By now, we’re all used to the "Friday Night News Dump"; so used to it, in fact, that we expect it, and almost feel cheated if there’s no major development by 5pm Eastern on Friday.
But yesterday, we saw something quite different. We saw a Friday Night Reality Dump. And it dumped right into John McCain’s lap.
The groundwork had been laid throughout the week, and it culminated with the release of the Troopergate report a little before 8pm Eastern. The true repercussions of yesterday will not be felt for some time, but they will be felt, and we will all be able to point back to Friday, October 10th, 2008 as the moment it happened.
At the beginning of the week, the McCain campaign went ultra-negative; they’d been heading that way for a week or so beforehand, but they began to hit the depths on Monday, hitting rock-bottom by Wednesday. In an incredibly short time, the McCain-Palin rallies had degenerated into baying mob-scenes straight from the darkest days of the 1960s, filled with hateful speech and terrifying imagery.
Many here and in the media asked why it should be so; was this the last card McCain had to play? Were the politics of distraction the only possible route for them to take? Or was this a calculation to try and distract us, once more, from another piece of breaking news for Friday; the Troopergate report?
I believe it was the latter, but in their shortsightedness, the McCain Campaign missed a vital truth: The wounds of racial inequality still bleed in this country, and the forces that brought us the Watts riots and the assassination of MLK Jr. are alive and well in parts of this nation.
So yesterdays, when we saw the incredible spectacle of McCain being booed by his own supporters for daring to suggest that Barack Obama was a decent, honorable man, not a threat to the country if he were to be elected, the truth began to dawn on them.
The fire they had lit was out of their control, and their fear boiled over almost as swiftly as the flames had that day.
Republicans down-ticket were jumping ship; they had taken their cues from the main event, launching vitriolic attacks on their opponents, only to see their poll numbers plummet. Senate and House candidates watched in horror as the stratagem backfired spectacularly, and they began, privately at first, then publicly, to back away from the edge of that frightful pit that the McCain-Palin ticket had driven them to.
By late afternoon, McCain’s eyes opened for the first time in weeks, and he saw what he had wrought; the woman stammering
... he...he’s...he’s... He’s an Arab...
shocked him; his face fell, his eyes closed, not because she was simply wrong, but because he did not want to see it; but he could not ignore it.
Later, defending Obama from another question, he was booed by his own people, and the horror on his face, the realization that he had truly crossed the line, was a wonder to behold. I believe, at that moment, that McCain saw that not only was he about to lose the election, but, perhaps, for the first time, understood that he deserved to.
The previous day, they had tried to lay the groundwork for a rebuttal of the Troopergate findings, releasing a slim pamphlet of "What Really Happened", preemptively exonerating Palin of all wrongdoing. It convinced precisely nobody, and has been subsequently utterly ignored, as the press waited eagerly for the real thing.
That release, ultimately, was damning. Palin was found guilty of an ethics violation that can (and probably will) lead to impeachment proceedings against her. Whether those proceedings are successful or not is irrelevant at this point – there is simply not enough time for them to unfold completely between now and Election Day, and whatever image is in play before November 4th will be indelible; the image of a VP Nominee fighting impeachment in her own State for ethics violations, a perfect tie-in with the popular image of the current Administration.
The McCain-Palin ticket is doomed. The die has been set. Defeat is all-but inevitable now.
McCain stands at the precipice, faced with the choice of continuing his attacks and unleashing the pent-up fury of forty years of civil-rights legislation, felt by the lowest common denominator of racists and Republican "patronage", or to back away from it and undercut his campaign once more.
Whether he chooses to follow the better path is, again, irrelevant; the damage is done, and his credibility amongst independents and undecided voters is at an all-time low.
And worse for him; as he backs from that crumbling edge, in the manner of Wile E. Coyote, the dust settling around him, he will find that the precipice itself has crumbled behind him, and he has no choice but to fall.
And perhaps, in the silence of his heart, part of him will understand that he deserves this, too.
Judging from the comments, people read this as a defense of McCain; I do not think of it as such, but rather an analysis of why the anti-Obama theme was launched in the first place (to distract from Troopergate and to try and tear down Obama) and why McCain did what he did yesterday in Minnesota (he was forced to).
For the record, I do not think McCain has any honor left: this was the lowest maneuver by any politician in recent times - lower even that Jesse Helms' infamous "Hands" commercial. I just think that he finally - finally - saw what he had done and realized where it was going, and saw that it would taint all down-ticket races too.