By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
At quarter to one, McCain appears with his lineup of usual suspects: Cindy, Tom Ridge, Joe Lieberman. They smile as McCain lays into his speech, which is not a speech at all but a hit parade of kneecappers that have bubbled to the surface of his incoherent campaign: Biden’s “crisis” comment; drill here, drill now; Obama will (gasp) engage in diplomacy; Redistributionist-in-Chief; “spread the wealth,” replete with finger quotes; measuring the drapes; Mac is back; oh, and don’t forget our good friend Joe the Plumber!
McCain reminds me of the quarterback running for class president in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, who takes the stage and just yells: SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES! Where Obama’s speeches apply themes to a well-crafted argument, McCain strings together a bunch of hopeful zingers, some of which fall flat even among friends. After all, no one gives a fuck about $18 billion in pork-barrel spending when the deficit this year will be a trillion dollars.
That may be why McCain keeps it fairly short, jumping to the battle cry that has marked the end of his speeches since he accepted the nomination in Minneapolis. “I’m not afraid of the fight,” he says. “I’m ready for it and you’re going to fight with me!” As always, he whips the crowd into a furious crescendo. “Stand up,” he yells as the roar drowns him out. “Fight! Stand up and fight!”
It is a rousing performance: the old soldier, mortally wounded, still rallying his troops. Despite McCain’s disastrous candidacy, I feel a little bad for him. “He was misled by his strategists,” says one supporter in the crowd nearby. “Obama was just better at it.”
“Don’t feel bad for the guy,” Elliott says. “He knew the stakes. He’s a dice shooter, and he put his chips on the line when he went Rovian in July.” After that, he adds, the odds collapsed around two outcomes: “President or asshole. And we all know the odds on that one.”
But here, in this room, the glory of the moment obscures that inevitable reality. Now I understand why McCain stepped up his campaign schedule in the last days. It must be exhilarating to be loved in failure. Who wants to hear bad news from your strategists and pollsters when you can have your spirits lifted for another few minutes by a crowd of thousands? Soon, however, those crowds will be gone, and McCain will have to face himself. As will the party. Until then, the rallies are their mutual escape. “When I’m elected President...” McCain bellows. I guess Republicans do believe in hope after all.
Poisoning the Wells
McCain’sPompano Beach field office, like almost everything else in Florida, is housed in a strip mall. A guy is waving a flag out front, but inside traffic is light. We’ve been hearing about empty McCain offices, sapped of enthusiasm, but this one has a few true believers left. “We’re still high on the rally down in Miami last week,” says one of the volunteer coordinators. “There were a lot of Hispanics there, and it was good to hear them sing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’?” Then she adds, “Oh, you know who else was there? The Jewish. They turned out in droves.”
Then we meet Tim McClellan, the Northeast Broward Regional field manager. McClellan is a nice guy, forthright and friendly, which you don’t usually find in any political office during a campaign. He’s also gone through the political Looking Glass. After we ask a few questions about bread-and-butter Republican issues like terrorism, McClellan quickly segues to crackpot conjecture that Obama is not a citizen.
“That’s a debunked Internet rumor,” I say. “Obama produced his birth certificate.”
“But there’s no seal on his birth certificate, and the font is wrong.”
This twist in the persistent rumor is being promoted, at this very moment, by lunatic fringe blogger Pam Geller at a rally in Palm Beach. Obama’s birth certificate has been verified by the state of Hawaii and multiple news organizations. But that’s not good enough for McClellan, who thinks the better source of fact is a lawsuit by Philip J. Berg, a longtime paranoiac gadfly who has also filed lawsuits demanding “the truth about 9/11.” Berg has filed so many lawsuits that the very lawsuit McClellan cites was thrown out as frivolous. Nevertheless, he says, “The U.S. Supreme Court will prove that Obama’s not a citizen.”
Context will help understand why this is shocking. McClellan is a paid McCain staffer questioning the citizenship of the Democratic presidential candidate. Such a thing would have never happened in 2004. Bush’s campaign, for all its faults, had discipline. First off, had you wandered into a Bush field office with a notebook, someone would have taken you down with a flying tackle. And you certainly wouldn’t have been able to quote the local honcho straying way off-message. But my encounter with McClellan drives home something even more troubling: He’s not off-message. With McCain swinging at shadows — ACORN, Rashid Khalidi and the liberal media that won’t tell the truth — the entire Republican apparatus has devolved into an insidious rumor mill. The sub rosa dirty work that once was the province of 527s is now official material. Some time around six weeks ago, the party held hands, took a deep breath and stepped off the cliff.