The Allure of Going Nuclear in the Late Innings

Losing the Presidential race has to be even worse than losing the World Series.

If you lose the World Series, you at least get to put up a banner proclaiming that you were the League Champion for the year. Your hometown throws you a consolation rally, and you start talking about the future (“hey, we’re tied for 1st place” in the coming season). There may be regrets about missed opportunities that could have produced World Series rings, but your own fans probably will not vilify you.

McCain, however, can already hear the long knives being sharpened on his own side of the aisle. (Oops, wrong metaphor.) McCain knows the throw is going to beat him to the bag, but he has to be seen running it out just as hard as he can. This is the big leagues.

Set aside ideology and partisanship for a moment and reflect on the momentous achievements of these two men, McCain and Obama. Think about how much they had to go through to get to where they are today. Neither one was given much of a chance coming out of Spring Training. From the Nov. 7, 2007 WSJ:

Democrats enter the 2008 presidential race with powerful political advantages, but face a tough and unpredictable battle because of the vulnerabilities of front-runner Hillary Clinton. … She’s locked in a dead heat against leading Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani.

(Wow… remember Rudy Giuliani? But I digress.)

Flash-forward to October 2008. Now it’s getting late in the World Series, and McCain is badly behind. Real Clear Politics shows eight states as tossups (CO, FL, IN, MO, NC, NV, OH, WV). Even if McCain wins every single one of them, he comes up short of the 270 electoral votes he needs, unless he also can turn a blue state red. In baseball terms, McCain has made it to Game Seven of the World Series, but he’s down by five runs and he’s got nobody on base. It’s not the 9th inning yet, but it’s getting late in the game.

So he tries to hit a five-run homer. “Hey, let’s pick that hot Alaska governess for VP.” (Note to the beautiful blonde I’m proud to call my wife: This isn’t me talking, Sweetie — I’m channeling McCain.) “That’ll shake things up and energize the base.” He knew Palin’s national credentials were thin (to put it charitably), but there was no way to predict she would become such a target-rich environment for Tina Fey.

That move didn’t work out, and now it really is late in the game. He’s got his ace starter warming up in the bullpen on two days rest. He tries to bunt for a base hit with two outs, desperate to do something to get a base runner. Et cetera, et cetera — I don’t want to get overly tedious about matching baseball moves with specific McCain tactics, but I’m talking here about things like “suspending” the campaign, and announcing a half-baked, buy-individual-mortgages proposal in the second debate.

What do you do now, Mr. World Class Athlete who has come so far? This ain’t no basketball game, where the last few minutes turn into garbage time when the game is out of reach. It’s still theoretically possible to win until the final out.

“I know! Let’s go nuclear with Ayers, Rezko and Wright! Maybe that will take voters’ minds off of their 201Ks. It’s a long shot, but it’s all we’ve got.”

Now, let me be clear. I think Obama has made some appalling choices in associates over the years, and calling attention to those choices is a very legitimate campaign issue. As the indispensable Charles Krauthammer puts it, the most disturbing thing…

… is the window these associations give on Obama’s core beliefs. He doesn’t share Rev. Wright’s poisonous views of race nor Ayers’ views, past and present, about the evil that is American society. But Obama clearly did not consider these views beyond the pale. For many years he swam easily and without protest in that fetid pond.

“Fetid pond” is a nice touch. But while this is a legitimate issue, it’s not a five-run homer — and meanwhile, McCain has his Keating Five baggage.

I fear that McCain and the Republicans, in their understandable desperation, are going to ratchet up the negativity at the very time that people like me, who favor McCain despite his flaws, are trying to reconcile ourselves to Obama, despite his flaws.

I’m trying to reconcile myself because it’s clear to me that McCain is toast. Yes, it’s theoretically possible to come back when you’re down by five runs with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth. And monkeys might fly out of my butt. (Crude perhaps, but I gotta come up with something to compete with “fetid pond”.)

The economic crisis is driving votes to the Democrats. That may not be fair or logical, but it’s a fact. And the only thing that could possibly knock the financial crisis off the front page between now and Election Day would be an Unspeakable Event that I most fervently do not want, and that no loyal American wants. If such an event were to occur, it is not clear to me which way the votes would shift.

Going negative can be effective at the margins, but it will backfire if the Republicans take it too far. Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist, but Obama is not. Rezko is a criminal, but Obama is not. Wright is an anti-American racist, but Obama is not. Obama also is not a Muslim or a Marxist or a Manchurian Candidate, and however fervently some people may believe those things about him, the umpires are not going to be convinced.

Out of all the people who have any conceivable chance of winning the election next month, Obama to my mind is the second-best choice. I have serious qualms about him, but there is an upside as well, and I have no doubt the Republic will survive an Obama Presidency.

To paraphrase the best thing Al Gore ever said, during extra innings in December 2000, “if at the end of the day, [Obama] is sworn in as President, then he’ll be my President. He’ll be America’s President.” To which I would add, let’s treat the man with the respect the office deserves.