John McCain's scandalous gambit to politicize the nation's economic crisis with still more wild political stunts this week sure looks like a desperate, last-ditch effort to keep Sarah Palin from being further exposed as a lightweight. Why else would the McCain team be pushing to get Friday's debate moved to October 2, the scheduled night of the vice presidential debate?
In politics as in life, big gambles tend to beget big gambles - McCain bet everything on jazzing up his tired, sagging campaign and appeasing hard-line religious conservatives with his choice of Palin, foolishly hoping that at the same time he would pick up disgruntled Hillary voters along the way. During Palin's Sanjaya phase, now mercifully over, she was a flavor-of-the-moment celebrity, but this week's polls showed the Palin bounce is gone, gone, gone. Panic started to set in among McCain and his handlers.
I've never been in the camp that sees Joe Biden as a dead-certain lock to clean Palin's clock in a nationally televised debate. As smart and experienced as Biden is, his chances of blurting out something weird or unfortunate in the debate (the much discussed gaffe factor) should not be dismissed; and with expectations of Palin so low, especially after her interview with Katie Couric (I recommend checking in with Glenn Greenwald on this), it always seemed to me that she could show up, stick doggedly to the mental note cards she has memorized, and smile and look plucky and make a sarcastic joke or two -- and many in the media would call that a draw or a win.
But the McCain people obviously fear the scenario of Palin melting under the pressure and shocking even many Palin fans. The issue is not so much Palin's ignorance of policy questions, such as her laugh-out-loud-awful problems with an earlier question about the Bush Doctrine, but her Bush-like utter lack of curiosity about the rest of the world through the first four-plus decades of her life.
Obviously the behind-the-scenes prep sessions aren't working. Otherwise the McCain people would not be hiding Palin from the press quite so shamelessly. So the cynical McCain campaign tries to make the media look like idiots by claiming with a straight face that this week's desperate stunt is anything other than a callow effort to distract people and avoid having to push Palin out there on October 2. Andrew Sullivan and others have been raising the point since last night and it looks on target. The question is whether anyone will step up to call McCain on going to such extreme measures to try to cover up the misguided - and badly mistaken - choice of Palin in the first place.