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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Best of Sunday Op-Eds


WHAT we learned last week is that the man who always puts his “country first” will take the country down with him if that’s what it takes to get to the White House.

For all the focus on Friday night’s deadlocked debate, it still can’t obscure what preceded it: When John McCain gratuitously parachuted into Washington on Thursday, he didn’t care if his grandstanding might precipitate an even deeper economic collapse. All he cared about was whether he might save his campaign. George Bush put more deliberation into invading Iraq than McCain did into his own reckless invasion of the delicate Congressional negotiations on the bailout plan.

Then came Black Wednesday — not for the stock market, which was holding steady in anticipation of Washington action, but for McCain. As the widely accepted narrative has it, his come-to-Jesus moment arrived that morning, when he awoke to discover that Barack Obama had surged ahead by nine percentage points in the Washington Post/ABC News poll. The McCain campaign hastily suited up its own pollster to belittle that finding — only to be drowned out by a fusillade of new polls from Fox News, Marist and CNN/Time, each with numbers closer to Post/ABC than not. Obama was rising most everywhere except the moose strongholds of Alaska and Montana.

That was not the only bad news raining down on McCain. His camp knew what Katie Couric had in the can from her interview with Sarah Palin. The first excerpt was to be broadcast by CBS that night, and it had to be upstaged fast.

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Given the past week, the debate should have been a cinch for Obama. But, just as in the primaries, he willfully refuses to accept what debates are about. It’s not a lecture hall; it’s a joust. It’s not how cerebral you are. It’s how visceral you are. You need memorable, sharp, forceful and witty lines.

Even when McCain sneered, “I don’t need any on-the-job training, I’m ready to go at it right now,” Obama didn’t directly respond, but veered off into a story about his father being from Kenya and how he got his name. (Thanks, Barack, we got that from your book. It’s great for a memoir, but not a debate.)

McCain kept painting Obama as naïve, and dangerous, insisting that he “doesn’t quite understand or doesn’t get it.”

Obama should have responded “Senator, I understand perfectly, I’m just saying you’re wrong.”

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History has shown again and again that a vice president must be ready to assume command of the ship of state on a moment’s notice. But Ms. Palin has given no indication yet that she is capable of handling the monumental responsibilities of the presidency if she were called upon to do so.

In fact, the opposite is the case. We know that there are some parts of Alaska from which, if the day is clear and your eyesight is good, you can actually see Russia. But the infantile repetition of this bit of trivia as some kind of foreign policy bona fide for a vice presidential candidate should give us pause.

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