PALIN'S INTERVIEW WOES
Palin's popularity was slipping in the polls and she failed to make matters any better during her disastrous interviews with ABC news anchor Charlie Gibson and CBS news anchor Katie Couric. In the former, Palin was criticized for not knowing what the Bush doctrine was, which was to a degree understandable. But she showed that at times, she could get lost in her own attempts at answering questions she had no real answers for.
GIBSON: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan, from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?
PALIN: As for our right to invade, we're going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world, where war is not going to be a first option. In fact, war has got to be and military strike a last option.
GIBSON: But governor, I am asking you, do we have the right, in your mind, to go across the border, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?
PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America, and our allies, we must do whatever it takes, and we must not blink, Charlie. In making those tough decisions of where we go, and even who we target.
GIBSON: And let me finish with this. I got lost in a blizzard of words there. Is that a yes, that you think we have the right to go across the border, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government? To go after terrorists who are in the Waziristan area?
PALIN: I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying America, and our allies. We have got to have all options out there on the table...
Again Herbert stepped up to the plate: "How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket? How is it that so much of the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of seriousness to hop aboard the bandwagon and go along for the giddy ride?...You can't imagine that John McCain or Barack Obama or Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or Joe Lieberman would not know what the Bush doctrine is. But Sarah Palin? Absolutely clueless. Ms. Palin's problem is not that she was mayor of a small town or has only been in the Alaska governor's office a short while. Her problem (and now ours) is that she is not well versed on the critical matters confronting the country at one of the most crucial turning points in its history."
Herbert continued. "I feel for Ms. Palin's son who has been shipped off to the war in Iraq. But at his deployment ceremony, which was on the same day as the Charlie Gibson interview, Sept. 11, she told the audience of soldiers that they would be fighting 'the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.' Was she deliberately falsifying history, or does she still not know that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks?" (Source: " Bob Herbert, She's Not Ready, New York Times Op-Ed Column, Sept. 12, 2008).
The CBS debacle was by far worse and in some circles, funnier. When Couric asked about the $700 billion government bailout and whether she supports it, Palin offered the following circumlocutory response: "I'm all about the position that America is in and that we have to look at a $700 billion bailout. And as Sen. McCain has said unless this nearly trillion dollar bailout is what it may end up to be, unless there are amendments in Paulson's proposal, really I don't believe that Americans are going to support this and we will not support this. The interesting thing in the last couple of days that I have seen is that Americans are waiting to see what John McCain will do on this proposal. They're not waiting to see what Barack Obama is going to do. Is he going to do this and see what way the political wind's blowing? They're waiting to see if John McCain will be able to see these amendments implemented in Paulson's proposal."
COURIC: You've said, quote, "John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business." Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more example of his leading the charge for more oversight?
PALIN: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie--that, that's paramount. That's more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.
COURIC: But he's been in Congress for 26 years. He's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.
PALIN: He's also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about, the need to reform government.
COURIC: But can you give me any other concrete examples? Because I know you've said Barack Obama is a lot of talk and no action. Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?
PALIN: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.
COURIC: I'm just going to ask you one more time - not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.
PALIN: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you
Palin was obviously unprepared and subsequently was lampooned unmercifully on late night talk shows and other comedic venues. One such show was Saturday Night Live, where Palin's dismal performance was skewered by Tina Fey. For the better part of a week clips of that skit would appear on various news programs.
During subsequent interviews, Palin would appear on-camera with McCain. This includes a hand-holding session with Sean Hannity on Fox News that was more embarrassing than enlightening.
No one was buying the idea of Palin as "fiscal conservative." Eugene Robinson wrote,
"She represents herself as a fiscal conservative who abhors pork-barrel projects and said no thanks to the "Bridge to Nowhere" - a $398 million span that would have linked Ketchikan, Alaska, to its airport across the Tongass Narrows. But as mayor of Wasilla (pop. 9,780), she hired a Washington lobbyist to bring home the bacon. And as a candidate for governor just two years ago, she supported both the Ketchikan bridge and the congressional earmark that would have paid most of its cost." (Source: Eugene Robinson, The Cynicism Express, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Sept. 2, 2008).
