IF THERE WERE SOME SORT of referee for the presidential election, would he step in now to stop the fight and call it for Obama? Need we really go all the way to November and watch this inhumane, bloody pummeling?

In any case, McCain seems to have thrown in the towel. Perhaps unwittingly, but that’s a detail. Someone ought to call up his überguru, Steve Schmidt, and remind him that candidates aren’t supposed to start whining and blaming the media for their defeat until after they actually and formally lose — not while they’re losing. Yet the McCain geniuses — clearly terrified by the roaring ovations for the Obamapalooza World Tour — have bombarded the net this week with two clunky, painfully long Web ads, complaining, “It’s pretty obvious that the media has a bizarre fascination with Barack Obama. Some may even say it’s a love affair … The media is in love with Barack Obama. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny.”

So now we have the big, tough military hero, who has been chattering preposterously about how only he knows how to win wars, blubbering and simpering that The New York Times doesn’t like him enough. And what sort of bonehead came up with the idea to send out a couple million e-mails to McCampaign supporters across the country to starkly remind them of the popularity of their opponent? What are enraged Republicans supposed to do? Rush to the polls and vote against Chris Matthews?

McCain, of course, has a point about the media focus on Obama, even if he has only himself to blame. As Obama was touching down in Jordan, after his jaunt through Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, Johnny Mac alighted in New Hampshire only to find one reporter and one photographer waiting for him on the Manchester tarmac. Everyone else was with Barack.

Let’s figure this out for a moment. You’re an assignment editor covering the campaign. You can put a reporter on Air Obama to cover America’s first black presidential candidate as he wings through a couple of active battlefields, followed by a rally in Berlin that will draw, oh, 200,000 people. Or, you can dispatch your overpaid correspondent to sit in on one more McCain New Hampshire town hall to count how many times the Arizona senator uses the phrase “my friends” and how many more nonexistent countries, like Czechoslovakia, and nonexistent borders, like that between Iraq and Pakistan, he can cram into one answer.

You clearly choose the former because you know, in your heart, that you’re nothing but a softheaded liberal media dupe who strains to please his corporate bosses by being soft on socialism.

I would love if someone in the McCain campaign contraption (it would be a gross overstatement to call it a machine) could tell me exactly what they thought would happen when their candidate rather stupidly baited and taunted Obama a few months ago for not having recently visited Iraq. And I do mean stupid. Because it was obvious from the moment McCain issued his challenge that Obama would have no choice but to book a flight to Baghdad. And it was equally obvious that such a trip by the Democratic nominee would surely ignite precisely the sort of media frenzy McCain is now enviously denouncing.

Obama’s publicity surge, however, is the least of McCain’s woes. There’s that little detail of Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki agreeing that Obama’s plan to withdraw American combat troops by mid-2010 sounded just dandy — even though he later claimed to disagree before he really agreed with Obama. Al-Maliki’s undeniable overlap with Obama hit the administration and the McCain campaign like a barrage of daisy cutters. In a visible state of shock and awe, the dazed Decider stumbled out of his bunker and mumbled that while he was horribly opposed to Obama’s “timeline” for withdrawal, he was now for something he was calling a “time horizon.”

If this wasn’t all so pathetic — and if the human cost weren’t so terrible gruesome — it would be hilarious.

So Bush gets blind-sided by al-Maliki. And then, as the Washington Post’s Gene Robinson put it, Bush’s “moonwalking” back on Iraqi troop withdrawal wound up blind-siding McCain, who has been loudly claiming that any talk of timelines is tantamount to treason. McCain surrogate Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) tried to calibrate the whole mess in a conference call with reporters by suggesting — in a leftward feint, of course — that McCain might actually pull the troops out faster than Obama would. That, of course, was right before she had to clarify, and more or less retract — under pressure from McCain — the same statement.

I didn’t make the Obama flight to Baghdad. Sorry. So that left me with little to do other than actually listen by radio — with only two or three otherwise debilitated reporters paying attention — to McCain’s New Hampshire town hall. I didn’t count his utterances of “my friends” — though there were plenty.

I was struck, nevertheless, by the number of times in one 60-minute stretch that McCain kept using his new line: “We’re winning the war in Iraq,” he proclaimed. “We’re winning.”

He sounded punch-drunk. Hey, have sympathy and get this old guy out of the ring. Someone call the ref.

LA Weekly