John McCain is looking for a serious Hail Mary here. Last month he was in a similar spot. His campaign was at 4th and long and he threw one, we now just call her Governor Palin, or Sarah to her closest friends (aka all of Alaska or 670,053 people in 2006). That play got him a first down but he’s back at 4th and long and with only a few weeks left and one debate to go he needs to do something. Something amazing. When has that happened before? Being football season, I’ll go with a story from the 49ers.
In 1982 the San Francisco 49ers played the Dallas Cowboys in the National Football Conference championships. The Cowboys had kept the Niners out of the playoffs three times before and things were not looking good. Then with only 51 seconds left in the game and with the Cowboys leading by six Joe Montana, a late third round draft pick (no touch, average arm) and seventh string QB pick at Notre Dame (almost took a basketball scholarship to play elsewhere), did the unthinkable. He threw what’s now known only as ‘the catch’ to Dwight Clarke. Montana had three Cowboys when he veered to the right and threw the ball high. He said later he did not know Clark would be open just hoped his receiver would get to the ball. Clark thought it was too high for him to catch but catch it he did. In the end zone. For the touchdown. The Niners win and the crowd goes wild! (They went on to win the Superbowl that year, too.) Joe Montana, the guy who almost didn’t play football at all turned out to be the greatest quarterback ever. (Don’t agree? Don’t bother arguing with me on it. Nothing will change my mind. Nothing. Ever.)
The problem Mr. McCain faces is he is no Joe Montana. That doesn’t mean McCain doesn’t have options. He had options last month when he picked Sarah Palin. He would have picked Joe Lieberman if his party didn’t threaten to basically implode. He could have picked anyone who added substance to his ticket. He should have gone with his gut, which has served him very well in the past. Could have. Should have. Would have. Didn’t. Rather than pick someone he really liked and respected, Mr. Lieberman I am looking at you, he went with the political choice. Was it because she was a woman and would appeal to bitter (and brain dead) Hillary supporters? Was it because she was the quick shift to the right – like ‘the catch?’ Was it because she is a pit bull with lipstick? Who cares? He did it to please the base and energize his campaign. The good news is it did both of course he got that much needed first down by doing the very thing he promised not to do months ago and swore during the convention he was not doing: He put his campaign before his country.
But enough with the negativity. John McCain has a real change to set the ‘reset’ button on his campaign. He can do this without putting out a new economic plan or changing his stump speech, though I know he has not done the latter. He can do it tonight at the debate. I propose he start the debate with the tone he claimed he wanted to be the hallmark of the campaign. Now because I think this is a good idea, I will win the lottery while being hit by lightening before this happens but this would make a great opening statement (or closing statement, I think he should start with it but that’s just me).
“First of all, thank you to the great people at Hofstra for hosting this important event. Before we begin I would like to say something to the country. Thank you to the audience here and at home, thank you for watching and giving us your time. During the next hour and a half you will hear Senator Obama and I tell you why we think each of us would make the better president. I should tell you that before we get to that I want you to know how much I respect the man who shares the stage with me tonight. Senator Obama is a decent, patriotic American. I have been proud to serve in the United States Senate with him and it is an honor to have him as my opponent. A lot of things have been said about both of us over the course of this campaign and there is nothing I can do to stop that but I can tell you that you when you vote next month, I hope you vote for me because you think I am the best qualified candidate and have both the experience and best plans to lead our country. This election is about a difference in opinion. This campaign is about ideas and judgment, let’s keep it that way.”
My heart tells me he should also say something about how many new voters Obama has brought into the system and how that is a good thing – the upside for McCain is that it will make more right wingers go out and vote but it may be a bit much. I know I get carried away with the rhetoric. It’s kind of like a drug. In any case that’s how he should open the debate.
For the record, Barack Obama is no Joe Montana either. He’s more a Steve Young to Bill Clinton’s Montana. Without the Mormon lineage and affiliation or concussions.