Election 2008  
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The Desperate Right's Five Biggest Flops of the 2008 Election

How Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber and other stupid stunts did not win the election for McCain.
 
 
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After every election cycle, our national press corps likes to point out the so-called game-changing moments during the campaign that supposedly shifted momentum decisively toward one candidate. Classic examples include Gerald Ford freeing Poland, Ronald Reagan telling Jimmy Carter that he went again, Michael Dukakis appearing in a tank, Bush I looking at his watch, Al Gore sighing and John Kerry windsurfing. At their heart, these moments are superficial explanations for very complex processes and phenomena, which is the biggest reason why the media love to discuss them. After all, it beats talking about policy.

Over the past two decades, the Right has excelled at manipulating the media's love of shallow, scripted storylines to transform our national discourse into one long psychodrama in which Democratic candidates inevitably make some tragic gaffe that shows voters how truly out of touch they are with the Real Americans living in the heartland. These moments are usually dramatized by illustrations of blaring sirens on the Drudge Report accompanied by bold, red-lettered headlines that say things like, "SHOCK VIDEO: Kerry orders Swiss cheese on his cheesesteak." Our press corps then dutifully reports on how Kerry's disdain for traditional Cheez Wiz shows why Democrats are having trouble connecting with blue-collar voters who suspect that Democrats are all secretly Jesus-hating communists.

This election, however, none of the GOP's scripted game-changing moments were able to derail the Obama campaign. Indeed, it could be argued that many of the non-game-changers (See: Palin, Sarah) actually worked in Obama's favor. Here, then, are the five most uneventful events that did not decisively help McCain win the election:

Non-Game Changer #5: A crazed Obama supporter did not carve a backward "B" into a McCain staffer's face.

At first, the Ashley Todd saga seemed like the perfect way to shift the election momentum back to McCain. Here, after all, was a young white woman who had been robbed and assaulted by a crazed black Obama supporter who went so far as to mutilate her face when he learned she was working for McCain. Matt Drudge blared Todd's "shock" story at the top of his home page and showed a picture of the poor young conservative with a black eye and a backward "B" carved into her face. Some of the dimmer right-wing bloggers such as Red State's Erick Erickson jumped all over the story and proclaimed that the media were to blame for Todd's alleged assault because they had "cooked up tales about Republican verbal violence" at McCain rallies. Obama also took his share of the blame because he had urged his supporters to get in opponents' faces and aggressively defend their positions and beliefs.

Todd's story, of course, was such obvious bullshit that even Michelle Malkin expressed skepticism about it. While this didn't stop the McCain campaign from actively pushing it to the media, it did ensure that the non-story had a nonexistent shelf life.

Non-Game Changer #4: Obama's non-friendship with Bill Ayers did not leave him vulnerable to charges of supporting terrorism.

In the 1970s, Bill Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a fringe lefty outfit that become notorious for unsuccessfully using terrorism to achieve its political ends. By the 1990s, Ayers had become a professor at the University of Chicago and a powerful player in the Chicago political scene. Obama first met Ayers back when then-Illinois State Sen. Alice Palmer invited him to a gathering at Ayers' house. In the years that followed, Obama and Ayers would sporadically serve together on nonprofit charity and education products and ... that's pretty much it.

But while Obama's relationship with Ayers was not exactly what you'd call "close," it was used by the Right as a potential game changer. Sarah Palin made the most high-profile statement about Obama and Ayers by accusing the senator of "palling around with terrorists." Traveling even further into Cloud Cuckoo Land was the National Review's Andy McCarthy, who actually pondered whether Ayers had secretly ghostwritten Obama's first book. And of course, the gold medal for lunacy on this front went to blogger Tom Maguire, who speculated that Obama's connection to Ayers and his interest in ending apartheid in South Africa made it conceivable that Obama could have been involved in an anti-apartheid bombing in 1981.

Non-Game Changer #3: McCain does not suspend his campaign to not help with the Wall Street bailout.

