John McCain's September surprise

Jake Turcotte

It's like 1984 all over again.  Not the presidential race.  Reagan annihilated Mondale in that contest winning 49 out of 50 states and a whopping 58 - 40 percent schlapping in the popular vote.

This is like November 23, 1984.  A day of legend.  Boston College down by four with six seconds remaining. Doug Flutie scrambles and heaves up a 48 yard Hail Mary.  His favorite receiver is in the right place at the right time.  BC wins.  The colloquial "crowd goes wild" (not in Miami but around TV sets in New England, anyway). Flutie goes on to win the Heisman.


Is John McCain the new Doug Flutie?

McCain's move to suspend his campaign and his call to postpone the debate can be criticized, mocked, derided and chastised as a ploy to shake things up.  To, as we referenced last night, change the conversation.

Things were not going well for the Republican candidate.  Poll numbers - down.  Jaws of life couldn't extract McCain's campaign manager from the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mess.  Sarah Palin was pulling off the greatest impersonation ever of Dick Cheney in an undisclosed location and the press wasn't happy about it.

A political campaign has constant sea changes, but this week was a Titanic for McCain.  A simple rearranging of the chairs on the deck wasn't going to work.  He had to bail out.  But he had to bail out in a way that didn't look like he was bailing out.  Even though to many it completely looks like he's bailing out.

On the surface

Sure, McCain's rationale sounds good.  He couches the decision well.

"Americans across our country lament the fact that partisan divisions in Washington have prevented us from addressing our national challenges," McCain said in a press conference.  "Now is our chance to come together to prove that Washington is once again capable of leading this country."


And while eventually there was a joint statement put out by the two campaigns agreeing to broad principles to help resolve the crisis, it would appear McCain dragged his feet a bit in order to get the leadership spotlight on him.

Asked about the joint statement by CBS's Katie Couric yesterday, McCain said, "This is not the time for statements. ... I think the American people expect more of us. And I would hope that we would respond that way."

"We discussed that we do agree, and I'd be glad to -- to join in a common press release or statement, but now is not the time for statements. Time is now to act," he added.


So while Saturday Night Live has some rich new material, the conversation has changed.  It has been successful in the few hours since it happened.  And in the 24 second news cycle, that's a success.  The only talk is McCain's move.

Dan Janison at Newsday sums it up quite well.

If you take it at face value, Sen. John McCain's bid to put off tomorrow's first presidential debate will look like a high-minded move by a purposeful leader who puts governmental duty before politics.  But face-value means little right now - in either mortgage speculation or presidential politics.  Tactically for McCain, this is a simple throw of the dice.

Hey, he's thrown the dice before.  A little over three weeks ago (it seems like three months ago), McCain tapped a complete unknown to be his running mate.

Shrieks of gamesmanship and cynicism erupted.  But CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer saw something else.

"This was John McCain the old fighter pilot, putting it all out on the line there, taking the risk, out of the blue," he said.


Many are up in arms this morning.  One Monitor reader compares the McCain move to a chess game gone bad:

So, Senator McCain wants to suspend the presidential campaign and cancel the debate, huh? Reminds me of the times when I was a kid playing chess with my father, and when I saw I was losing I would “accidentally” overturn the chess board and send the pieces crashing to the floor.

"Rovian" is a new word

Would it really be a controversy if you couldn't attach Karl Rove's name to it?  Our readers make the connection:

This is classic Karl Rove/Steve Schmidt strategy. When the conversation is not in your favor, change it with a spectacle (Celebrity — Berlin, Palin — Post DNC Analysis of Obama’s speech, Suspend Campaign — sliding in the polls because of bad reading of market conditions).


Obama, of course, doesn't buy any of this.

"Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time," Obama said on McCain's call to hold off on the debate.  "It's not necessary for us to think that we can only do one thing and suspend everything else."

But what else could he do when President Bush, at the request of McCain, called the Democratic nominee and asked him to participate in a meeting Friday to help "solve" the crisis.

He had to go.

Advantage McCain

So, in a very bad week for the McCain-Palin ticket, McCain gets a win - for the day.  Just how long that win will last is unknown.  Will he complete the Hail Mary?

No says Washington Post op-ed columnist Harold Meyerson

Can McCain pull this off -- persuading the public to forget how he and his fellow Reagan Republicans changed the nation's economic rules in ways that allowed Wall Street to run amok, and refocusing its attention on his decisiveness at this moment of crisis? I doubt it.

With Doug Flutie's miracle pass, we were able to see the results in mere seconds.  With McCain's desperation heave, we'll have to wait just a bit longer.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to John McCain's September surprise
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today