A year ago, I polled (reader) opinion on the question of which public figures had risen in public esteem and likely historical assessment thanks to their service in the GW Bush administration. (More here and here.)
Some of the losers were obvious, with Colin Powell at the head of the damaged-reputation list. My proposed winner at that time was Christopher Hill, the diplomat in the middle of negotiations with North Korea. If Gen. David Petraeus had been slightly more careful about allowing himself to be placed in the middle of party-political battles, he would be the clear winner now.
I think it will soon be time to ask the same question about the reputational effect of the McCain 2008 presidential campaign. Let's set aside shifting views of McCain himself, and talk about those around him.
Obviously -- at least to me -- the biggest loser will be Sarah Palin. Two months ago she was the next-generation's hope as a fresh new face for future Republican leadership. Now she is a laughingstock. (Notwithstanding the likelihood that she will do "better than expected" in her upcoming debate.) Some conservatives are warning that her long-term prospects are "in question" because of her performance so far. No, they're not.
But closing fast on her is the once-estimable Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former head of the Congressional Budget Office (ie, Voice of Responsibility) and member of the Council of Economic Advisors. Just now, he appeared on MSNBC to discuss the market crash and failure of the bailout bill, and in the subtlety and fairness of his remarks he was indistinguishable from Tom DeLay in his prime.
"Once again we see the failure of Barack Obama's Democrats to address the nation's true needs," was (approximately) the first thing out of his mouth, when discussing a bill that two-thirds of the members of his own (and the president's) party voted against. He led not with what this means for the real economy; not what the possible solutions were; not the need to work something out fast; but pure spin-room flackery.
This kind of bluster is what flacks are for, on both sides. Their reputations go up when they can say such things with a straight face! Even better, with a face contorted in partisan outrage. It is not the right role for the main economic advisor to a campaign. Somebody from the campaign may need to say this, DH-E. Not you.
UPDATE: The statement just out from the Obama campaign's flacks is more statesmanlike than the interview from the McCain campaign's "substance" guy:
This is a moment of national crisis, and today's inaction in Congress as well as the angry and hyper-partisan statement released by the McCain campaign are exactly why the American people are disgusted with Washington. Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to join together and act in a way that prevents an economic catastrophe. Every American should be outraged that an era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and Washington has led us to this point, but now that we are here, the stability of our entire economy depends on us taking immediate action to ease this crisis," said Obama-Biden campaign spokesman Bill Burton.
UPDATE #2: John McCain's brief statement just now (5:15 pm EDT) was also much more statesmanlike.
UPDATE #3: Here is Douglas Holtz-Eakin himself. As you listen to his comments, starting 30 seconds in, remember that this is someone who pre-McCain had been seen as a reputable economist. And his actual first sentence is, "Today Barack Obama's Democratic party failed the American people." After that party got 60%+ of its representatives to vote for the plan, and the Republicans had ~67% against.
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