The GOP attempted to effect damage control. Palin supporters dismissed the attacks as sexist bantering from the elitist, liberal media. They argued that Sarah was a reflection of "small town America," and that the only things voters cared about was whether or not she could assume the duties of the President in the event of McCain's incapacitation or death. They ignored the fact that most in their party felt she couldn't.
McCain had additional problems. For starters, he admitted that he'd sided with the President "90% of the time," which the Obama campaign repeated ad naseum. They also pointed out that McCain first denounced Bush's tax cuts and now talked of continuing them. In the first debate, Obama also made a point of McCain's support for the war In Iraq and that the Arizona Senator had declared that the war was not only the right thing, but would be over quickly and America would be greeted in that country as liberators. None of those things happened, as America remained in Iraq some three years after President Bush declared "mission accomplished."
Obama asserted, "John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong. You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong. And so my question is...of judgment..."
THE BEAT GOES ON...
As Congress began debating a $700 billion bailout package for the ailing finance industry, McCain campaign operatives continued to shoot themselves in the foot. Former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, McCain's top economic adviser and co-chair of the campaign, said in an interview with the Associated Press, ""You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession," he said. "We may have a recession; we haven't had one yet. We have sort of become a nation of whiners...You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline."
Gramm's comments were widely condemned. McCain denounced the remarks and nine days later, Gramm stepped down.
McCain seemed unable to gain any traction, even after the first debate. It was supposed to be a debate that would be advantageous for him, one that centered on foreign policy-his storing suit, and where he claimed Obama was weak and lacked leadership. The debate took place several days after McCain announced the suspension of his campaign to focus on Wall Street's mortgage crisis.
When McCain arrived in Washington, he had several photo ops, including one at the White House, where he and Senator Obama, along with several other members of the Congress had convened at the request of President George W. Bush. A day later a vote was taken and the bailout package failed. Democrats voted for it, but several Republican Senators were miffed by ill-advised comments of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who blamed the GOP for the fiscal mess. McCain was seen as someone who could not rally the troops, and amidst criticism flew to Oxford, Mississippi for the debate.
Obama remained poised throughout the debate, while McCain came off as irritable and throughout the debate reiterated in a condescending tone, "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand..."
OBAMA: ...We cannot separate Afghanistan from Iraq, because what our commanders have said is we don't have the troops right now to deal with Afghanistan. So I would send two to three additional brigades to Afghanistan. Now, keep in mind that we have four times the number of troops in Iraq, where nobody had anything to do with 9/11 before we went in, where, in fact, there was no al Qaeda before we went in, but we have four times more troops there than we do in Afghanistan. And that is a strategic mistake, because every intelligence agency will acknowledge that al Qaeda is the greatest threat against the United States and that Secretary of Defense Gates acknowledged the central front--that the place where we have to deal with these folks is going to be in Afghanistan and in Pakistan...
MCCAIN: We've got to get the support of the people of Pakistan. He [Obama] said that he would launch military strikes into Pakistan. Now, you don't do that. You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government...And, yes, Senator Obama calls for more troops, but what he doesn't understand, it's got to be a new strategy, the same strategy that he condemned in Iraq. It's going to have to be employed in Afghanistan...So it's not just the addition of troops that matters. It's a strategy that will succeed. And Pakistan is a very important element in this. And I know how to work with him. And I guarantee you I would not publicly state that I'm going to attack them.
OBAMA: Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan. Here's what I said. And if John wants to disagree with this, he can let me know, that, if the United States has al Qaeda, bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out. Now, I think that's the right strategy; I think that's the right policy. And, John, I--you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran, I don't know, you know, how credible that is...
MCCAIN: I -- I don't think that Senator Obama understands that there was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power...I have a record. I have a record of being involved in these national security issues, which involve the highest responsibility and the toughest decisions that any president can make, and that is to send our young men and women into harm's way...
OBAMA: ...The question is for the next president, are we making good judgments about how to keep America safe precisely because sending our military into battle is such an enormous step.
(NOTE: Debate remarks were edited for brevity).
With their differences spelled out, the post-debate polling by ABC indicated that more than half of those queried said Obama won. About one-third called McCain the winner. CBS saw it Obama 39%, McCain 24% and 37% thought it was a draw.
As the election drew near, the personal attacks on Obama intensified. Sarah Palin accused the Senator of "palling around with terrorists." She rationalized her remarks by saying Obama needed to further explain his relationship with Bill Ayers, for he had not been truthful about it. Few noted that she used the plural terrorists. There were also accusations of Obama being a "socialist," after he told one voter (who became immortalized by the McCain campaign as "Joe The Plumber") that he planned to tax those making $250,000 or more and "redistributing the wealth."
Rove, et al. called Obama's tax cuts "government handouts," saying most would go to people who did not work and thus, paid no taxes. At rallies where these claims were made, some in the crowd made threatening remarks toward Obama, such as "Kill him!" and "Off with his head!" McCain downplayed it and countered, "You should hear some of the things said about me at Senator Obama's rallies."
Nor even Fox News produced clips to back up McCain's assertion.
Again, polling indicated that voters were not interested in such "issues." Their top concerns were the economy (in particular the high prices of food and gas), the mess on Wall Street, healthcare, the war in Iraq and taxes. They favored Obama on the economy and gave McCain a slight edge on matters of foreign policy, even after Obama's choice for vice-president, Joe Biden, "guaranteed" that Obama would be tested "within the first six months" with an international crisis.
McCain suffered a damaging blow when Republican stalwart and former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Obama. More bad news was forthcoming. "[An] NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll gives Obama a 10 point lead nationally. 60% of respondents in the CNN poll think McCain's attacks on Obama are unfair, a figure that hurts McCain's chances further with independent voters. Reuters/Zogby has an 8 point Obama lead in its latest tracking poll. And the Pew poll, which takes into account cell phone users, has Obama up by 14 points. The prediction here is that these totals will go up in the next couple days as the impact of the Powell endorsement fully hits the polling results." (Source: Steven Reynolds, Palin Is Sinking The McCain Campaign, . alternet.org, Oct. 22, 2008)
Palin and McCain continued to insist that Obama would leave the country vulnerable, and there were some in the Obama camp who worried that the Senator from Illinois was not fighting back. Responding to the criticism, Obama countered with an ad that labeled McCain "erratic" and "out of touch" on the economy. The campaign also reminded the electorate that McCain, some twenty years earlier, had been involved with convicted financier Charles Keating in the S and L debacle. While McCain was not found guilty of any wrongdoing, the Senate ethics committee did find that he exercised "poor judgment."
Polls showed the race tightening in traditionally Republican states. Critics of the GOP nominee voiced concerns that McCain was giving away the election by not bringing up the Reverend Wright issue, showing the videotape of Wright shouting, "Not 'God bless America,' but God DAMN America!" Another problem, according to McCain staffers, was that Palin would not listen to them; that she was adamant about doing things her way. There were whispers that McCain realized his error in judgment at selecting her and Tom Ridge, an adviser to the campaign, told interviewers the ticket would have been better served if McCain had chosen him.
PALIN: AIRHEAD, DIVA
Even though she had held her own with Joe Biden in the lone vice-presidential debate, the bar had been set low. The Democrats and most pundits expected a major gaffe from her. She managed to make it through the debate without making such a Gerald Ford-like boner, but there was criticism that she blatantly ducked several questions and her winking to the audience smacked of immaturity and frivolousness.
