The prescience of Chuck Spinney

A week and a half ago, when Barack Obama seemed to be floundering and the McCain-Palin team was in ascent, I mentioned Chuck Spinney's observation that McCain might in fact be in the process of destroying himself.

Spinney's argument -- with excerpts after the jump -- was that McCain's tactical, day by day, "winning the news cycle" plan for attacking Obama with often-misleading ads could amount to a strategic, long-term, self-inflicted defeat. The idea was that McCain's entire political identity rested on an image of honesty, decency, and not playing petty political games. So if his campaign seemed to contradict his essential values, it could in the end hurt him more than its intended victim.

By the way: McCain didn't need Spinney to explain this principle to him. It's basically the same point McCain has passionately made in saying that a decent, democratic society committed to rule-of-law simply cannot afford to condone torture as official policy.

(Why didn't the same Swiftboat scorched-earth tactics hurt GW Bush? Well, given the extreme narrowness of the margins in 2000 and 2004, perhaps they did. But the real point is, Bush never relied on a reputation for bipartisan, above-the-fray, national-interest politics the way McCain has.)

I'll have more about McCain's latest debate "plan" and financial proposals later this evening. For the moment I say: the obvious, desperate, 100% transparent stunt of ducking the first debate for the "good of the nation" exactly fits Spinney's analysis. For each voter who believes McCain's explanation for this proposal, ten more will say: Are you kidding? How gullible do you think we are?

It is a long, depressing, and self-inflicted descent for a man many people, including me, once respected.

And by the way, whatever McCain does, Obama should show up as scheduled at Ole Miss for the debate.

From Spinney's remarks:

I am beginning to sense that McCain behavior is destroying himself and that Obama has the good sense or instinct to take a deep step back and let McCain dig a hole so deep he can not get out.
After all, McCain has spent years branding himself as a straight talker of truth who puts country ahead of self ... it was always a phony image, but now he is aggressively destroying that brand name and replacing it with the opposite Rovian brand. This is something we have seen all too often -- a man who will do anything and say anything to get elected, to include selecting someone for vice president who is obviously not qualified to be President, even though he would be the oldest person ever to be elected President, and is a cancer survivor to boot, with a heart condition and an abused body (from torture), and therefore, actuarially the most likely President in history to die in office, if elected.

Maybe Obama's behavior is akin to subtly waving the red cape to lure McCain into reinforcing the rebranding operation.  
I have this vague sense that Obama's goal (maybe instinct is a better word) may be to create an atmosphere (perhaps by looking weak, iter alia)  that encourages McCain to reinforce this self destructive behavior and thereby make his hypocrisy obvious to a majority of the undecided voters. 

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In