Over the past two weeks, we’ve witnessed the coming apart of a once-proud man. Whether in his rambling, often incoherent answers during Wednesday night’s debate or his stump speeches that seem to be little more than words dashing around in search of a thought, John McCain is coming unglued, to a trained professional eye and to a casual observer alike.
For whatever reason, as the campaign dwindles to a few remaining days, McCain is in more than political trouble: He is in serious psychological trouble.
A psychiatrist friend noticed it during the second debate.
If he didn’t end up practicing psychiatry, he wanted to be Flapping Lips Wolkowitz, a drummer who is the last living exponent of Chicago Ashkenazi Klezmer blues music. So, he sometimes calls himself Flapping Lips when not treating patients.
“There’s something wrong with McCain,” Flapping Lips tells me after the town hall. “Did you see how he just wandered around the stage? That’s a common sign of confusion in the elderly, usually when they know where they are but aren’t sure why they’re there. ”
In Florida, another friend who’s not a medical professional spots the same problem in McCain. Pete is a decorated Viet Nam vet who now lives in Florida. I find an e-mail from him in my mailbox this morning where he speculates on what McCain has become – and why.
“Maybe it’s the dragons still haunting his psyche from 66-months of North Vietnamese captivity. Or it’s the ghosts of a revered military father and grandfather whose accomplishments he could never quite match. Perhaps his cold-hearted abandonment of his first wife and children still disturb him. It might even the demons of his unbridled ambition – remember that he first ran for president in 1992 – that are driving him mad.
“Whatever the causes of the ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in his night, one thing is certain: They all showed up at Wednesday’s debate and keep reappearing every time he stands up before a campaign crowd.
“I no longer loathe the man; I pity him. He has become a sad final chapter in his own life. I hope in retirement he finds some peace. Thursday night he convinced an entire world that he is completely unfit for the office he seeks.”
Frustratingly Stable Race
It’s easy to understand how McCain may have become unhinged. Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll today shows Obama attracting 50% of the vote while McCain is stuck at 46%. These figures reflect a remarkably stable race where, for 22 straight days, Obama is enjoying a four-to-eight point advantage.
The same tracking poll reveals that voters trust Obama more than McCain on seven of 10 key issues, most notably the economy which outweighs all other concerns this election by a wide margin. McCain is more trusted only on abortion, immigration and Iraq – and then by percentage points that are within the margin of error.
More critical to McCain is that he cannot seem to shake Obama’s commanding lead in the Electoral College, with most state-by-state estimates putting Obama comfortably over 300 votes; 270 are needed to be elected president.
This also explains two things.
First, it is why Obama spent much of yesterday cautioning supporters against complacency, reminding them of what happened in the New Hampshire primary and that the only poll that counts is the one November 4. Second, it explains why McCain is sounding increasingly like a desperate man trying to hang on to the last lifeboat rowing away from a sinking ship.
McCain became the candidate more by default than by being the champion of Republican values and beliefs; no one knows what those are any more anyway. While a powerful, well organized block in the GOP, the evangelical right isn’t large enough to nominate a Mike Huckabee, but it is just large enough to block Mitt Romney with his demon Mormon beliefs from winning. Rudy Guiliani spent his entire, brief primary campaign as a punch line, thanks to Joe Biden. Fred Thompson was the Great White Hope until he actually entered the race and turned out to be a dud.
Besides, the party figured it was John’s turn; the GOP is notorious for picking presidential candidates from the first in line of waiting possibilities.
It would be a shame if finally getting his turn means John McCain has been pushed over the edge entirely, ending his career unbalanced, unglued, and unfit.
If you’re born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigtative journalist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarites of modern times.
Articles by Charley James: