The beginning of the end for McCain

The fortnight that will be remembered as the turning point of the campaign.

Published September 30, 2008 12:40PM (EDT)

Let me preface what I am about to say with the usual caveats about how, in politics, five weeks is a lifetime and anything can happen and polls are sometimes unreliable, and blah, blah, blah. And yes, included in the remaining 35 days are two more presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. But if Barack Obama holds his current lead and wins this election, we are going to look back on last week and this one as the pivotal fortnight during which John McCain and, more broadly, the Republican-conservative political project finally came undone.

Some of this unraveling has to do with the economic situation and the bailout issue. Some of it has to do with a Republican candidate who, with a straight face, can defend hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts (after initially opposing them), yet complain about $3 million in pork-barrel spending to study the DNA of bears. Some if it has to do with what our own Rebecca Traister powerfully describes as the national insult -- not only to women but especially to them -- of Sarah Palin as vice-presidential nominee, a decision that simultaneously reveals the thinness of the Republican national bench and the GOP’s complete and mendacious misunderstanding of gender politics.

But mostly it has to do with the fact that a 72-year-old candidate literally embodies a party and an ideology that have grown old in a hurry, and how the personal resentments that candidate exhibits toward his opponent merely confirm that party’s fear of new ideas and the future. Strip away the superficial narratives and horse-race distractions and we see that McCain is a late adopter, the inheritor of a dying movement that mythologizes a past that never really existed and, even if it did, isn't returning anyway. This is why the senator from Arizona flails around, gasping for air and behaving as if he were unaware that he and his followers have reached the point where nothing -- not even a young, cheeky, tabula rasa governor from a separatist state -- can save them.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.