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Breaking: McCain Almost Missed Tonight's Letterman Appearance

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 4:48 PM EDT

mojo-photo-letterman.jpgThe New York Times Caucus blog is reporting that John McCain was nearly forced to miss the taping of his "make-up" apperance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" as flights out of Philadelphia were experiencing delays. Dave would have blown his freakin' top. But they turned around and hired a helicopter:

The last time Mr. McCain canceled an appearance on "The Late Show" Mr. Letterman was not amused, and he has not let go of his fury... So when Mr. McCain found himself stuck on the tarmac here in Philadelphia, with what aides described as a two-hour delay on planes flying to Newark, he knew he had to act.
Mr. McCain's campaign plane turned around, and the campaign hired a small helicopter to whisk him, his wife, Cindy, two of their aides, and two Secret Service Agents, to their rendezvous with comedy.

McCain famously cancelled an appearance on Letterman's show three weeks ago as part of his Operation Pretend to Suspend the Campaign, but then turned up on a CBS internal feed preparing for a chat with Katie Couric. Letterman has mocked the senator ferociously since then. Tonight's appearance was to be a last-ditch attempt by McCain to calm Letterman down, but like just about everything these days, it sure seems like a lose-lose for poor old John. After the jump, a couple of choice McCain-skewering moments from recent Late Shows.

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Oil Bubble Watch

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 3:24 PM EDT

OIL BUBBLE WATCH....The latest on oil prices:

In New York, oil futures fell as much as 8 percent to $68.57 a barrel on Thursday, their lowest since June 2007. Oil has lost half its value since hitting a record closing price of $145.29 a barrel in July.

....Global oil demand is undeniably slowing, particularly in developed nations. Japanese oil consumption dropped 12 percent in August, while in the United States, demand has been cut by 8 percent in September.

Still, consumption is growing in developing nations, albeit at a slower pace. The International Energy Agency expects global oil demand to grow by just 400,000 barrels a day this year, to 86.5 million barrels a day. At the beginning of the year, the agency was expecting growth of more than 2 million barrels for 2008.

So does this mean that this year's runup in oil prices was a speculative bubble after all? At first I didn't think so, but by the middle of the year I was beginning to wonder. Still, even at the height of the bubble in June, the best I could say was that the price spike "had a bit of a bubbly feel to it" but that I didn't really have any solid evidence to back that up.

I still don't, really. The problem is that there were genuine supply and demand issues pushing prices up beginning in 2007. But as prices skyrocketed, demand eventually went down. Then the banking crisis kicked into high gear and everyone got afraid that we were headed for a global recession. Those are both perfectly normal reasons for the price of oil to fall.

On the other hand, the "Enron loophole" that the bubble pushers kept talking about got closed in June too. And a couple of months ago the CFTC discovered that "financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX, a far bigger share than had previously been stated by the agency." So maybe it really was a speculative bubble after all.

Bottom line: Occasionally you get a massive, long-running thing like the housing bubble, which is visible (to some people at least) even while it's happening. Most of the time, though, bubbles are pretty hard to identify. This particular runup is hard to call even in hindsight.

POSTSCRIPT: However, one thing is obvious: this kind of price instability is going to be with us for a long time as oil demand bumps up against maximum oil production. Full story here.

Shorthand

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 1:59 PM EDT

SHORTHAND....Via Sullivan, John Podhoretz says McCain screwed up last night:

The problem, in my view, is that the shorthand in which McCain spoke about these matters made them comprehensible only to those of us who are already schooled in them. In almost every case, Obama answered McCain's shorthand with longhand — with detailed, even long-winded answers that gave the distinct impression he was more in command of the details of these charges than the man who was trying to go after him on them.

That's what I meant last night when I said McCain was talking in "code." Over and over he'd respond to Obama with a brief staccato outburst — "health of the mother," "statute of limitations," "marketing assistance program," "helping FARC," etc. — that political junkies might have understood, but probably no one else. He sounded like a guy who had so many preplanned attacks lined up that he could barely spit all of them out in the allotted time. At times he almost seemed like he was gasping for air.

Overall, I don't take too seriously the insta-polls that are released right after the debate. They show that Obama won, but a lot of that was just because Obama has high support levels right now, and you're way more likely to think your guy won the debate than the other guy. Still, I think this was the worst of McCain's debate performances. He might have pepped up the base a bit, but he didn't help himself with anybody else.

The Campaign in a Nutshell

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 1:27 PM EDT

THE CAMPAIGN IN A NUTSHELL....This picture is a microcosm of the entire campaign. It's totally unfair, it could happen to any of us, it's just an unfortunate trick of timing and angle, but....well, nothing is going right for John McCain this year, is it? The guy is cursed.

Speaking of that, though, here is Jacob Hacker:

We political scientists generally subscribe to the "minimal effects" view of campaigns, in which both sides are savvy enough that their efforts cancel each other out. And this certainly seems like an election in which the fundamentals have swamped any campaign strategies either side has used. But I think it's time to recognize that Obama has done something more profound in this cycle than simply run a smart campaign; he is showing that the old Republican strategy on economic policy of calling for tax cuts and criticizing government, while thowing mud in every other area, has real limits when the other side directly confronts it with arguments for "investment" and more carefully targeted tax policies.

