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McCain's bridge to distraction

/ Source: National Journal

's campaign recently declared that the sky is red, with green and yellow polka dots. Armed with binders full of research and a New York Times op-ed, angrily jabbed his finger at the sky and countered that it is blue. McCain's campaign accused Obama of anti-skyism. Cable TV talkers spent the next 48 hours debating the color of the sky and Obama's anti-skyist tendencies.

Welcome to the Sept. 11th week of White House 2008.

For a campaign that embraced "change" only belatedly, McCain-Palin is suddenly pushing a ton. And not the kind you can believe, much less believe in.

An exaggeration, you say? The senseless ravings of yet another Obama-loving member of the media elite? Consider this: The absurdity has grown so absurd that, a widely respected, nonpartisan, truth-telling fact-checker, was forced to issue a statement Wednesday saying the McCain campaign was being "less than honest" in a new TV ad citing the group's own work. It's now an objective observation: McCain's campaign is playing by its own rules, with its own facts.

And with the clock winding down till Election Day, it's working like a charm.

Indeed, you can almost hear the defensive exasperation in the voices of Democrats when they protest McCain's move to claim the mantle of "change." But are the party's frustrations aimed partly at their own nominee? Would McCain have made such a successful reach for "change" voters if Obama had made his case more effectively months ago?

Until last week, two truths had dominated the presidential race. One, Obama has owned the mantle of "change" since he first stepped on stage in Springfield, Ill., some 19 months ago. And two, no one has ever really known what he means by "change." For Obama, that was no accident; the more vague he was able to keep his discussion about the word, the more broadly he could grow his base of so-called "change" voters, a diverse and multifaceted lot.

Well, he's achieved that goal; "change" remains this year's most openly defined word. But McCain has scooped in to exploit that opening: If you won't define it, McCain says, I'll give it a shot. In the language of his favorite pastime, Obama dribbled the ball for too long. For McCain, it was an easy steal.

Already McCain is doing well among those so-called "change" voters. Sixty-eight percent of voters in the Diageo/Hotline tracking poll [PDF] released Wednesday said the country's off track, and 30 percent said they're voting for McCain. In 2004, President Bush got just 12 percent of those voters.

But can Republicans ultimately make a stronger case for change? Once Palinmania subsides (I give it another week, tops), will their repeated and repetitive calls for earmark reform and boasts of aisle-crossing and party-crashing ventures still send "change" voters (especially those indies McCain needs to win) flocking into their camp? Or will voters say "thanks, but no thanks" to the tightly scripted "Original Mavericks"?

Hey, speaking of that favorite one-liner Sarah Palin uses when discussing the "Bridge to Nowhere," maybe we're all missing her real message. Maybe she's really saying that she originally told Congress "thanks" for the earmark, "but" later, when the project became politically unfeasible, made it "no thanks".

Laughable? Oh, you just wait.

At the end of this long campaign, could it be that "change" -- a word so chewed over, picked apart, manipulated and sucked dry of practical meaning -- will play no real role in its outcome?