"During the vice presidential debate on Thursday, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced that she 'may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear.' In fact, 'On at least 10 occasions, Palin gave answers that were nonspecific, completely generic, pivoted away from the question at hand, or simply ignored it.' On NBC's Meet The Press today, debate moderator Gwen Ifill said that Palin 'more than ignored' her questions. 'Blew me off I think is the technical term,' said Ifill." (Source: Ifill: Palin 'Blew Me Off' During Debate, .http://thinkprogress.org, October 5, 2008).
Palin continued to make embarrassing gaffes, including her inability to explain the duties of the vice-president. When asked by a third-grader what a vice president does, Palin responded, that the vice-present "runs the senate" and "can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes." The facts are, in the event the President can no longer carry out his duties, the VP takes over. The only other duty the second-in-command has is to preside over the Senate and cast the decisive vote in the event of a deadlock.
Obama's war chest (more than $700 million) allowed him to advertise heavily in states that w=George Bush won in 2000 and 2004. This forced McCain to allocate resources to areas he never thought he would have to. McCain was playing a prevent defense, and Obama was driving toward pay dirt.
It was no secret that the Democrats had no southern strategy on which they could rely. So they planned to organize a western blitzkrieg. This was important for two reasons. McCain being from Arizona was strong out west and had an ally in Mitt Romney, a Mormon, who could help with that segment of the vote in both Utah and Nevada. Second, in 2004, George Bush garnered wins in four states with Democratic Governors (New Mexico. Montana, Wyoming and Arizona). "These states, along with Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Nevada want to vote as a bloc. They form an aggregate of 53 electoral votes, almost as many as California's 55-which is solidly Democratic. Add this 108-vote bloc to New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, which have all gone Democratic in each election since 1992 (73 electoral votes total), and the Dems would be 2/3 of the way to the White House." (Source: Timothy N. Stelly, Sr., Go West, Young Men: The Future Of The Democratic Party, . Useless Knowledge, July 30, 2005).
Bill Richardson understood the power of the Hispanic voting bloc, saying "These are changing political times...We have to band together and that means Latinos in Florida, Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, South Americans - we have to network better. We have to be more politically minded, we have to put aside party and think of ourselves as Latinos, as Hispanics, more than we have in the past."
His efforts paid off for Obama in New Mexico, which went for Bush in 2000 and 2004, but went for Obama 57-42. Other Western and Southwestern states that went for Obama included Colorado, Montana and Nevada-and as expected, California, Oregon and Washington. The only state that Obama lost with sizeable Latino populations were Arizona and Texas. It was estimated that Obama was the choice of 73% of Latinos. His percentage of the black vote received exceeded 90%.
DISCORD IN THE McCAIN CAMP?
Rumors abounded that Palin was being "difficult" and did not want to study. McCain staffers would later tell Carl Cameron of Fox News that Palin did not understand basic civics, misunderstood the function of state and municipal government, couldn't name the three countries that make up NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), nor could she name all of the countries that make up North America. It was rumored that she thought Africa was a country and not a continent. According to these unnamed McCain staffers, she thought South Africa was the southern part of the "country." Late night talk show hosr David Letterman would later joke, "She thought NAFTA meant "Need Another Fofty Thousand for Accessories." (Source: The Late Show With David Letterman, . Nov. 5, 2008).
Whether it was true or not, if it made the news, chances are a lot of people would believe it, and that's damage Palin will likely be unable to fix. Palin called the anonymous critics "cowardly," adding, "If there are allegations based on questions or comments that I made in debate prep about NAFTA, and about the continent vs. the country when we talk about Africa there, then those were taken out of context. That's cruel, It's mean-spirited. It's immature. It's unprofessional and those guys are jerks..." (Source: Dan Joling and Sharon Theimer, Palin Denounces Her Critics As Cowardly, . yahoonews.com, Nov. 7, 2008).
