The implosion of John McCain

With his national poll numbers plummeting nearly as precipitously as the Dow, Sen. John McCain's presidential prospects are quickly evaporating. As the economy teeters on the brink of collapse (due in large part to deregulatory Bush Administration policies which he supported), the Arizona senator has seen his slight post-convention lead of one month ago morph into a deficit of nearly 10 points and counting. National polling data now has the McCain-Palin ticket hovering at just over 40 percent, about as low as support for a major party candidate can go. McCain trails Sen. Barack Obama in a number of states, which President George W. Bush carried in 2004, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, a total of 112 electoral votes. It is interesting to note here that historically, no Republican presidential candidate has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio. Obama is also threatening to overtake McCain in other traditionally red states such Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. McCain, on the other hand, has virtually no chance of carrying any of the states John Kerry won four years ago. Earlier in the campaign season, the Republican had been flirting with the possibility of carrying some light blue states such as Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but no more. The McCain campaign officially ceased operations in Michigan two weeks ago, pulling all staff and funding from the state and essentially conceding its 17 electoral votes to Obama. The Republican nominee also faces deficits of five to 10 percentage points in the other Kerry states where he hoped to be competitive.

While the imploding economy, of course, is the primary catalyst in voters' dramatic shift toward Obama, another factor –– one which is especially salient for moderates and independents –– is the fiercely, nay frighteningly, negative direction in which the McCain campaign has directed the tenor of the electoral discourse. While both candidates have (inevitably) leveled numerous attacks against one another, the spirit of the great majority of the McCain camp's charges against Obama is positively reprehensible. Time magazine's Joe Klein marvels at what a "desperate empty embarrassment the McCain campaign has become." Gov. Sarah Palin's claims that Obama is "palling around with terrorists" and that he "doesn't see America like you and I do" are blatant efforts to arouse her supporters' basest emotions by underscoring the Illinois senator's otherness. At campaign rally after campaign rally, we have heard McCain-Palin supporters refer to Obama as a "terrorist" or an "Arab" and, in at least one instance, advocate his murder. Frank Rich of The New York Times writes that, by legitimizing such conduct, the "McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism." Black members of congress have taken great offense at many of Palin's comments. Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., said: "He's ‘not one of us? That's racial. That's fear. They know they can't win on the issues, so the last resort they have is race and fear."

Also playing a role here is increasing public skepticism about Palin's experience, character and knowledgeability. The Alaska governor's claims to foreign policy and energy expertise are highly dubious, if not outright fabrications. Her questionable integrity as a public official took another hit this past Friday with the release of the Alaskan legislature's bipartisan report on the "Troopergate" scandal. The report finds, among other things, "that Gov. Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act," which states: "The legislature reaffirms that every public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust." Ironically, Palin has pledged that she and McCain, because they are mavericks, will stop such abuses of power in Washington. When asked for her response to the findings, Palin claimed that it "vindicates" her, saying that the investigation found "no unlawful or unethical activity on my part." Her claim is so radically counter to the reality of the situation that one begins to suspect that she is either illiterate or psychotic. Or, as the editors of the Anchorage Daily News write, that the governor's "response is either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian." At any rate, Lil' Miss Sarah Six-Pack is doing a much better job of incinerating her own credibility than that of Obama.

At this point it seems that the trajectory of this election will not change significantly. The economic crisis may not be resolved in the next three years, let alone the next three weeks, and it is highly unlikely that voters will suddenly decide that McCain is the man for the job after all. All of the vicious rhetoric being spouted by the Republican nominees has certainly energized their base, but it has alienated centrists. Those of our countrymen who subscribe to the inanities being spouted McCain and Palin would never have voted for Obama anyway (his middle name is Hussein, after all). The media, of course, keep saying that the election may again become close before Nov. 4, but this appears to be more of a hope than an informed prediction. They want us watching returns on CNN until the wee hours of the morning as we did in the last two presidential races. Realistically, McCain simply has too much ground to make up and too little time in which to do it and for this he has only his party to blame.

Josh Baker is a Rutgers College senior majoring in sociology. He welcomes feedback at jbake74@eden.rutgers.edu. His column, "Zeitgeist," runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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