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Uncle Mikey Explains the Inexplicable … Albatross

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There is increasing evidence that Senator McCain may have made what might be politely described as a tactical error in the selection of his running mate, Governor Palin.

Of course, given my audience, which as far as I’m aware is still mostly people I know, and mostly relatively liberal people I know, this isn’t much of a surprise here. With the exception of a couple of co-workers who surprised me, nearly everyone I personally talk to have been scratching their heads raw trying to figure out what the hell McCain was thinking in selecting her. Many concluded that it could only be a blatant and cynical ploy to go after disaffected women voters, believing that they’d take out Hillary’s thwarting upon Obama by voting for whatever woman was in the race.

Right at first, the ploy appeared to be working. The whole folksy soccerhockey-mom image actually played well for several weeks, because, let’s be honest, there was in fact an audience who were most interested in Hillary Clinton because she was a woman, and so they gravitated to another woman who seemed to understand their pain.

But since then, Governor Palin has made the mistake of many a candidate in the radio-and-television age, a mistake that has been made all the more deadly in the YouTube age, where the most fleeting moment on television can be scattered to the winds of the browser-enabled world.

She opened her mouth. Repeatedly.

And every time she did, it just got stranger and stranger.

The most recent example that keeps coming up is that no no fewer than three occasions, Governor Palin declared in front of an audience that the Vice President is “in charge” of the US Senate. A lot of apologists have tried to cover for this gaffe, but it simply makes her come across as ignorant and unprepared when she proclaims a role for the job she’s running for that does not exist.

It’s true that, in the earliest days, John Adams actually sat and presided over the Senate most days–which is to say that he held the gavel and listened to the senior lawmakers natter. He didn’t have anything else to do, because George Washington had chosen, for reasons which remain somewhat cloudy, to exclude him from even an advisory role in government.

Since then, however, even that formal role of sitting with the gavel has fallen by the wayside. The President of the Senate presides only on ceremonial occasions, while a President Pro Tempore–an actual senator–presides daily. And even the President Pro Tempore has relatively little power compared to the Speaker of the House. The real power in the Senate lies with the caucus leadership.

And then there’s that whole “real America” bullshit. Mrs Palin is not the only purveyor of this particularly insidious piece of tripe. In fact, it appears to be the home-stretch strategy of the entire campaign. Like most of the RNC’s strategies this season, it’s so very blatant it’s hard to believe that it works. And yet…it does. You know there are people who actually believe that they live in the “real” America, and that “real” America is Republican Red.

Of course, even the RNC recognizes when someone goes a bridge too far. MN Sixth District Wingnut Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann  has been abandoned by the RNC after she was “trapped” by Chris “Hardball” Matthews into saying on national television that there ought to be an investigation into who is pro-America and who is anti-America. Even the RNC isn’t quite willing to be associated with a call for neo-McCarthyism, so they’ve pulled all their TV ads for her.

Meanwhile, Bachmann’s opponent, the Elwyn Tinklenberg, was running a losing campaign until that fateful interview aired and then went viral. Now, he’s suddenly got a huge war chest, courtesy of donors who had never heard of him before, but were willing to back anyone who might pry Batshit Bachmann[*] loose. Something similar happened with Mr. Robin Hayes, Republican critter from North Carolina’s Eighth District; and then there’s Nancy Pfotenhauer, one of McCain’s advisers, talking about Northern Virginia vs. Real Virginia.

The fun part is that, in every single case, polls suggest that more Americans, real or otherwise, are turned off by this sort of rhetoric than turned on. It may play to the “base”, but it actively repulses everyone else. Bachmann was winning; now, she’s not.  Hayes was winning. Now he’s not.

McCain was neck and neck; now, in most polls, he’s between 6 and 12 points back.

The irony, here is that McCain spent so many years painting himself as a maverick (G-d, I hate that word, now), so many years pissing off the “real America”. And now, his only chance of winning rests with the same Republican base he’s spent years pissing off.

And let’s be very clear here: as much as I would like Palin and the “real America” rhetoric both to turn out to be not merely albatrosses but anvils around McCain’s neck, dragging his campaign down to a well-deserved epic fail, it’s not a sure thing. Twelve days is more than enough time for Obama to do something equally dumb; more than enough time for people to get complacent and decide they don’t need to show up Election Day after all, because Obama’s victory’s a sure thing without them; more than enough time for…well, anything, really. Granted this campaign feels like it’s been going on almost since the day Kerry lost, but really, twelve days is an eternity in this news cycle.

We’re very close to seeing an end to the Era of Stupidity. But it’s not going to happen by itself.

[*] Credit where due: This phrase comes to me via the Stephanie Miller Show , this morning, which in turn was quoting Wonkette .