Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obama v McCain: A Five-Month Chokathon?

A REAL CHOKATHON? Another day, another round of misstatements, gaffes, blunders, confusion, and tongue-tied responses from the two wobbly presidential candidates. The "Q School" tournament to qualify for the PGA tour is often described as an "annual chokathon" of double bogies and last-second collapses. It's starting to look the general election campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain is going to be five-months of political choking as the candidates blunder from one embarrassing moment to another.

Today, John McCain takes the cake for another unbelievably stupid and self-defeating remark about Iraq. As everybody who pays attention to the news knows, McCain answered a Matt Lauer softball about when the troops were coming home by saying:

[Lauer] "If it's working Senator, do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?"

McCain replied: "No, but that's not too important. What's important is the casualties in Iraq, Americans are in South Korea, Americans are in Japan, American troops are in Germany. That’s all fine. American casualties and the ability to withdraw; we will be able to withdraw. General [David] Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are.

As TPM points out, McCain's actual opinion is that the United States needs to keep 100,000 plus troops in Iraq indefinitely to prop up the Iraqi government and intimidate Iran and other Islamic nations in the Middle East.

But McCain is still being monumentally stupid. McCain needs to convince voters to support him even though they disagree with him about the war. But he's acting as though he doesn't know that 2/3rds of the American public wants to bring the troops home within a year. More importantly, he's acting as though he doesn't care in a year when "Republicans Not Caring" isn't going to sell.

But it's not like Barack Obama's doing hugely better. Appointing a Democratic fixer like Jim Johnson to vet VP candidates was a bad idea even before it was compounded by the face that Johnson got shady loans from Countrywide Financial Corporation. That mini-scandal was itself compounded by Obama's halting and petulant reply to ABC News.
"Well, no," Obama said. "It becomes sort of a, um, I mean, this is a game that can be played - everybody, you know, who is tangentially related to our campaign, I think, is going to have a whole host of relationships -- I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters. I mean, at some point, you know, we just asked people to do their assignments . . .

"So this – you know, these aren’t folks who are working for me," Obama said. "They're not people you know who I have assigned to a job in a future administration and, you know, ultimately my assumption is that, you know, this is a discreet task that they're going to performing for me over the next two months."
And ABC was gracious enough to put every "um" and "you know" into the transcript.

There's also some YouTube video of Obama stumbling over some numbers at a townhall meeting in Bristol, VA.

WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN? As if to illustrate the dictum that life is not fair, the gaffes and blunders are a serious problem for John McCain but might not be a problem at all for Obama.

Why is that?

Obama is riding the wave of public opinion on most issues, he's an appealing figure, and it looks like he's getting the benefit of the doubt from most voters.

The right accuses him of being a hypocrite when he appoints a fixer like Jim Johnson, but the right also wants to portray Obama as a radical and appointing Jim Johnson makes Obama look anything but radical.

Jim Johnson's a wash.

And so what if Obama gets tongue tied occasionally. Obama's reputation for being smart and eloquent is so well established that the stumbles might make him look more human. Maybe Gore should have stumbled on his numbers every once in a while as well.

MCCAIN'S HILLARY/RUDY MASK. But John McCain is stuck in a no man's land between the Hillary and Rudy problems. Because McCain's is trying to buck public opinion on big issues like the war, his age, and his reputation for being temperamental, he's not getting the benefit of the doubt.

As was the case with Hillary and license plates for illegal immigrants, every one of McCain's gaffes and mistatements stick to him because they reinforce the impression that McCain is out of sync with the public.

But it's worse with McCain than it was with Hillary. There's a real danger with McCain that one of his dumb statements is going to be seen as so inept and ridiculous by the public that big chunks of voters just dismiss him out of hand. That's what happened to Rudy. The steady drip of revelations concerning Rudy's arrogance, weirdness, and association with Bernie Kerik didn't cut much into his support originally. But the revelations did create a situation where the public could decisively turn on Giuliani and they did when it was revealed that New York cops were supplying security for his mistress.

That's what McCain's getting into now. His misstatements about Iraq, Iran, and Putin being the president of Germany are eating away at his credibility to such an extent that the next embarrassment might finish his reputation off for good.

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