Michael Schaffer

Editorial Director

I'm someone who, for vaguely humorous effect, sometimes refers to people as "this one" or "that one." As such, I didn't see much contempt in John McCain's now-infamous use of the latter term in last night's debate. I saw a cranky guy trying to make himself look funny and likeable, and it landed about as well as his hair-plugs line--I suspect people who like him saw a goofy way of engaging in Senatorial finger-pointing, and people who don't like him saw something else.

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That's Outrageous!

John McCain recently took a shot at a reliable political target: The Georgetown cocktail party. In an interview with the Des Moines Register's editorial board, McCain dismissed the idea that some conservatives might be worried about his running mate’s qualifications. “If there’s a Georgetown cocktail party person who, quote, calls himself a conservative who doesn’t like her, good luck,” he snapped. McCain is surely not the first popular DC social figure to knock the hostesses and party-goers of 30th and N.

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At least John McCain's new nastygram to Barack Obama isn't about sex-ed pedagogy or Paris Hilton similarities. This time, to McCain's credit, he's doing his character assasination on a major issue of the day--the war in Iraq, and Obama's 2007 vote against the GOP version of a measure to extend war funding. "Playing politics, risking lives," a suitably dismayed-sounding narrator intones. (Not mentioned: Obama voted for a Democratic measure that included war funding as well as a nonbinding call for withdrawal).

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As I've noted earlier, 2008's may be the most heavily analogized election in American history. Barack Obama has been likened, often quite convincingly, to leaders ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Jimmy Carter. John McCain--the American Disraeli to admirers, the second Bob Dole to critics--isn't far behind.Sarah Palin, though, seems to conjure up just one historical parallel: Dan Quayle, the dubiously qualified, polarizing newcomer who graced the GOP ticket two decades ago.

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  I suppose it was inevitable that a Clinton would wind up in a GOP attack ad this year. And Bill, he of the red-faced primary-season rants and the passive-aggressive general election analyses, was the most likely candidate. Sure enough, John McCain this week released a spot using the 42nd president’s words in an effort to help make McCain the 44th. The ad, though, is a strange one--60 seconds long, ostensibly about the mortgage crisis, with the Man from Hope not making his appearance until second number 28, an eternity by attack-ad standards.

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Barack's talking to the camera again! With the markets in crisis, the Obama campaign this morning unveilled a new ad featuring the Illinois Senator addressing voters face-to-face about taxes and the economy. Some thoughts: -Likeability? Yes. If he's staring at us for two long televisual minutes--OK, probably two long streaming-video minutes in most people's cases--we'd better find it pleasant. Obama sounds authoritative and nice and grown-up. Kind of like a CEO in a corporate video. -Connection to Current Crisis? Tenuous.

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Debate Reax Reax

Thanks to an accident of planning, I got on a plane in Philadelphia last night around six and landed in Seattle about five and a half hours later. So: No live debate for me. I caught up with a repeat at my hotel.But here's the thing: In the half-hour or so of furious web-surfing between the time the flight attendant announced it was OK to turn on PDAs and the time I checked into my room, I felt like I'd already experienced it all. All those reactions--From the right! From the left! Can you believe that even Pat Robertson said McCain was mean?

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Back in August, no less of an authority than Maureen Dowd declared that John McCain had officially maxed out his POW card. The column-length overdraft statement followed a comical month when McCain surrogates used the Senator's war record to rebut an array of unrelated charges about cone-of-silence violations, real-estate forgetfulness,  and ABBA-listening. And--who says he's out  of touch?--the number of Hanoi Hilton references soon dwindled.The campaign's search for excuses to justify various forms of bad behavior, though, did not. The new universal explanation for McCain misdeeds?

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Barr That Door!

Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, has offered to fill the potential vacancy at tomorrow night's presidential debate. Isn't this sort of a gimme for the Democrats? If Barack Obama really wants John McCain to de-suspend his participation, he ought to vow not only to invite Barr to fill the empty podium, but should promise to spend as much of the debate as possible teeing up his mustachioed interlocutor to deliver great zingers. By weekend, Barr could be at 20 percent in the polls and Obama could be on his way to a decisive win.  --Michael Schaffer

It’s official: You’re allowed to disparage Sarah Palin because she “does not have a repertoire of historic patterns” or “the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.” But it is absolutely forbidden to question her qualifications on the grounds that “she has never summered in Tuscany.”So declares David Brooks, the latest conservative to snipe at the GOP vice presidential nominee.

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