McCain has abandoned any practical pretense of conducting an honorable campaign that is based on contending positions on the issues. The man who once suggested that he and Obama conduct a series of friendly informal debates has brought out the Bush-Rove operatives to try to plunge a lethal knife into the Obama-Biden ticket using a stock set of sleazy tricks from the book of Repub swift boating. Actually, even Rove among other Repubs have expressed varying degrees discontent with the falsehoods coming from the Repub ticket. McCain may be running the most openly venal campaign yet seen, certainly it has not been matched since the master Nixon. It is so bad that McCain has ruined his managed to ruin reputation (and for his efforts ended up in the polls back were he was before the conventions). Why is he doing this?
McCain proclaims that he is running for President solely for the interest of the nation, that it has nothing to do with him -- when anyone who was really doing that would never sink to such base self elevation and electoral pandering. He rolls the dice for his campaign, party and nation by reaching into a grab bag and pulling out an unknown running mate who feeds red meat to the hard right, while playing the sex-based identity politics conservatives denounce when doing so happens to be to their advantage. The self-proclaimed candidate of judgment has given America just two months to decide if Palin is qualified to step into the presidency. That McCain’s veep pick wiped out all he and his collaborators had said about Obama’s lack of experience et al. did not bother the Senior Senator from Arizona one whit, he has been grinning in giddy ecstasy at the success of his gamble with the GOP base. The McCain-Palin campaign has descended into the political gutter as they issues statements and ads that are at best grotesque and are often outright lies. The latter include the charge that the Obama tax cuts will not reduce taxes for the middle class when it does a lot more of that than the McCain plan, and Palin’s incredible lie in speeches and campaign ads that she told Congress no thanks to the bridge-to-nowhere when it was Congress that told her to forget the bridge she would be building right now if she could have gotten away with it (see my post "The Liar From Nowhere"). McCain squeals like a stuck pig over Obama using the same lipstick-on-a-pig comment that McCain previously used to bash Hillary Clinton’s health care plan. McCain smears Obama with the charge that he wants to teach kindergarten kids all about sex when the legislation was designed to help instruct young ones on how to avoid sexual predators.
McCain has sunk to the point that in national ads and on the stump he and Palin do not target just the Dems, they blatantly trash their own party! The dynamic duo are portrayed as having opposed Republican graft on a regular basis. The ads repeat the theme that they will clean up their own party again and again. In other words the top candidate of the GOP is asking America to ensconce the corrupt GOP in power so he can decorrupt the GOP!
All this calculated madness is McCain’s doing. Palin is a person of enormous ambition who a few years after being responsible for a town of a few thousand is now more popular than her boss – so much so that McCain may be embarrassed if he tries to conduct rallies without her to draw in the cheering crowds -- and can just taste the White House for her and her politically collaborative husband in the not so distant future (see my post "Todd Palin: Future Co-President?). But at this early stage in her rocket boosted political life she has no more control over her ego than does a brand new rock or movie star, and all she does is approved by McCain’s operatives. Look at how JM stands right next to her when she lies about stopping the bridge-to-nowhere. All he cares about is whether it works or not, whether it is actually true is beside the point. McCain has only one goal for the next few weeks. Win.
So just what the hell is McCain up to? The answer for this occupies, of course, multiple levels, including the modes operandi of the modern Republican political machine, and the desperate state of the amazing shrinking GOP has it withers into the party of the white upper middle class of the south and midwest at a time when the nation is becoming dominated by minorities. Republicans see the demographics of 21st century America and they are afraid, very afraid. But that’s a subject for another posting. What I am going to look at now is what is rattling around in the mind of the supposed man of honor, John McCain.
I am more qualified than most political observers to do this because I have a long interest in military history, including air combat. You can get a sense of this subject by watching the current History Channel series Dogfight, which uses computer generated animation to produce hyperrealistic recreations of classic aerial battles from the first World War to today. Usually from the view of Allied pilots fighting for freedom and the American Way -- or the British Empire on occasion. Watch a few episodes and you will get a sense of what is going on.
Candidate McCain is back in the cockpit of his strike jet. In air combat there is but one rule. Win. To stay alive and achieve glorious victory a pilot can and must do whatever it takes to defeat their opponent. There is no honor. There are no rules of fair play. That’s for sissies who lack the guts to survive and win. Using deceit and lies to trick the other side is not only allowed, its encouraged. The last thing the best pilots want to do is engage in a thrilling one-on-one dogfight in which the best man or these days woman wins a fair fight. You can get killed that way. The preferred mode of attack is ambush, usually by sneaking up from behind and below the other aircraft in the target pilot’s blind spot, and blasting them with guns or missiles before they know what hit them. It’s a ruthless, no holds barred, knife fight in a back alley, with death the potential endgame for the loser.
In combat soldiers also often develop what is called tunnel vision, in which the mind totally focuses on doing whatever is necessary to destroy the enemy. Nothing else matters, nothing else is allowed the entire the mind to distract it from its immediate life versus death goal.
Perhaps McCain really did intend to run a clean campaign back in the spring when it was easy and pleasant to imagine doing so. Or maybe it was a pre-combat tactic designed to get the Dems to let down their guard. Or perhaps McCain was ticked off when that upstart Obama disrespected his desire for a series of townhall style debates. Or over time the dark influence of Repub operatives grew on him. A combination of some or all of these factors is likely. Whatever happened, at some point in the summer McCain psychologically returned to the mindset of the fighter pilot he was in which winning the ultimate victory is all. That’s why there are no rules but victory in his campaign. Pulling big surprises on the opposition that risk blowback when the all the facts come out? That’s the gambling of combat. Deceit and lies? Not a problem. Gutter tactics. Hey, this is an all battle for the ultimate power prize. Gutting the legitimacy of your own party? Whatever it takes. Not worrying too much about the ethics of your tactics while going so far that the opposition can turn the tables and reply with lethal fire? Tunnel vision, the total focus on the goal to the exclusion of all else.
What about Palin? Contrary to the myth of the lone-wolf pilot, fighter pilots normally act as teams, with the basic unit the leader and his wingman. The purpose of the latter -- who is usually a rookie pilot learning the ropes -- is to protect the lead pilot from being ambushed from behind by another enemy aircraft as he directs his attention to shooting down the enemy in front of him. To McCain Palin is his new yet loyal wingman. But McCain should remember that wingman often chafe at having to play second banana, especially when they are turning out to be more skilled than their putative leader. It has happened that the wingman has seized the opportunity to slip in ahead of their leader and grab the glory for themselves. That is not something Obama has to worry about the compadre he carefully choose. As qualified as Biden is to assume the presidency if need be, he cannot hope to politically dominate his boss.
The problem for McCain is that being a fighter pilot is a dangerous thing. Even the Red Baron got knocked out of the sky. Not by another ace, but when Richthofen made a rookie mistake and flew his red (note that’s red) triplane over Brit anti-aircraft gunners while single mindedly pursuing another fighter. It was that tunnel vision thing. McCain too is at high risk of making bad mistakes as his mind – its agility potentially degraded by age – becomes so narrowly obsessed with winning at any cost that he loses touch with political reality and gambles away whatever limited chance he has of shooting Obama down. The chronic and open lying even after the press and Obama campaign has exposed the deceits is evidence of cynical recklessness. So is McCain’s choice of the untested and little known Palin as his electoral wingman. The whole thing is in danger of crashing down as they become so over the top aggressive that they turn off too many independents and further energize the ticked off Dems at a time when the electoral demographics are becoming increasingly unfriendly towards Republicans.
After all, McCain got shot down once before. Literally.