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An Ad to End All Ads

Miraculously, John McCain approved this message, sent out before the debate ended:

Plenty of bloggers have pointed out why this ad misfires and contradicts the bipartisan message. I agree. This spot, perhaps more than any other yet, makes its own best case on the nature of McCain’s sewage-slinging campaign, and the ultimate fate of its incoherence.  

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Here's to Hoping the Truth Matters

McCain still seems crutched on the message that gained him a few Gallup points this summer, to paint Obama as risky and untrustworthy. But after Palin and the Conventions, the presidential election has fundamentally changed in the last month. Now that the undecideds are starting to pay attention, Obama isn’t new any more. Especially in the last week, his level head and steady hand clearly contrast with both Palin’s inexperience and McCain’s temperament. As Americans shift their focus back to the substance, I believe the Republicans will continue to hit a dead end.  

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An oh, so Awkward Night

NBC’s David Montgomery shared a rarely insightful piece of punditry that stuck with me last night. The first partisan showcase at his convention was likely a winner for John McCain, as Thompson trumpeting his heroic story and Lieberman reiterated his independent past. But in a truly telling sense, the night was as awkward as that dreary old Democrat’s bone-dry jokes.

When Joe defended President Clinton, McCain/Feingold, and Judicial moderation, it landed with deafening discomfort. His role was to highlight a bipartisan theme. But the Republican establishment he spoke to wanted none of it.

The President of the United States, the man who has lead his party since 2000 and in many respects still does, was tucked half a country away in a satellite address designed to dodge the primetime. The organizers didn’t want Bush to be the face of the night, but they knew he had a role to play. He was passing the torch for the Republican’s legacy of power to his old rival turned protégé. Their teary eyes and cheers showed that the delegates- and the base at large-still love him. But his ten minute speech was outshined by two figures relatively new to the Republican stage. Of course old white men were the best heads they could muster, but last night Republicans clearly tried to co-opt the message of change. They made no mention of what they’d done the past eight years, and hoped the TV audience would forget Bush’s presence.

All this awkward drama reflects the tension of McCain himself. He’s two different candidates to respective electorates. To his right-wing base, he’s an evangelical mirror of Bush’s incompetence. Yet he wants to run as a moderate independent at the same time. McCain had gone negative in order to hide this basic contradiction. But his reckless VP pick last week could not illustrate the point any better.

It reeks of incompetence-and many Republicans seem to know it. The roll-out has been dominated by stories than any serious vet would have prepped for, or simply avoided. Now talking heads and elected delegates have been forced to defend a woman most of them have never met. Most Americans immediately realized how the pick undercut McCain’s core message of experience. She’s supposed to embody the idea of change and independence. But, like McCain, she can’t be a maverick and a right wing-nut at the same time.

The fundamental problem: this is a party completely out of touch and defunct of ideas, relying on slight of hand to hide their lack of direction. As Rick Davis admitted, McCain has no real policies to offer, and now counts on the charm of a feminine gun-toter to get him through. After a knockout Dem convention and an incongruous VP choice last week, the party is in shambles with a message that holds no water. The old hook has sunk, and the new line’s a stinker.

"Conditions-Based"=Endless War

Reeling from some big slaps and almost daily gaffes, the McCain campaign has plotted its way into a new message on Iraq in the last week and a half. But the Senator can’t quite get the message right in recent interviews, while continuously attacking Obama’s patriotism. Let’s listen between the lines to realize what’s really causing this insidious desperation -and of course all those awkward laughs: Senator McCain knows he’s spewing putrid spin, and can hardly trust his own words.

Al-Maliki’s endorsement of a relatively quick withdrawal changed the debate. Nevermind the Pentagon’s fabricated “mistranslation” excuse last week; Senator McCain’s now settled response line is even more telling. On CNN Sunday, he said the Prime Minister of Iraq is simply pandering to upcoming elections. But it’s not hard to recognize the irrelevance of the point. If al-Maliki is responding to the concerns of his constituents, well, isn’t that, like, democracy? Iraq is too used to a foreign occupying force overriding its sovereign local leaders. Reap what you sow and suck it up, Republicans.

But more still. A few moments after patronizing Iraq’s elected leader, McCain actually claimed al-Maliki was endorsing his plan. Besides the obvious delusions, two important points here: (1)If McCain actually agreed with al-Maliki’s assessment, he wouldn’t need to discredit it as just political. (2) McCain doesn’t actually have a plan! He never has offered anything other than more of the same, and nothing has changed.

McCain insisted on ABC Monday that he could bring home the troops as quickly as Obama would, in “three months, two months, whatever,” as long as withdrawal is “based on conditions on the ground.” It’s tempting to see this as a frantic, stark switch from what McCain has been saying for over a year on the campaign trail. But let not the desperate rhetoric fool you; there is hardly reason to believe John McCain wants to leave Iraq any time soon.

The fact is “conditions on the ground,” and the White House’s “horizons for withdrawal,” are as vague as Bush’s promises for the last 5 years of this war. Daniel Larison spells it out:

“Meanwhile, the horrific attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk offer a reminder why so-called ‘conditions-based’ withdrawals are forever subject to revision and why timetables that can be revised by such contingencies are meaningless. Tying withdrawal to conditions in Iraq places U.S. policy at the mercy of the worst elements in Iraq, which gives these elements every incentive to persist in trying to sow discord and engage in spectacular acts of violence.”

The argument against timetables can revolt against itself. If setting a date for withdrawal would only embolden those who want us to leave, making continued violence the deciding factor emboldens the violent factions in Iraq that have an interest in our continued presence-namely, al Qaeda. Moreover, the factions who want us to leave aren’t the terrorists; they are now the great majority of the populace and their elected spokesman.

McCain and his friends in the press will continue to drone over the success of the surge until the election, oversimplifying the tremendous complications and theoreticals of the past few years in Iraq. But at some point we have to wise up. Either the reduction in violence is the success McCain says it is and we can leave, or the surge has not fully succeeded, and after five years and thousands of American lives we’ve done enough. So I’ll ask it again: why haven’t we left yet?  

The Iraq War is a Sickness

The Iraq war is a sickness in American politics. Four years ago, we reelected a President who had misled us into a tragic war that cost thousands of lives, well after the justification for it had proven false. The American people were distracted from this paramount fact by fear and political diversions like John Kerry’s purple hearts. The democratic nominee was caricatured as a flip-flopping coward. Four more years of war have followed.

In 2008, Americans face a grimly similar choice. The same Republicans who smeared Kerry on behalf of Bush are back; only the name of their candidate has changed. McCain’s campaign has been based on prolonging the Iraq war, claiming Democrats want nothing less than surrender.

But this past weekend, the justification for war effectively died. Iraq’s freely-elected leader, Nouri al-Maliki, bluntly said he wants the US to leave his country. All agree the security situation has improved, and now a democratic Iraq is declaring its sovereignty. In other words, our troops have completed their mission. So why haven’t we left yet?

The President knows that if we started bringing our troops home tomorrow, John McCain would have no argument for his candidacy.

But the war can be over. I only hope the American people will see through the dizzying spin.

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