The Flustered Rookie

Unlike most people, apparently, I love Washington, DC.

Sitting on the patio at Bagels ETC on P St. this morning, eating an egg and cheese bagel and hashbrowns while reading the Washington Post, I felt something subtle — a slight spring in the city’s step — that comes around sometimes, every four years, with the hope that the old, entrenched party, is about to be ushered out by voters.

You can sometimes feel it in the air around Dupont Circle. Maybe, just maybe, the times are a changing.

When I found mostly good political news in the Post, I started getting nervous.

I’m a Democrat, remember. Good news is just one more thing to worry about.

The off-lead article today was headlined, “Obama, McCain In Tight Race in Va., Polls Show,” subdeck: “Economy is Top Issue.”

Obama leads in Virginia among likely voters, according to the poll, 49-46 percent, a statistical dead heat. Fifty percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue, and they gave Obama a 10-point edge there. When third-party candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr were included in the polling, Obama had a 5-point lead.

Though there were certainly strong signs of support for McCain — particularly on the commander-in-chief question — on balance, it seemed like more good news for Obama.

Virginia is a must-win state for McCain. Virginia is to McCain what Pennsylvania is to Obama: If he loses it, it’s going to be hard for him to win the election. Which means, at the very least — even if he ultimately comes out on top — he’s going to have to dump resources into the state.

The Post also reports the latest polls show Obama leading, by thin margins, in Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota, with a widening lead in Wisconsin (49-42). Leading — even the Neurotic Democrat has to admit — is at least better than not leading with six weeks to go.

But perhaps the most incredible article was this column by George Will (“McCain Loses His Head“). Will, of course, is a capital C conservative, widely respected inside and outside the Beltway for his views. At one time — maybe 8 years ago — it would have been inconceivable that a George Will would have backed a progressive candidate like Obama over a McCain. Yet here’s how Will begins:

Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama.

Will compares McCain to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, who famously had “only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. ‘Off with his head!'” He goes on to skewer McCain for responding to the latest fiscal crisis by saying he would fire Chris Cox, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Channeling his inner Queen of Hearts, John McCain furiously, and apparently without even looking around at facts, said Chris Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, should be decapitated. This childish reflex provoked the Wall Street Journalto editorialize that “McCain untethered” — disconnected from knowledge and principle — had made a “false and deeply unfair” attack on Cox that was “unpresidential”

And Will doesn’t back off an inch from there, writing:

McCain’s smear — that Cox “betrayed the public’s trust” — is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCain, politics is always operatic, pitting people who agree with him against those who are “corrupt” or “betray the public’s trust,” two categories that seem to be exhaustive — there are no other people. McCain’s Manichaean worldview drove him to his signature legislative achievement, the McCain-Feingold law’s restrictions on campaigning. Today, his campaign is creatively finding interstices in laws intended to restrict campaign giving and spending. (For details, see The Post of Sept. 17, Page A4; and the New York Times of Sept. 20, Page One.)

Noting that McCain said he would like to replace Cox with Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic Attorney General from New York and son of former liberal Governor Mario Cuomo, Will writes: “Conservatives have been warned.”

He touched on something here that I’ve wondered about: Why is it that the GOP base seems now to fully trust McCain, after years of antagonism? McCain himself is telling them: I’m a maverick. I’m running against my party (and your still-beloved George Bush). I’m flip-flopping all over the political map for votes. If elected, I’ll do whatever I want. Has Palin really erased all those years of doubts about McCain, on the Right? Here’s Will’s conclusion, and an answer:

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. George Will, the conscience of conservatism, coming right out and saying that McCain is a riskier choice than Obama. Obama is the calmer, less likely to panic, more reasonable, more presidential candidate. There it is! Right there between those lines: Obama for president!

It’s enough to give the Neurotic Democrat a serious case of jitters.

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3 Responses to “The Flustered Rookie”

  1. Katie says:

    Hey Josh, great blog! Let’s keep hoping. And like a good liberal, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, my eyes on the polls, and believe the worst until I hear the best.

  2. Neurotic Dem says:

    Thanks for the encouragement! From one Neurotic Dem to another, I can honestly say it means a ton.

  3. […] Last week, we had George Will, the conscience of conservativism, coming out and all but endorsing Obama, noting that his experience gap is not nearly as worrying as McCain’s “dismaying temperament.” (He called McCain the “flustered rookie” — I blogged on it here.) […]

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