In a campaign filled with goofy stunts, McCain's announcement that he was "suspending" his campaign in order to help craft a Wall Street bailout bill was perhaps the goofiest. After Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson told Congress that they needed $700 billion to buy up the toxic mortgage-backed securities that were threatening to deep-six the economy, McCain dramatically announced that he was temporarily halting his presidential campaign to deal with the crisis. The idea behind the stunt was to show that McCain was a mavericky bipartisan consensus builder who would bring both parties together to pass mavericky bipartisan legislation that would save the asses of extremely rich people.

Fortunately for us, it didn't quite work out that way. McCain should have known that the move would be a bust when pollster Dick Morris, who often serves as America's bellwether for wrongness, called it "the most brilliant move since Sarah Palin" and said that McCain would "save the country" and become known as "the credentialed expert for handling the economy." This could well have happened, of course, if the congressional Democrats had been stupid enough to let themselves be used as McCain's grand campaign props, which they weren't. When McCain swooped into Washington to supposedly save the day, the Democrats smartly told him to take a hike.

"Before McCain came in, we thought we were working," Congressman Barney Frank said at the time. "McCain comes in, it gets screwed up, now McCain leaves."

Heckuva job.

Non-Game Changer #2: Joe the Plumber does not convince America that Barack Obama is a communist.

During a campaign event in Ohio, a local unlicensed plumber named Joe Wurzelbacher told Barack Obama that he was planning on buying his own plumbing business that would have a net income of $250,000, which would be enough to raise his taxes under Obama's tax plan. When Obama said that his tax plan was designed to "spread the wealth around," the McCain campaign accused Obama of outright socialism and used Joe as the symbol of how blue-collar workers in this country would be harmed if Obama raised taxes on the wealthy. In reality, Obama's plan would only raise taxes on Joe the Plumber's theoretical small business between $0 and $900, but that didn't stop McCain from referencing Joe's untragic non-plight more than 26 billion times during the third presidential debate.

Afterward, McCain even went so far as to claim that Joe the Plumber was the "winner" of the debate and that Joe was "the man" for exposing Barack Obama's sinister plot to bankrupt America's large class of billionaire plumbers. But in an economy where gains in recent years have gone primarily to the wealthy, the idea of "spreading the wealth around" didn't seem quite so horrible to a majority of voters. And besides, it's pretty hard to feel too sorry for Joe the Plumber when he's pondering whether or not to quit his job as a plumber to become a country music star.

Non-Game Changer #1: Sarah Palin does not get Hillary Clinton supporters to defect to the McCain campaign.

In the aftermath of the Democratic primary feud between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, some in the McCain campaign were eager to " ratfuck" Obama's presidential bid by persuading Democratic women to shift their allegiances to John McCain. The crown jewel in this strategy was the selection of Sarah Palin, a little-known half-term governor from Alaska, as McCain's vice presidential running mate. While the surprise selection of Palin did generate some much-needed media hype for McCain's flagging presidential bid, it also practically begged the media to heavily scrutinize a politician of whom practically no one had ever heard.

Palin's problems began when she stopped reading from a script and started talking with reporters. Palin had trouble answering hard-hitting questions such as what newspapers and magazines she read (" All of them!") and whether she could name a Supreme Court case that she had ever disagreed with. Even more worrisome was her claim that living in close proximity to Russia gave her invaluable foreign policy experience because "as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there." And who could forget Palin's assertion that the government's $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan would "help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy." Also, the bailout was proof that "we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing" and that "reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americas."

After the election, many former McCain staffers rushed to tell the media that Palin was even more disastrously ignorant in real life than she was on the campaign trail. FOX News' Carl Cameron, of all people, got the scoop that Palin did not know that Africa was a continent and that she didn't know which countries were involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement (Hint: They're the three biggest countries in North America).

If the McCain campaign really thought that Palin could win over former female Clinton supporters, then they must think that female voters are some of the stupidest people on the planet. Memo to the GOP: Millions of people flocked to Clinton in the primaries because of her intellect and her wonky passion for bread-and-butter economic issues such as universal health care. She cannot be easily replaced by a woman whose chief accomplishment so far in life has been eating a moose.

Brad Reed is a writer living in Boston. His work has previously appeared in the American Prospect Online, and he blogs frequently at Sadly, No!

 
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