Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 22, 2008

GRACE UNDER PRESSURE.... When it comes to the McCain campaign and the crisis on Wall Street, part of the problem is the shift towards substance and policy details, both of which McCain has been actively trying to avoid. But the rest of the problem is that voters have been looking to McCain for some sense that he knows what's going on, and he's come up short.

On ABC's "This Week" yesterday morning, George Will made an interesting observation: "I suppose the McCain campaigns hope is that when there's a big crisis, people will go for age and experience. The question is, who in this crisis looked more presidential, calm and unflustered. It wasn't John McCain who, as usual, substituting vehemence for coherence, said, 'Let's fire somebody.' And he picked one of the most experienced and conservative people in the administration, Chris Cox, and for no apparent reason, or at least none that he vouched safe, he said, 'Fire Chris Cox at the SEC.' It was unpresidential behavior by a presidential aspirant." In the same program, Will added, "John McCain showed his personality this week, and it made some of us fearful."

Welcome to the club, George.

Last week was incredibly difficult for McCain, not only because the nation's interest turned to a subject he knows little about, but because he floundered, moving from one response to another. He hates regulation, and he loves regulation. The fundamentals are strong, except when they're not. We need a commission to find out what happened, and he knows exactly what happened. Cox has to go, just don't ask him why. Usually, when looking for a leader in trying times, people want a steady, competent hand. McCain seemed to go out of his way to present himself as the opposite.

I suppose the larger question is what kind of president voters are looking for this year -- haphazard vs. deliberate, obtuse vs. cerebral. Watching the candidates on "60 Minutes" last night, it was clear that McCain wanted to appear "tough." He was out of his depth talking about policy, but as Michael Crowley noted, he came across as "someone ready to kick ass and take names."

Obama, meanwhile, was smart, knowledgeable, even-keeled. He showed judgment and sophistication. If McCain was the kid who tried to b.s. his way through the oral exam through brute force, Obama was the kid who did his homework and knew what he was talking about.

I like to think this is a good thing, but these are strange political times. Crowley concluded, "[Obama] offered more substance about his agenda. But he didn't deliver his message with quite the gut-punching oomph of McCain's populist outrage. We saw, I think, a similar contrast in the candidates' two ads about the economy this week (Obama spoke soberly to the camera for two minutes, while McCain put up a razzle-dazzle punch-throwing spot). A major unknown question right now is: Which style will more voters respond to?"

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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From Shakespeare's Henry VI:
CADE
Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows
reformation. There shall be in England seven
halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped
pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony
to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in
common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to
grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,--
ALL
God save your majesty!
CADE
I thank you, good people: there shall be no money;
all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will
apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree
like brothers and worship me their lord.

Posted by: Danp on September 22, 2008 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Why even ask the question? The country is full of the clueless, gullible, and fear-ridden. Bluster and blarney is what they respond to. McSame blows so much smoke in so many directions it isn't possible even for a battalion of the media to sort out his lies, distortions, smears and flip-flops even if they were inclined to. Which they aen't.

Posted by: Rich on September 22, 2008 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

Sometime I wonder if Rove's people aren't so much interested in getting McCain into the White house as using his trainwreck of a campaign as an experiment to see just how much bullshit the meida, and through them the american public, will swallow.

Face it -- if McCain wins, then it's anything goes for Rove-style politics from here on out.

Posted by: Gregory on September 22, 2008 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

Haven't we been gut-punched enough?

Posted by: Betty on September 22, 2008 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

McInsanity Timeline:

1) The fundamentals of our economy are strong.
2) Blue Ribbon Commission...
3) Fire someone!
4) Obama caused it.
5) As a Senator I worked hard to prevent this...

Posted by: koreyel on September 22, 2008 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

"Haven't we been gut-punched enough?"

We'll know what "gut-punched" is in the final weeks of this campaign.

Posted by: Saint Zak on September 22, 2008 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

Faux populist appeals and bluster can only go so far. Based on what I heard after church and at a grand kids soccer game the weekend Obama might really be up 20 points. McCain's flopping around last week was downright scary. I suspect the "pundits" on ABC are reflecting public opinion, not leading it.

One thing is for sure, people are blaming Bush, the Republicans and everybody associated with them. They want rules and value. They want something for main street. They aren't going to settle for giving Hank Paulsen a blank check. If the Dems cave, as some are suggesting they will, a lot of regular folks will be dusting off their pitchforks. Hey, incumbents the election is just 5-6 weeks away. If you want to remain in government, caving to shock and awe 2008 would be a deal killer.

