Fatal decisions

John McCain has made a lot of mistakes during this election campaign, including some poor policy decisions:

The notion that a capital gains tax cut would be persuasive to middle class families was naive.

But two of McCain’s decisions, above all others, have sunk his battleship.

One was the rash decision — on the day of the first presidential debate — to “suspend” the campaign in order to fix the economic crisis.

Obama instinctively understood that McCain was raising expectations he couldn’t deliver on. Candidates for president don’t have that kind of clout. Joe Klein captures the moment:

When he was told about McCain’s maneuvers, Obama’s first reaction — according to an aide — was, “You gotta be kidding. I’m going to debate. A President has to be able to do more than one thing at a time.”

But there was a storm brewing among Obama’s supporters in Congress and the Beltway establishment. “My BlackBerry was exploding,” said an Obama aide. “They were saying we had to suspend. McCain was going to look more like a statesman, above the fray.”

“I didn’t believe it,” Obama told me. “I have to tell you, one of the benefits of running this 22-month gauntlet is that … you start realizing that what seems important or clever or in need of some dramatic moment a lot of times just needs reflection and care. And I think that was an example of where my style at least worked.”

Obama realized that he and McCain could be little more than creative bystanders — and one prominent Republican told me that McCain was “the least creative person in the room at the President’s White House meeting. He simply had no ideas. He didn’t even have any good questions.” Obama had questions for the Treasury Secretary and the Fed chairman, but he was under no illusions:  he didn’t have the power to influence the final outcome, so it was best to stay calm and not oversell his role.

Klein sums it up:  “It was Obama’s gut steadiness that won the public’s trust, and quite possibly the election.”

But there was one other equally fateful decision:  McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Newspaper endorsements have favoured Obama over McCain 134-52. Over and over again, those endorsements have cited the Palin nomination as a key factor in their decision. For example, here’s the Chicago Tribune:

This endorsement makes some history for the Chicago Tribune. This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. …

McCain failed in his most important executive decision. Give him credit for choosing a female running mate — but he passed up any number of supremely qualified Republican women who could have served. Having called Obama not ready to lead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. His campaign has tried to stage-manage Palin’s exposure to the public. But it’s clear she is not prepared to step in at a moment’s notice and serve as president. McCain put his campaign before his country. [emphasis added]

Obama chose a more experienced and more thoughtful running mate — he put governing before politicking. Sen. Joe Biden doesn’t bring many votes to Obama, but he would help him from day one to lead the country.

The words in bold constitute a devastating indictment of McCain.

(On the other hand, Palin sure is cute as a button.)

Obama and Biden also have committed some noteworthy gaffes. But none are in the same ballpark as those two decisions, which have proven fatal to the McCain campaign.


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