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September 20, 2017

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McCain slipping down the campaign slime slope

Throughout this U.S. election season American media have given us a daily barrage of poll results, constantly feeding TV talking heads fodder for chatter. Much more often than serious discussion of the issues, we get inundated by a flood of sleaze on the campaign trail and endless babble about who is ahead in the country-wide equivalent of a high school popularity contest.

You could argue that both presidential candidates like it that way, but for the Republicans, a concerted effort to paint Senator Obama as an unsavory character, not one of us, has taken on the colors of a desperate last stand in the run-up to the election on November 4. Obama has responded that he wouldn't dream of calling an opponent the names he has been called. He says he can take the Republican name-calling, but the country can't take four more years of Bush-McCain.

Polling is an inexact science, but when so many polls show consistent results, we can assume they indicate a trend. The odds makers are betting more than six to one that Obama will win the election. Ireland's major booking agency, Paddy Power, paid out winnings to Obama bettors on October 17, and the Democrats appear to have gained ground since then.

The easy explanation for Senator McCain's decline in almost every poll is that the economic crisis and the almost universal unpopularity of President Bush overwhelmed the great American hero. Add to this two wars and huge budget deficits, and no Republican could hope to hold on to the White House after such a tarnished presidency.

There is truth to this, but McCain is also losing because his campaign has been inept, and the Republican strategists that won elections for the Bush dynasty have badly misjudged the American people this time. Without diminishing the impact of the imploding economy on this election, the beginning of McCain's slippery slide into slime and probable defeat can be traced back earlier, to an unyielding belief in the Republican leadership that this election is about personalities and the issues hardly matter at all.

The result has been a campaign that focused on making and remaking the persona of Senator McCain, and denigrating Senator Obama's character while offering little in the way of new alternatives to his ideas.

In the summer, we saw McCain as the patriot hero. He was the steady hand of experience, always "country first." Choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate transformed him into McCain the bold and brilliant strategist who discovered a refreshing all-American hockey mom to energize Republicans, shake up Washington and be a heartbeat away from the Presidency. Then we have the maverick, the fighter who will bring real change, challenging Obama's cold hypocrisy. Woven throughout this political tapestry was McCain the conciliator, who can work with the Democrats to solve most anything. That evolved into the country first great leader who would sacrifice his campaign to go to Washington and lead Congress through the devastating banking crisis.

The images were too full of contradictions. Attacking Obama's inexperience floundered with the choice of Governor Palin. Working with Democrats to solve the nation's ills did not fit very well with Republicans calling them anti-American, or with promises to balance the budget during his first term when eliminating the earmarks we know as pork came across as his highest economic priority. The leader who went to Washington to have Congress do his bidding was the McCain shown on TV as silent during the key deliberations on the Bush-Paulson bailout plan, and humbled when Republican Congressman originally rejected it by a huge margin.

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