BRIDGE TO SOMEWHERE 2: The Campaign Trail

Four more weeks of nail biting and
backbiting (an ongoing weekly summary of the presidential campaign).



Oct. 13, 2008 – something in the Ayers: Whereas
last week liberals couldn’t stop whining about Sarah Palin, this week they
experienced bliss rivaling that semester abroad clubbing in London. Though many dared not speak the word
“landslide” aloud, it was on everyone’s minds, as each new poll
showed a larger Barack Obama lead. Whereas Democrats were once concerned with
stealing swing states like New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio and Florida, now it was
more like, “Virginia and North Carolina are pretty much in the bag, but
will we win West Virginia?”

Congressional races could be even more lopsided, with Democrats expected to
pick up some 20 seats or more in the house and approach a nuclear-holocaust
proof 60 seats in the senate. As the global financial crisis worsens, the
donkeys’ poll numbers creep further up.

Though most Americans are more concerned with the hemorrhaging of their
retirement accounts, the deterioration of their home values or finding a cheap
place to stock up on canned beans and flares, left-leaners feel something like
Charlie Bucket after finding his golden ticket. (Never mind how we’re going to
pay for Grandpa Joe’s social security or Violet Beauregarde’a quadruple

Still, pesky pollsters like John Zogby — whose surveys only have had Obama up
by three or four points — keeps insisting that this thing is far from over,
and some weekend polls gave back a point or two to McCain. The small (dead
cat?) bounce can probably be attributed to the campaign’s shift towards tying
Obama to Bill Ayers, the Weather Underground cofounder who bombed public
buildings in the hippie era, including a 1970 botched explosion in Greenwich
Village that killed an associate, a friend, and a girlfriend. When Obama was
first running for office, Ayers hosted a coffee for him, and they’ve served on
boards together and both live in Hyde Park, Chicago.

It seems fairly certain that Obama is, or was, better pals with this guy than
he’s let on. (“I assumed that he had been rehabilitated,” he
strangely told radio talk show host Michael Smerconish.) Still, Sarah Palin’s
claim that he’s been “palling around with terrorists” seems unlikely
to catch on with the wider electorate. Ayers is white, wealthy and an education
professor at University of Illinois in Chicago –
not exactly what those Pennsyltucky
Mountain Dew-gulpers
think of as a terrorist. For God’s sake Bob Dylan mentions his former
organization in his AOR-staple “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and
nothing is more American than classic rock.

In fact, McCain neglected to mention the issue at the second Presidential
debate last week,  perhaps wary of a line of attack reminiscent of Bush
surrogates’ 2000 suggestions that he’d fathered an illegitimate black child.
McCain appeared briefly to take the high road, but still managed to bungle the
debate, referring to Obama as “that one” and wandering around the
stage bow-leggedly. Not that things went well for Obama, either; he rarely
answered the questions posed, and when he did used statistics obnoxiously.
“We also have to look at where some of our tax revenues are going,”
he said at one point. “So when Senator McCain proposes a $300 billion tax
cut, a continuation not only of the Bush tax cuts, but an additional $200
billion that he’s going to give to big corporations, including big oil
companies, $4 billion worth, that’s money out of the system.”

(Perhaps the real losers in the debate were the viewers. Tom Brokaw, who, with
his failing vision and blond bob seems more irrelevant by the minute, managed
not to pick a single interesting question out of the thousands culled from Nashville debate
attendees and over the internet. Focusing on the economy, foreign affairs and
health care, he couldn’t come up with anything to knock the pair off of their
talking points.)

In any case, despite the plethora of positive poll numbers, liberals still have
reason to be nervous. Like one of the grooms in Runaway Bride, they worry this
thing could turn sour at the last minute. (I promise that’s my last Julia
Roberts reference.) Folks in their twenties and thirties (like me) have seen
Republicans come up victorious in most presidential elections in our lifetimes,
and one suspects McCain’s still got tricks up his crusty old sleeves.

One possibility, floated by The New York
Bill Kristol this weekend, is for McCain to simply toss out his
current playbook altogether and reassume the free-wheeling persona the
mainstream media fell in love with back in 2000. We all know McCain is capable
of thinking outside the box. After all, in the final days of his losing primary
effort to Bush he inexplicably started trashing Christian conservatives. If he
did something similarly nuts this time around – dumping Palin as a running mate
in favor of Brett Favre? Spending a week tied to the CEO of Goldman Sachs? –
the race would could take on new life quickly. Though these examples may seem
far-fetched, you can probably expect something even wackier.


[Each week Ben Westhoff dissects the political landscape for BLURT. You can read last week’s column HERE.]



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