Re: No Time to Go Wobbly

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Oct 06, 2008 9:00 AM

I couldn't agree more with Carol regarding the fact that the media -- and the Democrats -- want you to believe this race is over.  But not only do they want us to believe the race is over -- they also want to discourage McCain from doing the requisite things that might turn things around.

As you may recall, when McCain was flailing a few months ago, he was finally able to change the momentum by going on the attack (remember the "Celebrity" ad?).  ... But today, the Democrats and the press hope to avoid a similar volte-face by signaling it would be inappropriate and off-limits to discuss Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, Rev. Wright, et al. 

In short, they want McCain to simply go out with a whimper. 

As such, the Democrats and the media are arguing that Sarah Palin's comments Saturday regarding Bill Ayers is proof that McCain is attempting to divert attention away from the economy.  While I would agree that changing the subject is wise for McCain, it is also true that voters are electing a President of the United States, not the Chairman of the Fed.  The vagaries of the world scene means a president must handle an assortment of issues -- not just the economy.  As such,  it is prudent and appropriate for the next thirty days to focus on a variety of issues.  And issues like character and judgment are always relevant, inasmuch as they transcend individual issues.  Issues tell voters "where a candidate stands" on a given issue, but character tells voters, "who a candidate is" ...

... In addition to the MSM and the Democrats, there is, sadly, one additional group that McCain must also overcome; the conservative media naysayers. 

Here's the problem:  Conservatives -- understandably sick of being portrayed as "mean" and "negative" -- are obsessed with being thoughtful and nice.  As a result, conservative pundits on TV and in print are falling all over themselves trying to warn McCain to play nice (it is also true that many of the conservatives who frequently get on TV are not terribly conservative).  This is partly understandable, inasmuch as most conservative writers -- unlike many candidates, are part of a permanent political class, and thus, must mollify the insiders.  (Sarah Palin may well go back to Alaska and be governor, but conservative writers will still have to drop their kids off at school in DC or NY after Election Day...)

Meanwhile, liberals -- sick of being portrayed as "effete" --- are obsessed with proving their toughness.  Why is this significant?  When Obama was losing, the advice given to him was to "get tough."  But when Obama is winning, the advice to McCain is to "play nice" ...

... And so it is.  A classic example of this "play-nice advice" occurred yesterday when Peggy Noonan appeared on Meet the PressHere's an excerpt:  

MS. NOONAN: You know what; this has been a long campaign. We are in the last month. It is still close. Whoever’s rising or, or, or falling, it’s really close. And some part of me fears they’re going to open up the gates of hell on this one. It seems to me there is trench warfare out there. The left—there’s a huge middle in America, but there’s a left. They think they’re going to win, and they’re getting meaner than ever. The right fears they’re going to lose, they’re getting meaner than ever. I would hate to see this descend into this, this—“I’ll kill—I’ll tear your throat out” kind of stuff. I think that would be harmful. I think we are at a unique and dangerous...

MR. YEPSEN: But, Tom...

MS. NOONAN: ...moment in history, and it’s the last thing we need. And I don’t speak as a sissy; I’m trying to speak as an adult.

In fairness, Noonan is urging both sides to play nice.  Yet, Noonan's winsome argument, of course, would put McCain -- specifically -- in an impossible position.  Because Obama is currently ahead, and stasis is death to a candidate behind in the polls, McCain can either go on the attack and be criticized and hated -- or lose.  Make no mistake, though; if nothing changes, McCain loses...

Noonan also seems to forget that aggressive and tough political campaigns are as American as apple pie -- and that what attacks she deems as "dangerous" are actually much preferable to the alternative option -- nice, pro forma elections, such as the ones that take place in Russia.  

Noonan would do well to study the vicious races of 1800 (Jefferson vs. Adams), the bitter 1828 election, where Andrew Jackson's wife Rachel was called an "adulteress," and the 1828 election where Grover Cleveland was accused of fathering an illegitimate child.  As you can see, today's attacks are somewhat genteel by comparison.  McCain would be buried if he dared traduce Obama to this degree.  Frankly, I hardly think that asking whether or not it is appropriate for a president to be friends with an unrepentant terrorist is in the same league as accusing someone of fathering an illegitimate child...

My advice to McCain is to ignore all the talking heads for the next month.  Instead, take the gloves off, and stick with the plan.  Peggy Noonan might be a smart lady, but to my knowledge she has never won an elected office, nor has she managed a political campaign.  Many intelligent political thinkers are embarrassingly outside of their ken when it comes to understanding hard-faught campaigns.