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 22, 2008 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

Quick wake up call to all of us who frequent these blogs:
The Rovian tactics work. I come in contact every day with low information voters, I had one fellow tell me "well that Michelle Obama said for the first time in her life she is proud to be ann American" There you have it , someone grasping for a sound bite from the primary to justify his vote for McSame. I had my boss who is a college graduate CPA tell me to my face that she likes
Faux news because they present "both " sides of the story. These people are clueless and with the complicity of the mass media (should have seen Meridith Viera's hard hitting interview with McLame this morning , one wiffleball after another, she should have learned somthing on the view)That people are not totally outraged at the Palin choice says it all. I hate to say it but the same doofus mentality that got W elected in 04 has a very good chance of getting McLame elected.

Posted by: John R on September 22, 2008 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

I have rage and outrage. It doesn't mean I want them in a president. I want someone better than me. I want someone who recognizes the problems, can explain the issue, is willing to listen to the expertise and advice of others that may be in contrast to what he thinks, and can then explain his thoughts and solutions to me. Is that so much to ask for?

We've been through 8 years of "shoot first, ask questions later" and where has it brought us? I'm tired of politicians who are all-fired up and just sure they know they are right but are not able to coherently explain why they think that.

Enough is enough.

Posted by: Lori on September 22, 2008 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

"over the weekend." Man I would love the ability to edit my comments.

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 22, 2008 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

Last week was incredibly difficult for McCain, not only because the nation's interest turned to a subject he knows little about...

In addition to the other points you raise, Steve, it was also difficult for McCain because his "go to" guy for economic matters is Phil Gramm. Who can't give McCain the advice he needs because he's part of the problem. And he can't turn to reflexive conservative ideas about what to do because they're also part of the problem.

Ideologically, he's screwed. And he doesn't have the following in his party to completely upend what they believe in - he can't actually change the GOP's stances on regulation or oversight or handing out fat checks to failing Wall Street businesses. So I figure for the next few weeks he'll just denounce whatever Congress tries to do and try to pin the blame on the Democrats - it's the only play he has left.

Posted by: NonyNony on September 22, 2008 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Which style will more voters respond to?

The white one.

This has been another edition of 'Simple Answers to Simple Questions'.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on September 22, 2008 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

I think Republicans have succeeded in some measure with the "Who would you rather have a beer with?" benchmark for a President. Consequently their candidates aren't penalized for being blathering idiots. If you're on a stool with a guy and a debate ensues about something neither of you know a damned thing about you still keep drinking with the guy. You don't think "Hey, this guy hasn't a clue about complex economic theory, I gotta find myself a more on-the-ball drinking buddy!" He's not any less of a stand-up guy for his ignorance, you're just as misinformed as he is. The leap to "I should care, he's leading the nation" isn't made, and besides "We're having a beer here, leave us the hell alone!" Republicans have turned politics into a cult of personality instead of the pursuit of competence. So long as you're willing to demonize brown people, non-Christians, gays, liberals, intellectuals, academia, the media, femi-Nazis, Hollywood and everyone north and east of the Mason-Dixon you're in the club. Whether you can do your current job or the one you're applying for is immaterial.

Posted by: steve duncan on September 22, 2008 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the commercial breaks and backstage doings for Sunday's This Week. It seemed like they were all sharing a private joke about McCain and fighting back laughter every time his name came up.

Posted by: Joe on September 22, 2008 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose, in the final analysis, a nation gets the leaders it deserves.

With Bush, there was some rationale that voters were deceived by a master. When Bush ran in 2000 he could be plausibly presented as a bi-partisan sort of guy, having shown himself capable of playing well with Democrats in the Texas Legislature, by 2004 he had some problems fooling people, but to be fair to the American people we were in a war and national security was the main issue, an issue that, rightly or wrongly, the Republicans have an advantage with, and that helped him over the hump. Nothing motivates voters like fear.

Now things have changed radically, the issue that is front and center is one that Democrats don't lose on and the Democrats have a young, good looking, charismatic candidate, running against an old, grumpy establishment candidate. The Democrats should win in a walk. If they don't I fear it will be because of racism and, in the end, we will have gotten the leadership we deserve.

Fight racism, elect Obama.

Posted by: majun on September 22, 2008 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

John

Rovian tactics work when people aren't paying attention. In my neck of the woods people started paying attention last week. A 700 billion dollar give away and the collapse of several investment banking houses will do that.