I really think this is off base. Yes, Obama has run a good, disciplined campaign, but I think Jacob was right the first time around: the fundamentals have dominated every step of the way. Sure, Obama's calls for investment might deserve some small credit for his success, but come on: every Democrat has learned to call their spending programs "investments." That's a no-brainer. What's more, this isn't the cornerstone of Obama's economic program anyway. His cornerstone is a platform of huge tax cuts, which he's been publicizing with massive advertising blitzes in every battleground state in the country. Joe the Plumber might not be happy with Obama's plan, but as Obama himself keeps hammering away at, 95% of the country should like it just fine.

Aside from all the other fundamentals pointing to a Democratic victory this year, Obama has been successful mainly because (a) he's fought tax cuts with tax cuts, and (b) the financial crisis has swamped everything else. I would really, really like to think that Obama has found the magic bullet for fighting the tax cut loonies at the Journal and the Club for Growth, but the evidence just doesn't back it up. Unfortunately for the cause of liberalism, he's chosen instead to cave in and fight entirely on their turf. This is almost certainly a tactically wise decision, but it's not something progressives should be very happy about.

Roe v. Wade

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

ROE v. WADE....I don't want to spend a ton of time rehashing last night's debate, but what did John McCain mean in this exchange about Supreme Court nominees?

Schieffer: But even if it was someone — even someone who had a history of being for abortion rights, you would consider them?

McCain: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.

First, he'd consider anyone "in their qualifications." Then he says that support for Roe v. Wade would be a qualification that would cause him to reject a candidate. But then he says there's no litmus test.

What did that mean? Just random incoherence? Or is there some subtlety I'm missing?

Do Debates Determine Election Winners? Only On Likeability

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:16 PM EDT

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the American voter can be pretty superficial sometimes, but I still find this disheartening.

Turns out, candidates who "won" past presidential debates didn't always win the elections that followed, but candidates who were found more "likeable" in the debates did. Andrew Romano of Newsweek points to unlikeable put well-prepared debaters who went on to lose in November and then says:

In 1984, Reagan struck voters as about 20 percent more likeable than Mondale. Bush defeated Dukakis largely because he "triumphed in the congeniality competition"--and later lost to Clinton largely because he didn't. After the Oct. 17, 2000 debate, voters rated Bush the more likable candidate, 60-30; four years later, Dubya whipped Kerry 52-41 in the same department. In other words, the candidate who won the debates may not have won the subsequent election--but the candidate who came off as most congenial almost always did.

Romano adds that all of this bodes well for Obama. "According to the CNN poll, viewers found the Illinois Democrat more likeable last night by a margin of 65 to 28 percent--a far larger spread than either Reagan, Bush, Clinton or W. ever enjoyed in similar surveys."

This information does not suggest a direct correlation between likeability in debates and election victories (ie people aren't saying, "He was a nice dude in that debate I remember watching three weeks ago, I'm voting for him."). Instead, it suggests that candidates who know how to appear friendly in the debates, regardless of their command of the issues, also know how to win voters over the course of a campaign.

I don't know why I'm startled by this. We lived through eight years of George W. Bush after all, a man who took the White House because his debate opponent sighed too loudly...

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"Comrade Bush"

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 11:50 AM EDT

I know Hugo Chavez likes to get his rocks off by saying a lot of ridiculous things about President Bush, but this comment is pretty funny.

"Bush is to the left of me now," Mr Chavez told an audience of international intellectuals debating the benefits of socialism. "Comrade Bush announced he will buy shares in private banks."

The Final Debate: McCain Attacks, But He's No Longer in Control

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 1:38 AM EDT

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.)

Forget Joe. Long Live Josephine the Plumber

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:51 AM EDT

Just in case two MoJo liveblogs left you wanting even more microscopic coverage of Blinky McCain's excruciating plumber remarks, check out MoJo managing editor Elizabeth Gettelman's and my Tweets on tonight's debate, here and here. It's as off the cuff and detailed as you can get in 144 characters per Tweet (what can I say, we're experimenting with Twitter).

Here's a sample, the rest is on Twitter (first Tweet at the bottom):

LM_MOJO that's it. forget Rosie the Riveter. it's Josephine the Plumber time. #current about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo What about Josephine the Plumber, do you speak for her McCain? about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo Joe the Plumber is no Lilly Ledbetter. about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

LM_MOJO on Roe v Wade: Obama brings the Harvard Law down on McCain about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo McCain doesn't support equal pay for equal work! about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

eg_mojo Abortion a difficult, moral issue. Obama says WOMEN make the decision, not the STATES about 3 hours ago from Election 2008

See and Hear Joe the Plumber

| Thu Oct. 16, 2008 12:47 AM EDT

Here's why John McCain knew about Joe Wurzelbacher, now known to the world as Joe the plumber, in tonight's debate: Joe was interviewed on Fox News Tuesday. He doesn't much care for Barack Obama's tax plan and is already a mini-celebrity on the right-wing blogs. Here's the video: