It’s hard to believe that the last debate (hurrah!) in this long and winding and extraordinary election has just ended .
The pundits were out of the gate–even before the two spouses, in red and blue, bounded onto the stage — peddling their wares and opinions. Who won? Was it a game-changer for McCain? (Note to pundits: Could we abolish that term? Elections are not games.) No. Some argued that McCain won the first quarter. But by halftime, punditocrats brayed in virtual unison that it seemed as if McCain needed anger management therapy.
“Obama on the defensive” was another favorite pundit theme. It is true that given the opportunity to skewer McCain/ Palin’s demagogic 100 percent negative ads and rallies– the ones that have incited ugly and hate-filled xenophobia at a time of metastasizing economic pain–Obama chose to stay cool, sober and cautious. (McCain’s defense of those rallies, and his vile attacks on civil rights leader and American hero, now Congressman John Lewis, exposed the dark twists and turns of a man who once denounced gutter tactics. He now condones them.) It’s pretty clear –as one observer noted–that Obama’s strategy is “dare to be boring.” He played a safe game tonight.
McCain, on the other hand, flailed and revealed a kind of manic desperation . He had one punchy line: “I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run to run against him, you should have run four years ago.” But how far does one punchline take “No More Mr. Maverick.” McCain is more right and wrong than Bush on core principles and issues–from Iraq, Iran, North Korea ( he protested taking it off the axis of evil list) and Russia and he has pandered to a Republican right-wing base on energy, on immigration, and tax cuts for the most wealthy. He’s even capitulated —though Obama failed to point this out in tonight’s debate–on the CIA’S use of torture.
The false populist invocation of Joe the Plumber was McCain’s attempt at a Reaganesque move. Hey, I am happy that a working man out of Toledo, Ohio got his 15 minutes of fame on network and cable TV. But McCain is no Reagan and it is no longer morning in America (if it ever was). And Obama was smart and nimble when he decided to speak directly to Joe–and explain how McCain was distorting his tax and healthcare plans.
At a time when the collapse of the markets has left conservatism in rubble and market fundamentalism in freefall is it any wonder that, as Harold Meyerson pointed out in his Washington Post column Wednesday, “a disoriented John McCain is wandering the moors howling about Bill Ayers?” McCain’s attacks on Ayers and ACORN were jerky and disjointed. (And it was hysterical for McCain to assert that ACORN was “perpetrating the greatest voter fraud in US history.” As The Nation‘s Ari Berman blogged yesterday, “McCain and his Republican allies continue to make a big stink about voter fraud in an attempt to cover-up their own efforts at voter suppression…..A new report by blogger Ari Rabin-Havt documents, “nearly a quarter of John MCain’s ‘Clean Election and Voter Fraud Committee’ chaired by Warren Rudman and John Danforth, have been involved in GOP voter suppression efforts or unfounded partisan claims of voter fraud.” What’s really at work is GOP panic about enormous Democratic (minority) turnout and a preemptive move to discredit the legitimacy and integrity of the election’s outcome.)