Yes, it's time to talk politics here, a topic that I tend to avoid in public fora. It's not that I don't know politics, or that I don't care, but that I personally don't feel the need to go out preaching my beliefs. Call it one of the remaining vestiges of my childhood introversion.
I watched the debate tonight between John McCain and Barrack Obama and, less fortunately, I've also been watching some of the post-debate commentary. It's obvious to see how much the commentators are trying to be non-partisian. So worried are they of accusations of bias that they seem to be skirting issues that they need to be tackling head on.
I've been reading fivethirtyeight for a little while now. It's amazingly informative, and as an engineer I'm happy to see lots of graphs and charts and numbers. I like to see technical analysis. This, in a nutshell, is my kind of politics. According to Fivethirtyeight, McCain has been polling terribly for the last week. States that had been leaning his way, like NH are now leaning democrat. States like CO that were in play are shifting more to the left. It's not been a good week for him. What McCain really needed to buck this trend and build some momentum was a knock-out performance in the debate tonight, and nobody is saying that he got it.
What I'm worried about is that McCain's campaign appears to be one of gimmicks now. Maybe it's a brilliant strategy, but he's been playing the media as a tool in a way that I'm not sure I've ever seen. I'm not going to say that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president. Frankly, I'm not sure how a person becomes qualified for it anyway. Like they say, people rise to their own level of incompetence, and any great senator or great governor could easily be promoted to be an incompetent president. Qualifications aside, is anybody going to tell me that in terms of sheer resume that Sarah Palin was the best choice for VP? Sure she's probably capable. Sure she's probably qualified. But is she the best choice for the job, or was she a gimmick to grab media attention?
This week, John McCain suspended his campaign to focus on the financial crisis. Some people say he was just doing this to gain some more prep time for this debate. I think he could have used it, the numbers say he needed a much better performance tonight then he earned. I see this as being another gimmick, an attempt to look honorable by focusing on the country instead of focusing on the race. As Fivethirtyeight says, he confused the concept of a tragedy (something unpredictable like 9-11 where people would suspend politics as usual) and a crisis (a mounting problem where politicians need to be in high-gear). This move didn't grab the kind of media attention that I'm sure McCain was hoping for.
The point I want to make here is that campaigns are not some kind of honest and transparent process. People Lie, as House would say. Obama is lying. McCain is lying. Neither of these two men are the same as they were before, and neither of them are able to be the way they will in the oval office. Candidates say what they need to say to get elected. They change their minds to pick more popular positions that will appeal to more people. They spend more time nitpicking each others misspoken words then they spend talking about the country and the people. This, in a word, is politics. I think McCain is being a little more risky with his gimmick gambles then Obama is, and I think that as these recent polling numbers start sinking in, and as these debates fail to give him the kind of boost he wants, his gimmicks are going to get bigger and more obvious. Diversionary tactics are just another political ploy, and unfortunately they work well enough to justify their continued use by modern politicians.
Tonight I think was good for Obama. Obama has had good momentum building through last week, and tonights tied debate isn't going to shift anything.