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 22, 2008 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

One final thought. This isn't 1932. This is 1929. I wonder what FDR could and would have done that Hoover didn't do had FDR been president in 1929.

I sort of feel sorry for Obama.

But on the other hand buddy can you spare me a dime.

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 22, 2008 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Byers, if twenty people in a room are commanded to fork over their wallets for dubious reasons they may resist. If the thief is an accomplished practitioner of group hypnosis (with a seven year track record of success to prove it) my bet is he'll leave with a pillowcase full of money.

Posted by: steve duncan on September 22, 2008 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose, in the final analysis, a nation gets the leaders it deserves.

We deserve McCain.

I'm just waiting for the universe to propose a plan to buy out all of our over-leveraged karma in hopes that it is actually undervalued. Then maybe we can afford Obama.

Posted by: lobbygow on September 22, 2008 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

I could not help but notice the advert about unsecured loans, from bank lady. I thought it was a joke but it looks like a serious ad. you can't seriously be advertising the very route of the current financial crisis ($100k + unsecured credit!)... this is worse than the PETA ad you had last month Steve on the CBR. Anyway, I can't wait until Friday.

Posted by: zie on September 22, 2008 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget this part of the electorate where none of these issues matter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxdt_f0hwUg&feature=related

Posted by: John Henry on September 22, 2008 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

If McCain were a little better at blustering, this might be a contest. But he's old and wobbly, and doesn't sell this shtick particularly well. He looks like he's blustering. Obama looks like he's reining in his power. Game, set, match.

Posted by: Ted on September 22, 2008 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Which style will more voters respond to?

Is that a trick question?

Posted by: JM on September 22, 2008 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

It was a lot of tough talk and fudging of details that got us into a mess in Iraq. People need to be reminded that looking tough and acting tough feels good in the moment-but can be exactly the WRONG response and have huge consequences later - people need to be reminded of their own failings in this regard and sober up some. That's what leaders do. In the case on McCain, it's just a way of distracting people from the truth of who he is and what he represents - lobbyists, big money - deregulation etc etc. They need to be constantly reminded of that.

Posted by: C.B. Todd on September 22, 2008 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I could interrupt this orgy of easy cynicism ("low-information voters, we're DOOMED", "my co-workers watch Fox News, we're DOOMED","Bush won in 2004, we're DOOMED") to point out that the "This Week" roundtable, which is Villager CW personified, has noticed that John McCain is erratic and incoherent. George F Will, professional fluffer of Republicans going back decades, is actively frightened by the prospect of McCain in office.

This is not a small thing.

Posted by: jimBOB on September 22, 2008 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

This is not a small thing.

Yes it is. George Will and the rest of those yahoos have zero credibility with voters on both the right and the left. The vast majority of folks don't even watch those programs, and, even if they did, they don't hold the msm in particularly high esteem.

Contrary to Obama's wishes, this is a big election about small things.

Voter turnout will be the deciding factor.

Posted by: lobbygow on September 22, 2008 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Apt:

“The characteristic fact of the moment is that the mediocre soul, recognizing itself as mediocre, has the audacity to assert the right of mediocrity and impose it everywhere.”

Jose Oretega y Gasset

Via Violins and Starships

Posted by: steve duncan on September 22, 2008 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Duncan, How did Karl Rove's math work out in 2006?

The people I talked to over the weekend are genuinely worried about their personal futures. One nearing retirement lady saw her 401k drop like a rock. She wanted a pitchfork.

The Dems have one chance this week. If they cave, as many (including me) expect they will, they are toast. As for the Republicans, after this episode, they ought to start a new party with a different name.

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 22, 2008 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Even if Obama wins 55-45, an incredible landslide, most of us will still know lots and lots of people who voted for McCain and Palin. Those people will have reasons for their vote that sound inane and stupid to us. Some of those people will be, in fact, not well-informed. Some of those people will be tribal in their politics, voting for the guy who looks like them. That's democracy.
We will not win because everyone will see how lame the GOP is; we will win by turning out more of our voters than they do.
Everybody will still be here in January 2009.

Posted by: tom in ma on September 22, 2008 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Byers, if the Dems cave and Republicans prevail with their proposals which party won this battle? It's a tough needle to thread saying Republicans will pay a price for their many years of mismanagement and fearmongering if they constantly have the final say in every new measure to alleviate their latest mistake revealed. What penalty is paid when the laws, regulations and remedies are very much to the liking of Republicans, despite whatever their electoral successes in Congress and the White House every few years? Losing at marbles isn't such a bad thing if after every match you still go home with all the marbles.

Posted by: steve duncan on September 22, 2008 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

@ Ron 8:36 Well sorry but they still aren't paying attention. We had 15,000 seniors show up in central Florida to here that esteemed public speaker Sarah McBush. The oohs and ahhs and comments on the TV tell me that they are looking for an excuse - any excuse not to vote for that black muslem-y guy. The dumbing down of America has succeded beyond their wildest dreams

Posted by: John R on September 22, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

John, don't despair. If Obama wins Florida by 2 points he still wins Florida. Race is a horrible fact among seniors. They will never vote for a black man. Their children will. So will their grandchildren. Nationally Sarah Palin's popularity has been dropping like a rock.

Where I live, people who are normally Republican are coming to the conclusion that they don't have any choice but to vote for Obama. They might not like him, and they might want a better choice, but McCain just doesn't look up to the job.

Mr. Duncan (you can call me Ron if you want) as I indicated I think the congressional Dems will cave. I think that the two major parties are at a defining moment. One and possibly both might not survive. The only way they can survive is to start paying attention to the folks back home not just the Rick Davis's of the word.

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 22, 2008 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

"gut-punching oomph of McCain's populist outrage."

Can I use this without violating copyright law?

Posted by: nukev on September 22, 2008 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

The vast majority of folks don't even watch those programs, and, even if they did, they don't hold the msm in particularly high esteem.

If that's so then why do we spend so much time bitching about what they say?

It's not that a majority will watch This Week and have their minds changed (your strawman). It's that this is the CW that will shade coverage going forward (and not just coverage from the members of the roundtable). If these leading villagers are saying this stuff, then so are the rest. And if McCain has lost them, he's lost one of his most important advantages, namely a cheerleading section in the MSM.

Posted by: jimBOB on September 22, 2008 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

The Post has a great article about resentment building on Main Street. I suggest you all read it.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/21/AR2008092102534_pf.html

Posted by: Ron Byers on September 22, 2008 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Crowley says 'gut-punching oomph', I say 'cringe-inducing blather'.

Posted by: henry lewis on September 22, 2008 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I could interrupt this orgy of easy cynicism ("low-information voters, we're DOOMED", "my co-workers watch Fox News, we're DOOMED","Bush won in 2004, we're DOOMED")...

Most people here are negative and cynical, because they think it makes them sound more sophisticated and knowledgeable.

Instead they sound just like the Republicans want them to sound - panicky and hopeless. Who needs the GOP to spread fear and anxiety when Democrats will do their work for them?

Posted by: Ken on September 22, 2008 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

If McCain was the kid who tried to b.s. his way through the oral exam through brute force, Obama was the kid who did his homework and knew what he was talking about.

And McCain isn't very good at b.s-ing as he finished 4th from last in a class of 900. I really think the nation needs someone smart who has done his homework running this ship.

Posted by: ckelly on September 22, 2008 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Ken:

Yup. If my 'puter had a phony cynic filter, half of Steve's commenters would disappear and that would be fine with me

Posted by: henry lewis on September 22, 2008 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

George Will is backing his way into the Enough Club?!? Man, they might have to build a whole new wingnut wing!

I was feeling good about how badly McCain did last week, until I got into a taxicab in Kingston, NY, yesterday and the driver went on, nonstop, about how wonderful Sarah Palin is. "She's from one of the biggest states in the union, and she did all kinds of things nobody else does! She sold a plane on eBay! She gives money back to the taxpayers! When did anybody ever do that in New York? And she's a beautiful lady--the Secret Service are gonna be fighting over who gets to protect her! They're gonna be, like, 'Oh, he f-ked up--it's my turn!'" I swear, if he'd ever slowed down to 20, I was just going to hurl myself out onto Route 209.

I just kept repeating silently to myself, "New York's a safe blue state... New York's a safe blue state."

So yeah, I gotta believe a lot of "60 Minutes" viewers went for the bluster over the brains.

Posted by: gradysu on September 22, 2008 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

George Will has been a conservative apologist for a long, long time, trading on his 'insider' status especially with Saint Ron R.

What has happened with the internets is that it is a lot easier to fact-check and history-check these guys so one can catch them going back on themselves.

So George Will is scared. For the sort of person who would vote for Sarah Palin, that is a feature not a bug.

This election is going to come down to rank prejudice and 'gut feel'. The bare soul of the American electorate is going to come out to play.

Obama only needs a repeat performance of his time with Rick Warren, and this one is, I feel, lost.

