“McCain Has Become A Walking Disaster”

maverick1.gif“As a candidate, John (McCain) has become a walking disaster,” the distraught voice calling from a Washington suburb told me late Thursday night. “As much as I once believed in him, now I’m really worried he’ll be a disaster as president. Maybe even worse than Bush, if that’s possible.”

The voice belongs to an old friend, someone I’ve known since the days when I lived in Chicago about 100 lifetimes ago.

Since the primaries, my pal has been on the staff of McCain’s campaign. For much of the campaign season, he and another long-time friend connected with the campaign – a woman I dated for a while when we both lived on the West Coast – have been providing me information about life inside the not-so-Straight Talk Express for a book I plan to write after the election. (Three friends inside the Obama campaign are doing the same thing.)

It’s almost midnight on Thursday, September 25, and we’ve been speaking for nearly 45 minutes – I noted the time because he returned my call just as CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation moderator Bob Schieffer was coming on The Daily Show to promote his new book.

In exchange for their cooperation, I promised each that nothing they said, or copies of documents and e-mails they provided me, would be published prior the election. But with the news events of the past week and McCain’s increasingly erratic comments and reaction to the economic crisis, on Wednesday I asked each if I could use some of what they’ve told or gave me now for an article. My former girlfriend agreed at once; my friend from Chicago took a day to think about it before calling me last night.

“It’s so bad around (the campaign), I’m thinking of resigning,” he continues. “McCain seems to have lost his way, Rick (Davis, McCain’s campaign manager) is making bad decisions because he’s desperate. I don’t know who made the Palin selection, maybe John but who knows, but she’s turned out to be a nightmare. Did you see her (Katie) Couric interview? Meanwhile, everybody’s running in 10 different directions trying to figure out some way to reverse the (poll) numbers.”

He adds sadly that internal polling shows McCain in even more trouble that the public polls reveal “because our core supporters are starting to question his judgement.”

My friend has been my access to and interpreter of the conservative movement since around the time of the Reagan years. Now, for the first time in the decades that I’ve known him, he sounds dispirited, dismayed and disappointed.

But mostly he sounds betrayed: “This isn’t what I signed on for.”

Throwing Dead Cats
The woman who was once my lover is working in a campaign office in one of the key swing states. She sounds no less dejected, perhaps reflecting the views of voters. “In the beginning, the office was jammed with people showing up to help every day. Now, there are some days when you can throw a dead cat and not hit a volunteer, there are so few of them.”

Why, I asked her on Thursday morning. Why are people who should be excited about their candidate losing their enthusiasm?

“Who knows?” I’m told in the throaty, Kathleen Turner, whiskey voice that’s played havoc with my libido across the decades. “Different reasons for different people. Mostly, though, I think it’s because he’s come across this week as indecisive, not knowing the facts, not appearing to be in touch. I suppose voters see that as not caring. Whatever. The faithful are losing faith.”

She points to McCain telling a television interviewer that he hadn’t read Treasury’s three page bailout plan a day or two after it was e-mailed to the road warriors – the travelling campaign staff – as a prime example.

“I sat there watching him and thinking to myself, ‘This isn’t happening,’” she recalls when we spoke for the second time yesterday. “Even if he didn’t read it, I can’t believe that somebody didn’t give him one or two talking points to use in a Q-and-A. He had to know it would come up.”

What about his decision to “suspend” the campaign to return to Washington?

“Nothing’s been ‘suspended,’” she replied. “We (people in the office) heard about it when a reporter called, hours later.

“Listen,” she goes on, working up a real head of steam. “At first I thought it was a brilliant political move. Take charge. Get in front of an issue he’s been behind on for two weeks. But then he lied to Letterman which turned John into a punch line. Turns out he stayed in New York to give a couple more speeches, met with a few donors, and took 22 hours to mosey down to Washington. Christ, an Amtrak local stopping in every village, hamlet and burgh doesn’t take that long.”

“Overnight, he went from acting like a leader to appearing to be an opportunistic liar. Voters remember that kind of shit, especially the undecided.”

Saving John’s Ass
It’s now Friday morning and my friend in Virginia is calling from his cell phone en route to the office. The traffic noise is drowning him out so he closes the car window.

“The morning papers are blaming John for the bailout plan tanking,” he says. “Why the f**k didn’t he stay on the campaign trail getting ready for the debate? I’ve had 15 texts already on my BlackBerry … “

The one John invented, I interrupt asking in jest.

“Jesus f***ing Christ, whatever made him say that?” my friend grumbles bitterly, referring to a conference call on Sept. 16 with reporters where economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin gave McCain credit for inventing the ubiquitous device. “Yeah, that one. Anyway, now people are trying to figure out how to pull John’s ass out of the fire.

“Go to the debate, don’t go debate. And what kind of a plausible explanation will play well for whatever he does.”

There’s a brief pause as my friend curses at someone cutting him off to run a red light on Wisconsin Avenue.

“What McCain did was back himself into a corner. A politician never does that. Can you imagine Reagan or Clinton doing something so idiotic? If he doesn’t go, he looks bad because Obama will be debating an empty chair. If he goes, the last two days come across looking like a stunt.

“How do we save him from himself?”

How did the head office react at McCain’s announcement to suspend his campaign?

“Some people thought it was a brilliant way to finesse Obama, some thought it was a disaster waiting to happen, some just shrugged and went for coffee,” I’m told. “I mean, John’s on YouTube saying he doesn’t understand the economy and now he’s going to fix the most complicated piece of legislation in decades?”

I remind my buddy that Barney Frank described McCain’s action as “the Hail Mary of Hail May passes in the history of hails and the history of Mary.”

“There was a one-in-ten chance it might have worked,” he concedes ruefully, “and it still might. But so far, John has not been smelling exactly like roses.”

The campaign knew there were serious risks from the moment McCain and Davis came up with the idea, I’m told. For one thing, they thought they’d pushed Obama into a corner and he finessed his way around the maneuvre. Then, they convinced a very reluctant White House to host a “summit meeting” which turned into a dog’s breakfast because the GOP went from backing a bi-partisan plan to tossing a totally new proposal on the table – hours after Republicans appeared at a joint news conference to announce a basic deal.

“I heard the Cabinet Room meeting went ballistic when Boehner said, ‘No deal, try this,’” he tells me. “Even the president was taken aback. Things got so rough, he had to shout to get some order in the room. Treasury and the Fed were pleading with Boehner not to screw things up at such a late hour.”

In fact, Politoco.com is reporting this morning that, after the meeting adjourned, Democrats went into the Roosevelt Room for a private discussion. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson followed them and, on bent knee, begged Nancy Pelosi to keep her party on board. “I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Pelosi shot back, referring to Paulson’s genuflecting.

Apparently, someone saved McCain’s ass because by 11.30 EDT today, Politico was reporting that McCain announced he would, indeed, participate in tonight’s debate. As my two friends understood, Republicans realized the “debate later” concept was hurting McCain’s campaign, and that he would look terrible if he didn’t attend the debate while Obama sat alone onstage, answering Jim Lehrer’s questions.

The Other Shoe
Meanwhile, I’m told that everyone in the campaign seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Just before sending this article off, I received calls from both of my sources. While relieved that McCain has regained a bit of common – and political – sense, they’re each worried about what might happen next.

charley-james.jpgLehrer has said that despite the foreign policy theme for tonight’s debate, he intends to open with questions about the economy and crisis on Wall St. Both McCain and Palin have looked bad on the issue since it broke. Polls show the nation already believes – by nearly 20 points – that Obama is better suited to fix the economy so anything McCain says will be measured from that perspective by viewers.

“It’s going to be hard for my guy to recover from what people already think about him,” The Voice tells me from her office. Adds my friend stuck in DC traffic, “I’m hoping he can run downfield and catch his own Hail Mary pass.”

