I really hope the conservative takeaway from this election isn’t that McCain could have won if only he hit Obama harder on his personal associations. Voters tend to make decisions based on what they see, and as Jim noted yesterday, character arguments weren’t effective against Bill Clinton, even though in the end character issues weighed heavily on his presidency. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s perfectly ligitimate to bring up Obama’s pattern of shady associations, because they reveal a high threshold of tolerance for utterly radical views, and because he has such a thin actual record on which to judge him. But as politics, I think the problem McCain faces is that whatever is said about Obama or his past, the bottom line is that in public appearances he has the ability to come across calm and reasonable. He may very well be an intellectual radical, but tempermentally he is nothing close to radical. If anything, the attacks on his past only make him come across more moderate in debates, because his demeanor is such a stark contrast to the way he is being portrayed by opponents. Were there actually video of him giving fire and brimstone speeches in the past, echoing some of the views of Ayers, Khalidi, Wright, etc., it would be a different story.
As for McCain, while I have been quite critical of him on economic issues over the past several weeks, this much has to be said. Back when this presidential election started, the Republicans were given a very low chance of winning. This was reinforced all last year as Democratic candidates swamped their Republican opponents in fundraising, and earlier this year as turnout in Democratic primaries vastly exceeded what Republican nomination contests were drawing. In spite of the unpopularity of the incumbent president in his own party, McCain kept the race competitive — and even could have been considered the emerging favorite — until a financial system collapse that Americans reflexively blamed on Republicans. Although I think McCain squandered any last chances of winning with the suspension debacle, once the financial bomb exploded, there was very little he could do. In short, I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that McCain threw away an election, given that he was an underdog to begin with.
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