WASHINGTON -- Time was, the Baltimore Orioles manager was Earl Weaver, a short, irascible, Napoleonic figure who, when cranky, as he frequently was, would shout at an umpire, "Are you going to get any better or is this it?" With, mercifully, only one debate to go, that is the question about John McCain's campaign.
In the closing days of his 10-year quest for the presidency, McCain finds it galling that Barack Obama is winning the first serious campaign he has ever run against a Republican. Before Tuesday night's uneventful event, gall was fueling what might be the McCain-Palin campaign's closing argument. It is less that Obama has bad ideas than that Obama is a bad person.
This, McCain and his female Sancho Panza say, is demonstrated by bad associations Obama had in Chicago, such as with William Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist. But the McCain-Palin charges have come just as the Obama campaign is benefiting from a mass mailing it is not paying for. Many millions of American households are gingerly opening envelopes containing reports of the third-quarter losses in their 401(k) and other retirement accounts -- telling each household its portion of the nearly $2 trillion that Americans' accounts have recently shed. In this context, the McCain-Palin campaign's attempt to get Americans to focus on Obama's Chicago associations seem surreal -- or, as a British politician once said about criticism he was receiving, "like being savaged by a dead sheep."
Recently Obama noted -- perhaps to torment and provoke conservatives -- that McCain's rhetoric about Wall Street's "greed" and "casino culture" amounted to "talking like Jesse Jackson." What fun: one African-American Chicago politician distancing himself from another African-American Chicago politician by associating McCain with him.
After their enjoyable 2006 congressional elections, Democrats eagerly anticipated that 2008 would provide a second election in which a chaotic Iraq would be at the center of voters' minds. Today they are glad that has not happened. The success of the surge in Iraq, for which McCain justly claims much credit, is one reason why foreign policy has receded to the margins of the electorate's mind, thereby diminishing the subject with which McCain is most comfortable and which is Obama's largest vulnerability.