The Washington Bullets basketball team (now the Wizards) won a spectacular national championship in 1978. This was a big deal in Washington, since the town hadn't had a major sports championship since the Redskins won one in 1942. But there were two amusing footnotes to their victory worth mentioning here. The first is that this was the origin of the now-familiar sports phrase: "The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Although most remember it as being a quote from the Bullets' coach Dick Motta, it was actually said very early on in a qualifying round by a reporter for the rival San Antonio Spurs, Dan Cook. The first time Motta was quoted (after Cook had already said it), it was reported Motta said: "It's not over... It's like an opera. It doesn't end until the fat lady starts singing and that hasn't happened in this one yet." He later reverted to Cook's original (and tighter) phrasing, and it was heard all over the place throughout the rest of the postseason, right up until the Bullets won it all in Game 7 of the finals.
I offer this as a cautionary tale to people who now think Obama's so far out in front in the polls that his only real worry should be what color drapes to use in the Oval Office. The earlier, and simpler, form of the metaphor springs to mind (from the immortal Yogi Berra): "The game isn't over 'til it's over."
But for all this caution, things have certainly been going well for Barack Obama. What remains to be seen is what will happen in the final stretch of the campaign. Because John McCain is not only throwing the kitchen sink (as did Hillary Clinton) at Obama now, but he's also throwing a rusting 1958 Buick chassis that was in the back yard up on cinderblocks. In other words, nobody does mud like Republicans.
Barack Obama isn't taking it lying down, it should be noted. He has struck back by pulling out his ace-in-the-hole -- the Keating Five. Now, every time you hear a "journalist" talk about the Keating Five in the next week or so, bear in mind that their feigned astonishment is so much moose poop. Every single reporter talking about Obama's new Keating Five strategy should really preface their remarks with the following statement:
"Barack Obama has brought up the Keating Five scandal in John McCain's past. For those of you unfamiliar with this scandal, we in the entire mainstream media owe you an apology. Because we have not said a single word about it during the almost two-year-long campaign, even though it is the biggest scandal in the man's past. We really didn't do our job on this one, because we ignored this scandal for as long as we could in the hopes that it wouldn't come up. We should have told you all the details on this scandal a year ago, but we didn't. We failed in our responsibility to vet the candidates, and for that we are profoundly embarrassed and profoundly sorry."
I personally have been practically begging both the media and the Obama campaign -- for months now -- to raise the subject. But I see now that the Obama camp was holding it back to use as a counterattack to the mud they knew was coming. I can't argue with this tactic, or the timing of the deployment. They have shown throughout this campaign a remarkable ability to set the pace that they want during the campaign, and to stick to it and I certainly can't argue with the results this far.
As for whether the efforts of the McCain campaign or the Obama campaign are going to bear fruit, well, that's tough to say at this point. Their could be a backlash against either -- or both -- candidates for going so negative. Or they may tend to cancel each other out. It remains to be seen, and will be hard to separate from reactions to the vice presidential debate and the second presidential debate. As I said, we're in the home stretch now.
McCain's new tactic is to bring up all the stuff Hillary used against Barack Obama, and hope that it sticks now better than it did for her. McCain is teetering on the edge of using Reverend Wright again, but they are definitely using Tony Rezko and Bill Ayers.
Now, Bill Ayers is a juicy target for attacks from the right, since his history in the 1960s was about as radical leftist as you can get. He led the split from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and, on June 21, 1969 at the SDS annual convention in Chicago, the splinter group left for good after proclaiming themselves the Weathermen. This, from Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" which contains both the lines: "you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows;" and (more ominously): "the pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handle." From the founding of the group, Bill Ayers was an officer in the organization (their leadership group was known as the "Weatherbureau," invoking comparisons to the Soviet "politburo"). When the entire group went underground, on the run from the police, and renamed themselves the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers went with them. He remained underground until 1980, when he turned himself in. Charges against him were subsequently dropped (although other members spent time in jail).
The Weather Underground Organization was labeled a domestic terrorist group by the F.B.I. This was due to the fact that they had set bombs in public buildings (up to and including the Pentagon), and successfully orchestrated the prison break of Timothy Leary. But Ayers, in his book, rejected the label "terrorist," since none of their bombs killed anybody (except an accident in New York City where the only ones killed were the Weathermen making the bombs), and indeed they took precautions to see that they didn't. Ayers wrote:
"Terrorists terrorize, they kill innocent civilians, while we organized and agitated. Terrorists destroy randomly, while our actions bore, we hoped, the precise stamp of a cut diamond. Terrorists intimidate, while we aimed only to educate. No, we're not terrorists."
Whatever you believe about Bill Ayers and the Weathermen, the fact remains that he is not running for president. John McCain is bringing him up because he hopes to smear Barack Obama with guilt-by-association. But this is a highwire act for McCain himself, since he has plenty of associates he really doesn't want to talk about. He's even got an anti-war activist pal in his own past, David Ifshin, who actually visited Hanoi and broadcast anti-American ravings which McCain heard in his own cell in the Hanoi Hilton at the time... but who later became McCain's friend. So this knife cuts both ways.
But John McCain doesn't really have any other arrows left in his quiver. His campaign is approaching all-out desperation mode. They don't want to talk about the economy, so they will try -- in more and more frenetic ways -- to change the subject to anything else in the last few weeks of the campaign.
Whether the Keating Five or Bill Ayers is going to matter to voters is an open question right now, one that won't be answered for at least a week's worth of polling. My opinion is that this sort of thing just isn't going to work this year. The voters aren't interested in viciousness this year, they're interested in answers.
Barack Obama should fire his Keating Five shot, and then pivot back immediately to talking about the economy. Let the press (belatedly) do their job on it. Then get back on the high road. Because right now, that is a path to victory for Obama. His astounding rise in polls during the past two weeks (from McCain up two points, to Obama up by at least six) could be reversed before Election Day. But, for now, it certainly is going in the right direction. The wind is blowing at Obama's back right now. And my guess is that the public doesn't need a Weatherman right now to tell them that.
[I promised two pieces of trivia from the Bullets' 1978 victory, but the sharp-eyed reader will notice I only cited one. The second is that this was the first sports championship (due to the recent release of the song) ever to use Queen's "We Are The Champions" after winning. You couldn't turn on a radio for months in D.C. without hearing it after the Bullets won. I'm not prophesizing for Obama here, just wanted to add it as an upbeat footnote.]
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com