On paper, the upcoming Vice Presidential debate looks like a repeat of the Bentzen-Quayle debacle (for Republicans), except that Joe Biden is no Lloyd Bentzen and it appears that Sarah Palin is no Dan Quayle, I mean just look at her.
On the other hand, there is so much more at stake now than there was in 1988. All we were concerned with back then was a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, small potatoes compared to what's happening today, both nationally and internationally.
However, the closer we get to the Biden-Palin matchup, the less confidence I have that she will prevail, much less decisively so. Joe Biden has amply demonstrated his shortcomings, but the problem is, he's a political schizophrenic. Depending on which Biden shows up on October second, Sarah Palin will either look like a clear winner or she'll have her hands full. I bet it's more the latter.
And there's a bigger problem: even if Palin emerges from the encounter looking like strong Vice Presidential material, she can't save John McCain from himself. That this financial crisis broke on Bush's watch is devastating enough, but McCain has, by his several absurd comments, focused attention right where it isn't needed – on himself. People on both sides are now wondering if McCain is in command of his senses.
When the crisis was still breaking, McCain rushed to a microphone in a scene reminiscent of the running gag on Reno 911 where the cops are always babbling into a microphone not realizing that it's live. McCain said that it was all due to Wall Street greed and that SEC Chief, Wally Cox should be fired. Hold on, that's Chris Cox. Wally was merely a brilliant comedian who died young. I got confused because Wally would have done a better job as head of the SEC.
But that's irrelevant because neither Cox nor Wall Street are to blame for the current crisis. And McCain didn't call for the head of the other Chris – Dodd – or Barney Frank or Chuck Shumer for that matter.
If Biden commits gaffes… McCain commits GAFFES!
As if to make sure his original mistake didn't go unnoticed, there was McCain on 60 Minutes last Sunday saying that he'd name Andrew Cuomo to replace Cox. That would be the same Andrew Cuomo who is right in the center of this financial mess as the guy who made all the bad loans possible. John McCain didn't know that?
I don't believe that when all hell broke loose people looked at McCain as part of the problem, but as when Russia invaded Georgia, McCain seems to have felt it important that he be first with a condemnation. Except that he clearly knows more about international affairs than he does about the economy, and he said some things that he can't take back. Like when he said our economy's fundamentals are strong (which they are), but when that drew criticism, his claim that he was referring to the American worker not only didn't make economic sense, it didn't make -any-sense.
People go to all sorts of lengths to portray themselves as something they're not because they know that who they are might not sit well with the people they are trying to impress. But it's almost always the case that they can't maintain that illusion forever. Obama was unmasked long ago, but he has a media that's ready, willing, and able to cover for him and even remake him. John McCain has no such luxury, and the McCain that's been on display recently is a guy who causes most everyone to have doubts.
Where we were thankful that this election cycle was so long that it gave us time to flush out the real Obama, the time may now be too short for McCain to reestablish credibility. It may very well be that he chose a woman who is more competent than he is, but even if she demonstrates than in the debate, will it be enough for people to pull the lever for the man at the top? I'll tell you this, if it gives me pause, it's probably not doing the same for the average voter who hears the sound bytes and makes his choices reflexively.
That means McCain will need a whole lot of positive sound bytes between now and November fourth – and no big negative ones. They've been keeping Palin from the media. Too bad his handlers couldn't do the same for McCain. I don't want to sound too negative, because I feel McCain has many factors in his favor, but the longer the financial crisis remains big news, he's at a decided disadvantage, no matter that Obama and his advisors are tied directly to the collapse.
Dick Morris offers a major point that McCain should seize upon, one which Obama can't easily explain away. The question is, will McCain be smart enough to run with it and then, will he be smart enough to do it competently? Friday can't come soon enough.