What was it Tho. Jefferson said 'I fear for my Republic when I contemplate that there is a just God?'

Posted by: Valuethinker on September 22, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers

Interesting article in WP.

BUT Manassas Park is a Maryland suburb of DC, no? And a suburb with a significant Afro-American population?

Hardly representative of the places Obama has to win to close the deal? If he doesn't win there, it's already over.

I think this is still a very uphill fight. Black people have trouble getting registered (read Andrew Hacker in the New York Review of Books this month on voter-denial operations). White people vote more than other folks, and older white people vote more than anyone.

An older white war hero, against a younger black man (to be strictly accurate, he is a Kenyan-American, but he's been painted as 'black') who seems exotic and elitist and un-American.

I think it's going to be a close run. If he drops the ball in the debates, it could well be over.

Posted by: Valuethinker on September 22, 2008 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Ron Byers

Interesting article in WP.

BUT Manassas Park is a Maryland suburb of DC, no? And a suburb with a significant Afro-American population?

Hardly representative of the places Obama has to win to close the deal? If he doesn't win there, it's already over.

I think this is still a very uphill fight. Black people have trouble getting registered (read Andrew Hacker in the New York Review of Books this month on voter-denial operations). White people vote more than other folks, and older white people vote more than anyone.

An older white war hero, against a younger black man (to be strictly accurate, he is a Kenyan-American, but he's been painted as 'black') who seems exotic and elitist and un-American.

I think it's going to be a close run. If he drops the ball in the debates, it could well be over.

Posted by: Valuethinker on September 22, 2008 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

It's the Debates Stupid....

We'll see where we are on Saturday. My gut is telling me that Obama is going to clean the old man's clock.

McBush has been all over the map..... and I mean ALL over the map, and most Indie voters really haven't been following this. They'll get a good taste of this when the panelists lay into him. This will be a very target rich environment. Obama on the other hand has been pretty consistent from Day One.

Posted by: mkrrpc on September 22, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Obama could take advantage of his coolness and McCain's outrage very easily. McCain is outraged because he just found out his world view didn't work out. Obama already has a line about how this crisis is no surprise to those on Main Street. But he should tie in the McCain outrage a little more.

Posted by: tomj on September 22, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

This is what has me worried about the debate on Friday. While I think Obama would school McCain in any debate, even McCain's coveted "town halls", the talking heads on tv who drive a lot of the spin coming out of debates LOVE short tough sounding answers, regardless if they're correct or even pertain to the question asked. McCain will rattle off a slew of one-liners like "I'll defeat Evil" or "I'll chase him to the gates of hell" and the media will love it. Obama's well thought out answers will get skewered as too long and nuanced. I already saw the media spin this weekend on The Chris Matthew Show, particularly by Bob Woodward. The press knows what they like and they like McCain's debate style. I don't know if Obama can change his thinking and speaking style to counter this.

Posted by: tom.a on September 22, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

The American voter will respond to the candidate who shouts the loudest and calls his opponent the dirtiest names.

Always have, always will.


________________________
John McCain is the is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being America has ever known.

Posted by: The Manchurian Electorate on September 22, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

People are starting to vote TODAY.

Before even one debate.

Before the dust settles on the bailout.

TODAY. WTF.

Meanwhile, let's all hope, cross our fingers, cross our hearts, pray, envision, whatever, that people with some savvy (NOT the Bob Schrums of the world) are training Obama for the debates.

Let's all hope, etc. that Obama can LEARN to answer with quick quips that paint McCain out of touch, at one with Bush, etc. RATHER THAN starting out with a slowly building explanation of his own policies.

Obama can win ONLY if he shreds McCain.

OK, after shredding McCain, he can give a 30 second soundbite description of his own policy.

When asked about veterans benefits,

DON'T say "Here's one area where McCain and I disagree."

SAY, "You know, John McCain voted against extending veteran benefits, I voted for it." Then you can add something like "The bill, drafted by Virginia Senator Jim Webb, former Secy of the Navy under the first Pres. Bush, extended health and education benefits for our men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't know how Sen McCain, a veteran himself, voted against it I don't know, you can ask him yourself, but maybe he didn't understand the issue because he himself didn't need the benefits after he married an heiress." (OK, maybe that last bit is too much for Obama and the debates, but boy would I like to hammer McCain with it.)

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on September 22, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Your overall point is sound, but remember: it doesn't matter what an asshole like George Will thinks.

Posted by: NB on September 22, 2008 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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