My last column ended so:
Many an Obama supporter must feel like the kid who approached Shoeless Joe when the story broke about the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series.
You want to cry out, “Say it ain't so, Barack. Say it ain't so….”
But Casey's at the bat, the pitch is on its way.
And there is no joy in Mudville.
Even before those words saw print, the game took an unexpected turn as Barack Obama delivered a major speech on race, and I had to rewrite the column.
Since then it's become more dramatic yet, as both Hillary Clinton and John McCain made blunders that could be called Strike Two.
For Hillary, Strike One was lowering the tone of debate by throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at Obama. Calling his friend Tony Rezko a slumlord, accusing Obama of plagiarism, unfavorably comparing his character and experience to John McCain, slyly playing the race card, accusing the media of an Obama bias, running scary red-phone ads, fanning back Nancy Pelosi with thinly veiled threats that friends with deep pockets might not contribute to the Democratic Party, and more. To many, such hardball tactics added up to a strike against her.
Strike Two came last week as she was caught in a lie regarding a March 1996 trip to Bosnia. In a widely televised speech last month, Hillary said, “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”
Tapes show a smiling Hillary casually walking across the tarmac with her daughter Chelsea, surrounded by friendly troops. What a gaffe. Several other fibs or lies have surfaced, one in which she said Chelsea was jogging around the World Trade Center on 9/11 and happened to duck into a coffee shop when the airplanes struck. She said the move saved Chelsea's life. Later Chelsea acknowledged she was in the apartment of a friend four miles away.
Hillary tried spinning. “You know, I say a lot of things-millions of words a day-so if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement.” But that won't wash. As Hillary told Obama when accusing him of plagiarism, “Words matter.”
Strike Three could come April 15, the date by which Hillary promises to release income-tax records. Depending on what's revealed, her candidacy could be imperiled, especially if more “misstatements” and questions pop up regarding all those deep-pocket donors who contributed millions to the Bill Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.
Presidential is how McCain often looks compared to these Democrats. Still, he's had his share of miscues. Strike One came when he suggested we might stay in Iraq for 100 years. It's one thing to suggest the Surge was the right thing to do, quite another to embrace a 100 year deployment.
Strike Two shows up on YouTube with Bush apologist Joe Lieberman at his back as McCain states that Iran is training and arming al-Qaeda and injecting its fighter's into the war in Iraq. On the tape an uneasy Lieberman leans forward, whispers in his ear, and McCain makes a clumsy retraction. Despite McCain spin, this wasn't a slip of the tongue. McCain's made that statement more than once to important media and foreign policy groups. George Will gave him a pass on “This Week with George Sephanopoulos,” Sunday before last, by asserting that such a gaffe won't affect the coming election at all, because McCain's foreign policy expertise is not in doubt. The Weekly Standard tried to spin it by asserting that al-Qaeda indeed has links to Iran, similar to links the Standard erroneously trumpeted regarding Iraq. Despite such efforts, it was an impressive blunder. One hopes that if McCain ever answers the red phone at 3 a.m. he knows the difference between Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. Sunni and Shia. Show me why this should not be an issue from now through November?
Let's say McCain's Strike Three is the ump's fault, a matter of mis-perception and not fair at all. Welcome to baseball. My last column suggested that Obama started with such a handicap. When it comes to his name and race, Obama doesn't get a pass. For lots of folks, they color every association, every act. Again, not fair, but in the cold calculus of the scoreboard, such issues matter.
McCain's Strike Three could similarly lie beyond his control. As a rapidly aging Republican who's embraced right wing evangelicals as well as the Bush economy and the War in Iraq, his candidacy hangs twisting in the winds. Events could blow by with such heat they'd render him unelectable. Right now the war in Iraq is ugly and the economy appears to be collapsing.
Yes, Lucky Ticket Holder, you correctly observe that my metaphor is mixed. Moreover, it has reached the breaking point. All three candidates cannot strike out! Not if this is baseball. Politics, it turns out, resembles Big Brother or Survivor more than baseball. Strange alliances, madcap strategies and cold calculations come into play.
Take Hillary. She's playing the only game that offers her has a chance. It's called Destroy Obama. Only by painting him as unelectable can she become the Democratic nominee. Her allies are many: those tapes of Rev. Wright, the ongoing Rezko trial, Super Delegates, a pliable media, plus a well-spring of goodwill for the Clintons.
Still, nostalgia for the Clintons is running low. As an old friend put it, Bill Clinton didn't shoot the Democratic Party in the foot, when he foolishly opened himself to an unjust impeachment. No, he shot it in the head. I wouldn't go that far, but it appears at times that Hillary's bent on finishing the job. Her “kitchen sink” strategy could sink the party. Plenty of voters I know of a certain age and gender say they'd vote for McCain before they would Obama. And how many Obama supporters will vote for Hillary if they feel she's destroying their Field of Dreams candidate.
For his part, McCain is positioning himself beautifully to attract any and all defectors. Last week I watched him deliver a speech on foreign policy. Whole passages could've been written by Hillary or Obama. McCain declared that we must restore our nation's reputation. Support norms of international behavior. Stop torturing. Close Guantanamo. Build down our nuclear arsenal in a way that honors the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. We must unite to defeat global over-heating and find alternative energy sources. We must step up efforts to fight poverty and AIDS.
Could McCain win my vote? Absolutely. I couldn't have said that a month ago. I hasten to add, it's not likely. I could still bring myself to vote for Hillary, depending how she acquits herself from here until November.
More and more, however, I'm for Obama. I believe the presidency is his to lose. As my friend Joe Gallagher suggested in an email last week, “Obama isn't Casey, at least not the one who struck out. He's The Natural.” Remember the old Robert Redford baseball movie based on the Bernard Malamud novel Despite obvious differences, there's some truth hovering over that comparison. And if you'll pardon one more swing of a cracked metaphor, here's hoping that some way, some how, Obama summons the strength, intelligence and charisma to knock out the stadium lights.