The Gambler

Ben Smith, reports that Obama has threaded McCain’s gambling penchant to drive home that McCain is a risk the nation can ill afford.

The gambling line is, in part, a reference to a Wall Street culture that isn’t looking good right now. But it’s also a new character attack on McCain, part of the critique that included calling McCain “erratic” last week, and it may cut deeper than the plutocrat line that Obama’s campaign was pushing last month. That’s because it focuses on traits that really are part of McCain’s personality and his public image, and is the downside of the man-of-action persona his campaign celebrates.

I’ve been saying for a while that being “maverick” is hardly a sound leadership quality, and John McCain has been instrumental in proving that point. It is in a sense “Rovian” to attack someone’s strength — as the swiftboad ads so effectively demonstrated in 2004 — but this particular invocation has the benefit of actually being a serious weakness for McCain.

When Reform Means Less Overt Fraud

A front page story in today’s Washington Post reports on Sarah Palin’s use of state per diems for nights stayed at her home and offers some details on how she used per diem expenses to pay for family airfare. There isn’t an awful amount of there there, but it could show, in light of other such developments in the press corp, that the press is finally beginning to construct a narrative exposing the so-called reformer and her running mate for what they currently are: bullshit artists.

ANCHORAGE, Sept. 8 — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has billed taxpayers for 312 nights spent in her own home during her first 19 months in office, charging a “per diem” allowance intended to cover meals and incidental expenses while traveling on state business…

…She wrote some form of “Lodging — own residence” or “Lodging — Wasilla residence” more than 30 times at the same time she took a per diem, according to the reports. In two dozen undated amendments to the reports, the governor deleted the reference to staying in her home but still charged the per diem.

A little context in Alaska state politics:

In the past, per diem claims by Alaska state officials have carried political risks. In 1988, the head of the state Commerce Department was pilloried for collecting a per diem charge of $50 while staying in his Anchorage home, according to local news accounts. The commissioner, the late Tony Smith, resigned amid a series of controversies.

“It was quite the little scandal,” said Tony Knowles, the Democratic governor from 1994 to 2000. “I gave a direction to all my commissioners if they were ever in their house, whether it was Juneau or elsewhere, they were not to get a per diem because, clearly, it is and it looks like a scam — you pay yourself to live at home,” he said.

Now, of course, this really isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of abusing taxpayer dollars — especially when cast next to former Alaska governor Frank Murkowski — but the point is that calling Sarah Palin a true reformer and fiscal conservative is like calling Barry Bonds a “health nut.” Similarly naming John McCain a maverick when he has now kowtowed almost completely to traditional Republican views simply strains credulity. Though straining credulity has never particularly bothered Republicans before, one has to hope that when the platform is personality alone, the facts will more easily expose their fraud than in the case of more recondite matters like foreign policy and supply side economics.

Original Mavericks

John McCain is out with a new ad, billing himself and Sarah Palin as the “original Mavericks” and reformers who offer Washington “real change.” Among the criteria listed is, as you would expect, the claim that Sarah Palin stopped the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

But, as multiple sources have pointed out, this is not only untrue, but not even supported by the source listed in the advertisement. Of course, it’s hardly worth calling John McCain a liar, because there really doesn’t seem to be any serious desire within the media to draw attention to this trend. Couple this with MSNBC’s removal of Olbermann and Matthews as hosts of major political broadcasts, and it seems like it might be back to more of Republicans taking advantage of a the press corps’ desire to report both sides of a story, even if one side is lying.

Let Him Maverick, Cont’d

The other day I made the argument the predelection for impulsive decisoins that underscores John McCain’s Maverickosityness shoud actually be used to undermine his presidential aspirations. Frank Rich also seems to agree.

[McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin] is a roll of the dice beyond even Bill Clinton’s imagination. “Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain conceded in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.” Well, maybe it’s fine if he wants to live with the consequences, but what about his country? Should the unexamined Palin prove unfit to serve at the pinnacle of American power, it will be too late for the rest of us to complain.

We’ve already seen where such visceral decision-making by McCain can lead. In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America. That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 — even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely. He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after “Mission Accomplished” that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.

All these things are true and Obama should be drawing attention to them.

Let Him Own Maverick

One thing most of you who know me well have heard me argue over the past few days is that John McCain’s “Maverick” persona should actually undermine, not bolster, his presidential credentials. The POTUS is without a doubt the most important foreign policy executive in the United States, and as the GOP is wont to argue, it is with foreign sources that the greatest threat to our nation lies. Is this really the power we wish to entrust to a maverick? Is the world’s most powerful and technologically advanced nuclear arsenal something to bestow upon a “lone dissenter?” Should we trust the guiding voice of national politics to someone who prides themselves on disingenuous, per se disagreement? Hypotheticals aside, should the nation trust a man who with his first decision of policy import selected a potential president whose foreign policy bona fides rest on geographical proximity and not on a learned understanding of the world?

Impulsive behavior does not qualify one for the country’s most important job. As Rovian as it might be, Barack Obama would do well to point this out. Gawker agrees.

John McCain: Very Post-Modern

So on my Washington Post Highlight’s section of iGoogle, I see the headline “McCain Seeks to Reclaim Maverick Image.”

Is it even possible to self-consciously be a maverick? Making unpopular decisions because you believe them to be right may lead to being thought of as a maverick; making unpopular decisions for the sake of making unpopular decisions simply means you’re a contrarian. Right?