Charley James

Charley James is an American journalist, author and essayist who lives in Toronto.

Reprinted with permission from The ProgressiveCurmudgeon.

Articles by Charley James:


  1. J.Mark says

    Scaring can be thw term used to describe this campaing. What were the republicen thinking when they recommend McCain to pick Frau Oberbefehlhaberin (Colonel of extermination camps. Were they drun or high?. After the speech given by her accusing Sen. Obama of beeing different from “US”. Let me ltell you something. You americans have a very short memory and seem to forget what happened in Germany’s Hitler. Us means white enoug people, different means to be black or any other race but white, even if you are white but have an accent, you will end up beeing anything but “us” in the arian world of Mrs. Palin. Be carefully we all want America to be a leading country and not a scaring leading REICH. Hitler was like her, ignorant in the beggining and scared, mean in all he said and quite unknown until he became the most powerful and scaring man in the human history. That’s what you want for America, to be just “us”
    Be careful Americans.

  2. Ken Strickland says

    McCain was so certain the bailout bill would pass he pretended to suspend his campaign, rushed to Washington TO talk to key Republicans. This move was intended to disrupt Obama’s momentum and sllow him to take credit for the bill being approved. Now that it’s failed, he’s now claiming Obama’s economic package would make matters worse. How can McCain, who’s admitted to lacking economic experience and knowledge, who less than 2wks ago declared our economy fundamentally sound, who didn’t know how many houses or cars he owns, possibly judge the potential impact of Obama’s economic package?

    During the debates, McBush attacked Obama for agreeing to meet with foreign leaders without preconditions. His contention was, it would lend credibility to those leaders and present the US as an embarrassment in world view. You want to talk about being an embarrassment? You can start with the selection or Sarah Palin, the most incompetent, backward and intellectually challenged VP choice since Dan Quayle, and that’s saying something. Does he think the world isn’t laughing at this moose killing moron when she claims field dressed a moose within close proximity to Russia gives her foreign policy experience. Doesn’t McCain think the world is aware that Palin is so dumb she has to be shielded from media scrutiny, and embarrassed herself and her delusional supporters by making a fool of herself in the 3 interviews she did have?

    During the debate McCain tried to show he was up to task on foreign policy issues. He started name dropping and mispronounced most of the names he dropped. Now, wasn’t that embarrassing? And wouldn’t it be even more embarrassing if he was sitting at the table with that person? McCain, his wife Cindy and her father were key contributors to the collapse of the Keating owned Lincoln S&L. He was reprimanded by the senate for his involement and it almost ended his political career. He didn’t learn a thing from that experience because he continued to champion deregulation for anyone willing to pay him. That’s why it was a joke when he went to Washington for 1-2 days to try and deal with the finacial crisis. After all, his career long campaign against gov’t regulations helped create our current economic crisis. THE MORONS THAT CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THESE 2 LYING INCOMPETENTS ARE TURNING THEIR BACKS ON THIS COUNTRY AND IT’S PROBLEMS TO VOTE ON THE BASIS OF RACE, RELIGION AND/OR GENDER.

  3. Georgia says

    What is sad is that even though McShame and Palin have been exposed over and over as liars it doesn’t really matter. This election can and will be stolen exactly like the 2 previous elections – through computer hacking into Black Box voting. Did anyone watch “Recount” on HBO? And there are numerous books and websites that have insider information from people that were actually witnessing the stealing. Here is a great website to find out more on this subject:

    Here’s a great article :


  4. Ken Strickland says

    LINDA-this particular bailout has to be supported. It involves the potential loss of thousands of jobs in an already depressed economy. It also involves institutions that are either directly or indirectly tied to the insurance industry. People have suffered billons in losses due to severe flooding throughout the midwest and multiple hurricanes along our southern coast. If these people cant’t collect from their insurance companies and rely on their banks to finance their crops and businesses, our entire economy could collapse.

