It appears that the McCain campaign - after a week of personal attacks and smears against Obama - wants to play nice again as his poll numbers begin a sharper decline than we have seen in the past few months. The most current poll puts Obama well above McCain (50%-43%) with just over three weeks to go in the election. A month ago today, McCain was leading Obama 47%-45%. Many pundits and political insiders have pointed to the McCain campaign's tactics of the past week (namely to use personal and character attacks on Obama rather than discuss the issues in an era that, while precedented, nonetheless has people very worried), as one of the reasons for this fall in the polls.
It now appears that the negative campaigning that the McCain campaign has employed - whether through Palin and her "palling around" with terrorist accusations against Barack Obama or surrogates like McCain campaign co-chair Frank Keating (no relation to the Keating Five) bringing up Obama's experimental drug use while in college - did not have the effects that McCain and company had been hoping for. This led McCain to quickly try to calm down his hostile crowds by saying that Obama was a "decent" man when people attacked him and spread rumors that he was an Arab. While not distinctly refuting the Arab mischaracterization, he has tried to, as the Globe says, "restore civility" to his campaign.
This, of course, does not mean that he is going to denounce other disrespectful attacks on Obama from within the Republican party or at his own rallies. This video, which has been circulated around the internet for a few days now, shows a McCain/Palin supporter with a Curious George doll with an Obama bumper sticker wrapped around the doll's head. When he realizes that he is being captured on videotape, he tries to surreptitiously stash the Obama sticker away and give the doll away to a confused child in the audience:
Of course you can't take one racist that looks like a pedophile from a Sarah Palin rally and apply it as the model to all those who attend McCain/Palin rallies. You also cannot take the folks who yell out "terrorist" or "kill him" when Barack Obama's name is brought up at these rallies as representative of the entire group. But notice that when McCain attempts to take the moral high ground and repudiate these comments, he uses generalities and vagueness. Maybe he doesn't want to admit that the same people making these comments are wholeheartedly supporting him and he desperately needs their votes; alienating them would alienate a Republican base that he has worked so hard to win over following initial doubts to his loyalty to the party line. But as McCain and his aides realize, when you pander to the extreme right wing of the Republican party, you lose moderates and independents who may very well lean toward the other candidate (as we have seen with Obama's surging numbers and McCain's stagnant and slightly falling numbers).
Sometimes, however, McCain does not even turn to the vague repudiation of ridiculous attacks on Barack Obama. That was the case with Virginia GOP leader Jeffrey Frederick when he compared Obama to Osama bin Laden, saying that both had friends who bombed the Pentagon (he was referring to Bill Ayers, who Obama met later in life as they both served on a Chicago board for education but in a previous life had organized a domestic terror group that bombed a toilet in the Pentagon, which injured no one). When pushed on the comparison, Frederick stuck to it. When asked about what he thought of Jeffrey Frederick's remarks, McCain not only did not say that they were inappropriate, saying that we needed to know the full context (I wonder what context would make that appropriate), but took the moment to repeat his attack on Obama for being on the same board as Ayers:
It seems that while McCain doesn't want to find himself in Lady Macbeth's shoes, trying to wash the blood from his hands when it is already too late, he has little problem with others doing some dirty work at arms length. That way, McCain can make it look like he is above the fray, while others make the attacks on Obama that tend to alienate moderates and independents in this country. McCain is in desperate territory; some advisers and previous supporters are beginning to distance themselves from the campaign so as not to be sucked into the collapse should McCain lose November 4. Will McCain's "honorable" turn-around be enough to help him overcome a large deficit in less than a month? I'm leaning towards no, but as I've said before, the Democrats cannot get too cocky, because the sole fact that this race is even within the ten point margin with one of the candidates backing an immoral and incredibly unpopular war, among other unpopular stances, is telling. Peace.
Photo - Two supporters at a McCain rally in Virginia Beach (blog.indecision2008.com)