Thursday, October 9, 2008

Impossible advice for McCain

There's still a month to go before the United States presidential election, but we'll stick our necks out and say that there's now no way John McCain, the Republican, can beat Democrat BarackObama. Was there any way he could have held on to a fighting chance? Not really - not any more than you could, for example, train a five-and-a-half month-old baby how to hula-hoop. In other words, one would have to be able to break the rules of time and logic. Get past that minor hurdle, and here's how McCain could pull off a stunning upset:

1) Get younger. Here's a big problem for the man right now: He's 72. And he looks it, through no fault of his own; there's also the baggage of cancer as well as injuries dating back to when he was shot down as a fighter pilot and brutalised by the North Vietnamese. In any election, being portrayed as a doddering old codger would be a liability. But given the scale of the challenges facing the next US President, from the economy to international security, voters are looking for someone with especially enormous energy reserves, perhaps even more than an edge in experience. And it just so happens McCain is facing 47-year-old Obama, who is the personification of youthful promise. It's a perfect storm of defects.

2) Unchoose Palin. It was a good idea at the time when Sarah Palin, the fresh-faced governor of Alaska was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. There was an uptick in the polls and her selection as McCain's running mate showcased the boldness and unconventional thinking that he was trying to make part of his political brand. But since then, the world economy has been exposed as precariously teetering on the brink of disaster. At the same time, Palin has been exposed as an ignoramus lacking in gravitas - just when a safe pair of hands (think Joe Biden, Obama's massively experienced pick) seems to become vital. Every time McCain deploys his trademark 'There's no time for on-the-job training' jab against Obama, it whacks Palin too (with McCain's age giving it extra force).

3) Postpone the election. They say a week is a long time in politics, which is certainly true when we consider how dramatically the 'Palin bounce' became a punctured tire. But momentum is also important in politics, and right now, it's Obama who is coming across as a juggernaut. The key swing states that will decide the election are all trending his way and McCain's performance in the second presidential debate didn't throw up enough of a roadblock. Time can reveal weaknesses in Obama's armour, which is still relatively untested. But with just weeks left, it's increasingly unlikely that another Pastor Wright flap is going to surface. Also, by the time the economy stabilises (or people become used to the prospect of a severe downturn), which would rob the atmosphere of some of the visceral anger that is driving voters into Obama's corner, the election will be long over.

4) Replace Obama. This year's Democratic hopeful just happens to be the perfect poster boy for the times: His charisma, inspiring life story and ethnicity dramatically resonate with the chords of hope and sea change that voters are looking for. You could almost believe that someone built him, piece by character piece, as the ideal candidate for 2008. Almost anyone would be easier to beat: Compared to him, Hillary Clinton would be a godsend. She has a ton of baggage, would be a very unconvincing 'change agent' (wasn't she meddling in her husband's presidential musings way back when?) and doesn't have the gift for soaring rhetoric that he is blessed with.

5) Get half of the US to secede. Despite all the preceding factors militating against McCain, most of the country - geographically speaking - is actually still going to vote for McCain come election day. That is because great swathes of the nation, in the south and in middle America, are so conservative they would probably vote for a circus elephant if it was the official Republican candidate. The notorious Red states vs Blue states divide continues to hold true, so that the heartland could be effectively broken off and delivered to McCain to govern. That's fantasy, of course. But anyone who thinks McCain still has a hope of upsetting Obama is trading in wish-fulfilment anyway.