have today's silliness) McCain's actions do not suggest either the seriousness or readiness required to support his own position in verbal sparring. On the latter issue, remember a couple a days ago, McCain was railing against the so-called "golden parachute" severance packages received by disgraced CEO's, but when confronted with a question about the $42-million parting gift his top economic advisor, Carly Fiorina, received when she was booted by Hewlett Packard, the Senator's response was essentially a non-response, as if he had no idea that this ever occurred.
McCAIN: I don't think so. ... Because I think she did a good job as CEO in many respects. I don't know the details of her compensation package. But she's one of many advisers that I have.

Q: But she did get a $45 million dollar golden parachute after being fired while 20,000 of her employees were laid off.

McCAIN: I have many of the people, but I do not know the details of what happened.
This could have come up in a debate about the economy. It seems like the simplest thing to prepare for, the most obvious question that could be posed to McCain were he to take a strong stance against giant severance packages for CEO's. Couple this episode with McCain's recent confusions in areas ranging from Iran's relationship with Al Qaeda to what continent Spain is on, and the reasons why the McCain campaign is chickening out of the debates begin to come into focus.

And as an added bonus, this could give McCain an out for the one person who could perform worse in a debate environment than him: Sarah Palin.

He'll have to come around though. America likes debates, America wants them. We just need to find someone to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on McCain's dog, so the candidate can have his homework back.


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