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The Ornery Observer
October 28, 2008

McCain's Lackluster, Moderate Campaign
by Paul Gottfried

Now that we can see McCain’s campaign going south, it may be useful to consider why it is tanking so badly. A major problem for the GOP candidate, and one that should not be ignored, is a plunging economy — characterized by unpaid mortgages, a crashing stock market, and declining investment values. Although McCain’s party may deserve part of the blame for this, the Democrats, who are now on their way to a devastating victory over the GOP, are at least as much responsible for our financial crisis.

Moreover, McCain’s opponent, Barack Obama, is up to his ears in corrupt connections; one of his close friends, Franklin Delano Raines, made close to $100 million from his pernicious association with Freddie Mac. The sub-prime rate loans that fueled the crisis were the brainchild of the Clinton administration; until recently, this abomination enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Obama and Barney Frank, the Democratic congressman who now heads the Financial Services Committee. McCain has more than enough ammunition at his disposal to turn the financial problem against his opponents.

Clearly he will not do this, and most of the oratory coming from his vice-presidential candidate is either an assurance about McCain being a “good and honorable man” or a mere repetition of her boss’ talking points. As one of his GOP critics, Peter Feld, has noted about McCain’s lackluster campaigning, “Presidential candidates who’ve choked in the clutch often turn out to be plagued by their own doubts — prey, perhaps to a political law of natural selection.”

Another McCain critic, David Freddoso, who recently published a well-documented and widely circulated work against the Democratic presidential candidate, has been arguing that McCain’s problem is his “instinctual moderation,” something that conservatives have warned against for decades. According to Freddoso, McCain has always prided himself on getting along with the opposition. McCain could have thrown plausible and damaging charges at Obama, charges extending from his association with the terrorist Bill Ayers and the convicted felon Tony Rezko to his record of hanging around with outspoken black nationalists, not to mention the voting fraud practices of Obama’s longtime pet project, ACORN.

However, McCain has avoided being divisive in his battle against a leftwing, black opponent. Unlike Freddoso’s ideal conservative opponent, who would have put his dossier against Obama immediately to work, McCain stresses his bipartisan skills and “experience.”

The reason McCain is behaving this way may have to do with why he was nominated in the first place. Aside from his global democratic rhetoric and saber rattling (neither of which is necessarily conservative) and his steady opposition to providing government support for abortions, there is nothing in his record that suggests he is on the Right. Were his opponent not black and the most liberal member of the United States Senate, McCain might be enjoying greater media support, particularly against a nondescript Democrat. McCain’s strength is that he tries not to offend the Left on domestic issues. But by sounding belligerent on foreign policy, he hoped to appeal to a particular conservative constituency, one sympathetic to the military and to an American democratic mission abroad.

Moreover, to shore up his Right flank and possibly to gain support among persuadable feminists, Mac chose as a running mate a personable, pro-free market woman from Alaska. It did not hurt that Palin had the further advantage of coming from an energy-producing state and being able to address what until a few weeks ago seemed a major campaign issue.

McCain is surely disappointed that so much of the media have gone against him. In the primaries they continued to praise him for his moderation — and especially for his willingness to express sympathy for undocumented immigrants. The sudden turn against McCain in the European and American press no doubt bothers him; and the attack on Governor Palin as making “racially tinged” remarks when she noted that Obama had “palled around with terrorists” cannot be welcome to McCain, who has usually kept his distance from the Right.

Unfortunately, the Republican candidate is not getting to run in the kind of “moderate” campaign he would have wanted. It is one that, according to Freddoso, would favor a rightwing Republican, one who would be happy to pull out all stops to give the GOP a chance. If the media started to inveigh against such a hypothetical candidate for dwelling on Obama’s radical or black-nationalist past, he or she would have no compunctions about going after ideological opponents.

This alternative candidate would have no fear of trial lawyers, teachers’ unions, the civil rights lobby, or Hollywood movie stars when he boldly stated his views. And by now this no-holds-barred Republican would have ripped into the Holy Family hagiography with which Obama and his less-than-brilliant wife are sacrilegiously depicted in the national press.

But, alas, such a candidate is not running in this race. Instead, the party of used-car dealers has given us a retread model of Bob Dole.

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The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2008 by by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.  All rights reserved. A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Newspapers in October 2008. All rights reserved.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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