THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 3, 2008
This is a strange spectacle, indeed. John McCain has been a fixture of Washington, a darling of the media, and, for a time, an excellent spokesman for a progressive economic agenda. (He even professed his admiration of the New Republic, when he would visit our office for lunch!) But tonight opens the beginning of a sharp, sharp turn. When McCain ran for president this cycle, he made many concessions. He backed down from his investigation of Jack Abramoff to protect Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed; he embraced supply side economics and flip-flopped on immigration. Alas. that was only the beginning of his transformation. Tonight, he presided over an unending stream of raw right-wing populism: attacks on the ivy leaguers and cosmopolitans and media and Washington and elites. Welcome back to Nixonland. To their credit, they were disrespectful and angry with humor, albeit a sophomoric humor. (Giuliani would have done a splendid job at a Dean Martin roast.) But it’s clear where they are headed. They will respond to the Democrats' economic populism with cultural populism. Where Obama talked about “One America,” they will run in the polarizing mode of Rove and Atwater. In an election where they don’t have much of an economic case, this was their best card to play. I have a sinking feeling that it will work and we’re in for an ugly eight weeks.