Mao Zedong announced the adage by which John McCain is clearly living now: “The enemy advances, we retreat. / The enemy camps, we harass. / The enemy tires, we attack.” Mao was describing not a conventional but a guerrilla war, and McCain is now unexpectedly playing the Filipino insurgents of 1899 to Obama’s America. Guerrilla wars are waged by the weak but wily. McCain has all but announced that his conventional campaign has crashed and burned. We do not know if the prepping for the debate was a disaster, or it turns out you really can’t let Palin be interviewed freely by normal people, or whether terror set in that a second great depression will turn the country starkly to the left for the foreseeable future.
Far from challenging Obama in swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Colorado, McCain is suddenly behind substantially in all three (McCain 45% to Obama’s 49% in Colorado; McCain 44% to Obama 51% in Michigan).
McCain thus threw off his stiff officer’s uniform and donned the silky black pyjamas of the guerrilla, beating a hasty retreat before the Obama surge. The retreat was dressed up as a “suspension” of the campaign and a “postponement” of the debate (a debate that would have been McCain’s Waterloo. Forced to debate a charismatic policy wonk on top of economic issues on the very week of the financial meltdown, the economically challenged McCain would have gone down flaming to decisive defeat.
Thus McCain’s Long March back to Washington and his suspension of a campaign he cannot win by conventional means.
The panic of Wall Street and its Republican ventriloquists is palpable. What must be running through their heads? Is this another 1929? Will they lose everything? Is Obama another FDR, with a New Deal in his coat pocket, which the public is now primed to demand? Is the Iraq gravy train really finished? Is universal health care an assured thing? What will happen to their vacation homes in the Hamptons, or the pieds-a-terre in Jamaica, or the private jet for spontaneous partying in Rio? How will they ever get ahead again if they have to pay their fair share of taxes? Could Obama and Biden preside over 16 years of Democratic Raj? Could their entire fate for decades have been sealed as early as Friday night?
Nothing is more difficult than to execute an orderly retreat in the face of superior enemy firepower. The troops are constantly tempted to break and run, in which case the army is lost. Mustafa Kemal (later Attaturk) pulled off a fighting retreat in northern Syria as the Ottomans withdrew to Anatolia, thereby saving his army.
McCain made several perhaps fatal mistakes on his Long March. He allowed Sarah Palin to be interviewed on television again, this time by Katie Couric. It is therefore McCain’s fault that Palin was permitted to respond to a question of whether the US faces a second Great Depression, “Unfortunately, that is the road that America may find itself on.”
It is not a message that from a Republican party strategic point of view, should, in such stark terms, have been delivered to an already anxiety-ridden public here is the video:
The greatest calamity of all struck the McCain camp on the David Letterman show, when David found out that contrary to his assurances, McCain was not on his way to Washington. Rather, McCain had deliberately substituted a serious interview by tv news anchor Couric for a more light-hearted appearance on Letterman.
David Letterman, among the more feared interviewers on television, who has reduced Cindy Crawford and Paris Hilton to tears for the fun of it and went mano-a-mano with Madonna over their respective headgear, was not a man to be trifled with.
He actually got hold of video of McCain getting made up for the Katie Couric interview, having not left for the airport in any case. It was one thing for McCain to cancel, it was another for his campaign to blow off Letterman in favor of Couric.
McCain’s retreat has been hasty and poorly planned, so that it looks more like a rout than a clever guerrilla movement. Not all guerrilla wars succeed, after all– the Philippines was subdued by US forces with long hard fighting. McCain, having lost to a guerrilla war, may now face the irony that he is not only not successful in conventional struggles, but has not mastered the form of his greatest enemies.
And the American public, who had expected him to stand his ground and fight, had been expecting an Eisenhower, not a Ho Chi Minh, will hardly be delighted.