Earlier in the week, Palin blamed campaign staffer Nicole Wallace for her poor showing during her interview with Katie Couric and for her negative public image. Republican strategist Ed Rollins said of Palin, "[she] definitely is going to be the most popular Republican in this country when this thing is over." (Source: Dana Bash, Palin's Off-Script Remarks Irk McCain Aides, . cnnpolitics.com, Oct. 27, 2008). In an interview with NBS'c Matt Lauer, Wallace defended Palin, Saying "[She] did nothing wrong. She is perhaps the most un-diva politician I've ever seen." I(n reference to McCain choosing her, Wallace said, "It was a wise choice that will look wiser as time goes on." (Source: Video: Nicole Wallace Vigorously Defends Palin To Matt Lauer, . msnbc.com, Nov. 7, 2008).
There were rumors that staffer Randy Scheunemann had been fired, only to be reinstated by McCain, who feared that stories of campaign discord would hit the newswires just days before the election. After the election, Fox News defended its girl Palin, insisting the stories were the grumblings of disgruntled aides making excuses for McCain's defeat so they wouldn't look bad and could get jobs with other campaigns.
Meanwhile, blacks held their collective breath and hoped for the best, but expected the worst. They believed that if the Republicans could steal an election from other white men (Gore in 2000, Kerry in 2004), then they would go to even greater lengths to sink an African-American candidate.
Associated Press writer Jesse Washington wrote, "Obama's potential victory represents a previously unimaginable triumph over centuries of racism. But beneath the hope and pride lies fear: of polling inaccuracy, voting chicanery, or the type of injustice and violence that have historically stymied African-American progress." (Source: Jesse Washington, Cautious Joy As Blacks Imagine Obama Win, . Associated Press, Nov. 2, 2008).
The decision would be announced early, just before 9 p.m. PT, as Obama hit the estimated 194 electoral vote mark. There was no doubt he would win Washington, Oregon, California and his home state of Hawaii, an aggregate 76 votes. Moreover, he had won over working class whites in Pennsylvania and Ohio. By that time, McCain knew the death knell had sounded. The campaign chose not to post the Pennsylvania results at McCain headquarters, but anyone with a blackberry or a cell phone had already heard the death knell.
NOV. 4, 2008
Overcoming steep odds-defeating the Clinton machine and surviving the GOP attacks-Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the Unites Stated and the first African-American elected to that post.
His success was due to his bringing in an inner circle that stayed true to him. There were no leaks and he earned the moniker "No drama Obama." Obama simply ran a smarter and more efficient campaign, coupled with the flaws and failures of the Clinton and McCain machines. This is not to say Obama "backed into" the White House. He won over the American public and did more to earn their trust. He won over white men and the white female segment that pundits were sure would turn on him. He benefited from Hillary Clinton's help and a smart campaign manger, David Axelrod.
One columnist wrote of McCain, "the McCain we got in the general election was not the McCain we had come to know. He was partisan, he was petty, he used a lot of gimmicks (the suspension of the campaign, Joe the Plumber, the celebrity commercial). He didn't rise above partisanship, he didn't go with his instincts. He was handled by his advisors to the point to where his objectivity was clouded. Had he have run a disciplined, issue-focused campaign, with a loyal running mate that he believed in (CT Sen. Joe Lieberman or MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty), the substance of this race would have been much different and the battlegrounds down the stretch would have been much more competitive. He would have had a stronger ability to shape debate, rather than just react to it." (Source: My Super, 5 Reasons Why McCain Lost, demconwatchblog.com, Nov. 5, 2008).
Both Clinton and McCain can look back and see what went wrong. They ran into a more masterful politician, whose grit they underestimated. They also failed to acknowledge America's desire for change and the intelligence of the voting public. Distortions, fear mongering and character assassination would not work. Obama never panicked and he stayed on point with the issues.
Obama won the popular vote, 52-46, or 65,293,083 votes to McCain's 57,325,487 the second-highest total in history and enough to win in any other election year. Obama won both the male and female vote, 49-48 and 56-43 respectively. He won the 18-29 demographic, 66% to 32% and won in every age group except those over 65, which went for McCain 53-45.
The final tally: Obama 365 electoral votes, McCain 173.
Timothy N. Stelly, Sr. is a poet, novelist, essayist and screenwriter who resides in Northern California.