    McCain has admitted to having limited financial experience and expertise and has steered clear of any senate committees dealing with finance or the economy. Within the past 2wks, he showned his incompetence when he stated “OUR ECONOMY IS FUNDAMENTALLY SOUND”. Then he pretended to suspend his campaign so he could rush to Washington and deal with a problem he’s never bothered to deal with in 26yrs in the senate. it took him 72hrs to get from NY to DC.

    Sarah Palin revealed that due to her religious teachings she believes dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth no later than 6000yrs ago. How stupid is that? The civilizations of Egypt and India have been documented to be older.

  5. Linda Sutton says

    Loved the article and inside view…what we’ve suspected.

    Also, to Ken, I think McCain just turned 72.

    My concern today is that the bailout that Obama is now supporting may cause some who were planning to vote for him to back up and reconsider. This comes from a call I had yesterday from a Republican who is turning indy (and had said she’s voting Obama) asking me “Why are the Democrats supporting this??”

    She is a non-demonstrator who is totally outraged by the idea of giving HER tax dollars to bail out Wall Street…says she thinks there will be a revolution of those who have been silent until now.

    This whole event is the next chapter of Naomi Klein’s SHOCK DOCTRINE and, unfortunately, we’re in the front row seat watching our country implode.

  6. Ken Strickland says

    First-McCain said he’d fight corp interests. Then selects lobbyist to run his campaign who represent the very corps he’s suppose to be fighting. His campaign mgr, Rick Davis, has been on Fannie Mae’s payroll for 3yrs, which was discovered shortly after the gov’t seized Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae execs admitted paying him 15K+ monthly to influence McCain. Do you really think they’d pay him that much for that long if he wasn’t getting the results they wanted? DEREGULATION HAS ALWAYS BEEN MCCAIN’S FORTE, ESPECIALLY AFTER THE S&L SCANDAL, IN WHICH HE WAS INVOLVED AS ONE OF THE KEATING 5.

    Secondly-he selected Sarah Palin as his VP, trying to revive his sagging campaign, after meeting her only once and not checking her backgroud. Here’s a women who was raised in a church that preaches abstenence and is against sex education in schools. Since both Palin and her daughter got pregnant while indulging in premartital sex, I guess they’re against sex education at home as well. SHE’S NOW BECOME AN EMBARRASSMENT OR THOSE REPUBLICANS WITH AN ACTUAL IQ.

    At 71, McCain has multiple health problems. He has physical problems and needs to have replacement surgery at some point, and he battled melanoma, a progressive form of cancer, for yrs. That would mean we’re a heartbeat, or serious fall, away form having Sarah Palin, an total incompetent who thinks field dressing a moose in close proximity to Russia qualifies as foreign policy experience, as president. ENOUGH SAID?

  7. ehutch says

    mccain still has a good chance of winning this election and that scares me. he went from saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong- six days ago, to suspending his campaign, avoiding the debate and stating that we are on the verge of a full blown DEPRESSION unless he drops everything and saves the day for us. are you kidding me? even if things are that serious, most intelligent leaders would try and calm and reassure the people rather than scare the hell out of them. he knows very little about the economy (admittedly so ) and now he’s gonna rescue us? obama is the one acting wise, calm and with well thought out words. we have just been through 8 yrs of a stupid and corrupt president and we need to make the right decision as to who we replace bush with. mccain has spent his career DEREGULATING. its a basic republican philosophy that has put us in this mess (even though they are attempting to blame clinton and the democrats, dont buy it.) now we are to believe mccain is the man we need to regulate? he lies and flip flops almost as much as mitt romney has and he does his best when he is lying and slinging mudd at his opponent. plus, for a 72 yr old who has had 3 bouts of cancer, he sure made a doozie of a choice for VP. THATS NOT PUTTING COUNTRY FIRST. THATS CALLED PLAYING POLITICS. hows that for straight talk?


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