Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 14, 2008

The McCain Flail

Many others have noted the somewhat unpredictable journey of the McCain campaign. Steve Benen summarizes the most recent adventures:

On Saturday, the McCain campaign leaked word that it would launch a new economic plan in response to the financial crisis, which “would amount to a do-over from the hasty introduction of McCain’s mortgage buy-up program.”

On Sunday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of McCain’s closest allies and most enthusiastic campaign surrogates, confirmed that McCain would, in fact, unveil a detailed new economic proposal on Monday.

On Sunday evening, the McCain campaign said Graham didn’t know what he was talking about. A spokesperson said the campaign had no plans to announce “any policy proposals outside of the proposals that John McCain has announced.”

On Monday afternoon, shortly after Barack Obama unveiled a detailed new economic proposal, the McCain campaign announced it would unveil a new financial policy after all on Tuesday.

So, over the course of 72 hours, according to his own campaign, McCain had a new economic plan, didn’t have a new economic plan, and does have a new economic plan.

This, on top of whiplash about the state of the economy, a suspended campaign appearance on David Letterman, a disastrous insertion of himself into delicate bailout negotiations, and a firm position that they won’t will won’t will go after Barack Obama on his relationship with William Ayers.

And this is a guy who calls Obama erratic.

It doesn’t take someone with years of management experience to know that McCain’s campaign is not, shall we say, a well oiled machine.

I leave the diagnosis to John Wooden, one of whose former players – Andy Hill – does management training using Wooden’s philosophies.

One of Hill’s favorite, and Wooden’s most famous sayings, speaks to McCain’s campaign directly: Do not mistake activity for achievement.

In retrospect, the McCain campaign has been all about activity (Celebrity! Elitist! Palin!) and not at all about achievement. By contrast, Obama’s campaign has been a model of efficiency. Little wasted effort, eyes on a distant prize and confidence in a plan to get there. Many of their achievements, most notably their highly impressive volunteer infrastructure, took place well under the radar. They never panic, but keep moving forward. Or, to use another Wooden bromide, they’re quick, but they don’t hurry.

Publius at Obsidian Wings wrote a post about luck, and how some on the McCain side feel – wrongly – that Obama simply got lucky.

When Michael Jordan made his various clutch shots, that wasn’t really luck. Neither was the crazy Michael Phelps finish luck. These clutch plays were the products of years and years of intense training and practice. They were lucky sure, but luck comes to the prepared. Jordan and Phelps did the work necessary to put themselves in a position to be lucky. Indeed, that’s what makes gymnastics so aesthetically compelling — it’s a lifetime of grueling effort just to put yourself in a position to get “lucky” in a few short seconds of performance.

Lots of people have talked about the McCain campaign being tactical, or, more accurately, lurching from tactic to tactic while Obama cruises along. McCain could have had an ongoing electoral theme – Publius’s suggestion was “(1) I’m a reformer who bucks the GOP; and (2) Obama’s not ready.” He blew that up with a dopey tactic to try and get Hillary supporters and the GOP base with Sarah Palin, and by running a noxiously partisan campaign, making it easier to tie him to today’s Republican party.

I think McCain always counted on people adoring his biography and mythology. No matter what he did, he’d always have that to fall back on. Now the biography is fading as the campaign moves forward, and the myth is being supplanted by the reality people see when they look at him day after day:

Angry. Erratic. Old.

By underestimating Obama (who saw most of McCain’s tactics coming); by failing to prepare for this campaign (and thereby preparing to fail); and by not taking the time months ago to think strategically about the campaign he faces now, he learns a final lesson from John Wooden.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

[h/t to Watertiger at Firedoglake for the Family Guy youtube]

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