Friday, April 24, 2009

Steve Schmidt Speaks

The chief political strategist for the McCain presidential campaign, Steve Schmidt, and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe jointly appeared yesterday at the University of Delaware. Ben Smith of Politico reported that Schmidt gushed of Barack Obama's political skills:

This was, in my view, the unfinished Bobby Kennedy campaign – the idealism, the passion, the inspiration he gave to people, it was organic and it was real and it wasn’t manufactured at a tactical level in the campaign.

Put down the Kool-Aid, Steve. Apparently Plouffe was aware of the self-serving nature of the remarks, as Smith writes that he "was not quite content to grant Schmidt that the campaigns’ managers had nothing to do with the outcome."

It's a given that Schmidt, Rick Davis, and Charlie Black "were running a campaign under extra difficult circumstances – the state of the Republican party, the president’s unpopularity, the economy – a lot of issues that were not John McCain’s fault but were John McCain’s problem in this race,” as Schmidt noted.

Schmidt curiously stated "When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall I knew pretty much right away that ... from an electoral strategy perspective, the campaign was finished.” But no one forced this troika to panic and choose a largely unknown, unqualified, and ill-informed individual from outside the continental United States* to stand a heartbeat from the presidency. Schmidt noted "It was communicated back to us very clearly from within the party that.... any pro-choice nominee was not acceptable, [and] it would lead to a floor fight at the convention with an alternate nominee for Vice President put into play.”

Perhaps the nominee, as claimed, had to be pro-life. Then Lehman Brothers collapsed and the dearth of understanding of the economy on the GOP ticket- "the fundamentals of the economy are strong" guy and the "Bridge to Nowhere" gal- became evident. Too bad they did not have at hand a candidate who was pro-life, experienced on economic matters, and from a swing state like, say, Ohio. Oh, yeah, Rob Portman. (And Mitt Romney, in his latest incarnation, is pro-life and has experience managing an economy and business.)

Still, they went with Sarah Palin. Attractive, dynamic, inexperienced, unqualified- a great candidate for a campaign team that thought so little of the American electorate. (Contrast that to Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden.) And so they went with the theme of The Two Mavericks. Brilliant. Run against the first non-white nominee of either major political party, singularly inspirational and running on the theme of "Si Se Puede," and try to match him as a change candidate. And when they hear that he wants to cut income taxes for 90% of the American public, call him a "Socialist."

There was a way to electoral victory for John McCain. First, he would have needed to have chosen an adult as a running mate. Then he would have had to have attacked candidate Obama where he was most vulnerable. Hmmm. Black- better yet, biracial. Born outside the continental United States* (with the PUMA crowd, without substantiation, alleging it really was outside the United States altogether). Raised in Asia (i.e., Thailand). Has a funny middle name. Burst onto the national scene a mere four years earlier. Involved with a character named Tony Rezko. Involved with another character named (Rev.) Jeremiah Wright, who bears little resemblance to a Vietnam war hero and captive. Married to a wife who finally is proud of her country.

And, yet, the Democratic candidate, who opposed a health care mandate for adults and supported United States military action in Afghanistan to annhilate Al Qaeda, is attacked as.... a Socialist. Perhaps Senator McCain believed it unseemly to criticize his opponent in a personal, negative manner, preferring to slime Senator Obama with the political epithet of "Socialist," slightly less incendiary than "Communist" or "fascist." More likely, McCain wanted to preserve his status as the Beltway's favorite Republican and favorite United States Senator, which would have been placed in jeopardy if he had gone after Obama himself, rather than assail a leftist economic ideology, always a safe tactic with the corporatist media.

No, Steve Schmidt, John McCain's bid was not doomed from the start, nor could it have been salvaged by a full-throated embrace of gay marriage. Needing to demonize Obama, McCain-Palin emphasized the "devil you know" rather than "the devil you don't know." But it would have benefitted by learning from Hillary Clinton's campaign (before it wisely changed course) and not tried to beat Barack Obama at his own game: the embodiment of change.

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