Can't say that any of us do.
The only thing we are sure of is that McCain-Palin is the scariest couple since Bonnie and Clyde.
Question of the day -- Who knows the least about the national campaign strategy of John McCain and his advisers?
Is it members of the press corps covering John McCain, or people like me who frequently write about members of the press corps covering John McCain, or is it, maybe, both of us?
And then there is yet a fourth but much more intriguing option: Is it John McCain himself who knows the least about his campaign strategy?
"Know," that is, in the epistemological sense of knowing -- a sense that suggests a knowledge surpassing more than just, Oh yeah, I know this is what we're doing today, but as for tomorrow I haven't a clue.
What propelled my moment of searching doubt was the one-two punch of McCain's rambling Thursday night speech to the nation and the press-corps analysis that immediately followed; in particular, an analysis presented by reporter-pundit Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post.
In his coverage yesterday, Cillizza observed rightly enough that McCain's peroration "largely avoided the sort of red-meat rhetoric that might have whipped the live audience into a frenzy but alienate swing voters, who were clearly the target of the address."
So far, so good, no argument there. But a bit farther down Cillizza then wrote:
"The tone of the speech is … an acknowledgment by McCain and his senior advisers that given the decided tilt of the political landscape against Republicans, the only way the Arizona senator can win in the fall is to convince unaffiliated and independent voters -- and even some Democrats -- to cast a ballot for him."
Now here the waters begin to murk, if I may use that as a verb.
As for the "acknowledgment" that Cillizza cited, was he referring to what appears to be nothing more than rather perfunctory tips of the hat to independent voters? or was he referring to some actual, earnest, it's-in-the-playbook strategic attempt to convert the unaffiliated into believers?
Cillizza seemed to report the broader acknowledgment as fact; problem is, we don't know the more revealing facts behind the fact, and it may be that Cillizza doesn't know either.
It may even be that McCain himself is the root cause of this consternation, because in actual fact he doesn't know what in hell he's doing and is winging his strategic approach to the highest office in the land with the same sporadic cogency and message-muddled insincerity that led him, erratically, to choose Sarah Palin as a running mate.
On one hand we have the religious-right-rallying Palin haunting the stump, dreaming, presumably, of banning Dobson-disapproved books from the Library of Congress and issuing mandatory buffalo guns to middle schoolers, and on the other hand we have old neo-maverick McCain radiating a clinical sense of apocalyptic paranoia.
Does that sound like a consciously coordinated effort to "convince unaffiliated and independent voters -- and even some Democrats -- to cast a ballot for" the Grand Old Party?
What's more, Cillizza concluded his piece by conspicuously undermining its opening thesis:
"In many ways, McCain's speech to the assembled delegates in St. Paul was a return to his political roots [that is, his thoroughly conventional, non-maverick roots]. McCain's rise on the national scene was born in large part from his willingness to buck Republican orthodoxy….
"This year, however, McCain has focused far less on the areas in which he disagrees with the base of the party -- a strategic necessity as he sought the Republican presidential nomination. On the campaign trail, McCain speaks rarely -- if ever -- about the issues on which his maverick reputation is built."
Which of course is why McCain & Co. now strenuously flaps its lips about his maverickdom rather than demonstrating it in any proposed public-policy way (see yesterday's piece on the 'Softer Side of Sears' syndrome).
But hold up just a moment. First we were told, with what seemed like journalistic concurrence, that the McCain campaign is targeting non-institutionalized (but still medicated?) independent voters, yet then we're told he's crooning only to the base.
McCain can't have it both ways, and neither can Cillizza or any of his colleagues who happen to be reporting the same contradictory story. Ronald Reagan could get away with it because of his personal popularity and the simple chronological fact that he was following an immensely unpopular president, of the opposing party. McCain's charm, however, is, let's just say, wanting, plus he has a partisan albatross the size of Texas hanging around his neck.
My guess -- but it's only a guess, since the McCain campaign hasn't "acknowledged" this to me yet -- is that McCain-Palin 2008's strategy is merely a regurgitation of Bush-Cheney 2000/2004. The base, the whole base, and nothing but the base. Assassinate Barack Obama's character and thereby drive the independents and soft Democrats into mad despondency about the whole rotting, stinking electoral process.
How purely conscious McCain is of his own strategy, however, may be an open question, because he really does seem to be that discombobulated.
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THE FIFTH COLUMNIST by P.M. Carpenter
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The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.