Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
A political campaign can be like a rock slide. At some point, it's just going to continue in the direction it's heading--and not much can stop it. After the final debate between Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, it may well be that the 2008 presidential contest has reached not the tipping point, but that rock slide point. This is not a prediction of a pro-Obama avalanche on November 4--though that's a possibility. It's merely an observation that the campaign may be done in the sense that there are no major inputs to come (barring a bolt-from-the-blue event) that will affect the final tally. Polls will show that there are still some undecided voters out there. (Who are these people?) But whatever's going to determine this election--economic concerns, a desire for change, racism, you name it--is probably already in place, and the candidates may not be able to alter this, at least not in a proactive manner. Certainly, at any time, either can turn the race upside down by saying or doing something particularly dopey.
Neither got dopey on Wednesday night. McCain even had his best (or his least unsuccessful) debate performance, but it was no--damn, I hate this cliché--game changer. McCain was more aggressive than in the previous face-offs, and he finally dared to challenge Barack Obama directly on the--drum roll, please--Bill Ayers Question. But there was this: viewers watching McCain's reaction shots during the evening could have easily wondered if the Republican presidential nominee would make it to the finish without his head exploding, for he seemed to be in the midst of an exercise in anger control.
Prior to the debate, there was much chatter about whether McCain would play the Ayers card. Judging from video of his recent rallies, it appeared that his base was demanding blood on this front. But polls indicated that these sorts of attacks have been hurting McCain with in-the-middle voters. So he faced a tough decision: ignore Ayers and upset the diehards or accuse Obama of being a pal of a domestic terrorist and alienate the indies.
McCain and his strategists came up with a hybrid approach: take a shot on the Ayers front and combine it with a traditional political assault. "I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist," McCain huffed, but then he went on to say, "we need to know the full extent of that relationship." Huh? If you don't care about Ayers, why do you care about the relationship? And why repeat the false claim that Obama launched his first political campaign within Ayer's living room?
This was essentially McCain's love letter to the GOP base. ("Now get off my case, okay?") More important, he attached it to his true attack of the night: Obama will raise your taxes. After quickly running through his Ayers index cards, McCain noted, "My campaign is about getting this economy back on track...I'm not going to raise taxes the way Senator Obama wants to raise taxes." In what was probably the last big moment of the campaign before Election Day, McCain offered this meta-argument: Obama is a liberal tax-and-spend Democrat, and I'm a conservative. (He left off the Republican part.)
Hometown audiences can be harsh--especially when they are disappointed. After the Alaska Troopergate report was released and declared that Governor Sarah Palin had abused her office, Palin maintained that she had been exonerated. Not so fast, says the Anchorage Daily News. Here's how the newspaper responded to Palin's claim:
Sarah Palin's reaction to the Legislature's Troopergate report is an embarrassment to Alaskans and the nation.
She claims the report "vindicates" her. She said that the investigation found "no unlawful or unethical activity on my part."
Her response is either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian.
Page 8, Finding Number One of the report says: "I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act."
In plain English, she did something "unlawful." She broke the state ethics law.
....If she had actually read it, she couldn't claim "vindication" with a straight face.
....Palin's response is the kind of political "big lie" that George Orwell warned against. War is peace. Black is white. Up is down.
....You asked us to hold you accountable, Gov. Palin. Did you mean it?
Bottom line: Gov. Palin, read the report. It says you violated the ethics law.
It's hard to accuse the Anchorage Daily News of being part of the Eastern establishment liberal media conspiracy that is supposedly out to destroy Palin. So how will the McCain-Palin spinners spin this one?
The political news of the day is John McCain's new stump speech. But there was an interesting Sarah Palin moment, as well.
Introducing McCain at the Virginia Beach rally where he unveiled his I-will-fight-fight-fight-fight speech, Palin, playing to the GOP base, declared that she and McCain believe in the "advancement of freedom," not the "expansion of government."
This is conservative cant: big government threatens individual freedoms. Think black helicopters coming to take your guns away. But has Palin not been reading the news about her own campaign? Her ticket supports the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan, which will give the Treasury secretary expanded power. And McCain has called on the federal government to buy up bad mortgages across the country, at a cost of $300 billion or so. The math is kind of simple here: that's about $1 trillion in government expansion.
The question for Governor Palin is, does that mean $1 trillion less in freedom?
In a speech he is to give in Virginia Beach, McCain says 17 times that he will fight for America, according to his prepared remarks. He repeatedly calls himself a "fighter." And he's an experienced fighter who won't--like you know who--have to study up on issues before making command decisions.
Over and over in this new stump speech, McCain says he is ready to fight--for the country, for change, for a new direction, for the future, for the children, for justice for all. Seriously.
Times are tough, McCain notes, but America is worth fighting for. It needs a fighter like John McCain, who is a real fighter who has always been a fighter for America.
In other words, vote for the fight guy. Here's how the speech ends:
Were Sarah "I can see Russia" Palin not already having a tough time on the campaign trail, the report released on Friday by a special prosecutor in Alaska finding that she "abused her power" might be more of a blow to the McCain-Palin campaign. But even though she has already fallen in the polls, there is room for more of a drop. And now the mavericky reformer who is part of a campaign attacking Barack Obama as old-style Chicago pol looks like a lying, vengeful pol herself.
The report was commissioned by a bipartisan group of Alaskan legislators after Palin was accused of firing her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan, after Monegan did not dismiss Mike Wooten, a state trooper who had gone through an ugly divorce with Palin's sister. Though Palin--pre-veep campaign--had pledged to cooperate fully, once she became part of the Republican ticket, she reneged on that promise, as the McCain camp tried to shut down the investigation. But the Alaskan courts refused to short-circuit the investigation, and Stephen Branchflower, a former prosecutor retained by the Alaskan legislators, managed to finish his inquiry, after getting reluctant witnesses--including Todd Palin, the governor's husband--to answer written questions.
The report is blunt:
I find that, although Walt Monegan's refusal to fire Trooper Michael Wooten was not the sole reason he was fired by Governor Sarah Palin, it was likely a contributing factor to his termination as Commissioner of Public Safety.