During the 2004 presidential town hall debate, I watched from the edge of my seat as George W. Bush effectively sealed his re-election bid with a three-word response to an accusation about a timber company, of all things. It was at this moment, which did little to sway my own vote but surely would prove to be a game-changer for the large bloc of American voters who favour likeability (and likeness) over intelligence, that I knew the good ol' country boy image would pay off, again.
John "The Ketchup King" Kerry, as I had reluctantly come to call him, was whining about misinterpretation of his tax policy and how it would adversely affect only a minute portion of small businesses. He claimed that Bush's timber company would count as a small business for its contribution of something like $80 to his own campaign. I think we were all a little lost as to his point, when our incumbent Decider in Chief rose from his booster seat and looked at the crowd with wrinkles in his forehead and mocking curiosity shining from his squinting eyes: "I own a timber company?" he said. "That's news to me …" And after a long pause, he asked with true genius and genuine comedy, "Need some wood?"
I laughed so hard I cried, then cried some more as Bush went on to win the election, taking both the electoral college and popular vote majorities, the latter of which he proved not to need in his 2000 ascent to the White House. It was a legitimate victory that could not be contested - only learned from.
Same game, new player
Perhaps it's silly that one moment in a 90-minute bare-knuckle brawl of a single presidential debate could, at least in my mind, seal the fate of the race. But it did, and after Election Day, I vowed to never underestimate the power of humour and the art of question re-direction.
This year, the Republican party put up another presidential candidate who also made plenty-a-ripple in the comedy pool, but this one did so in a way that, rather than drawing genuine laughter, ignited the cringe factor in friends and liberal elite media foes alike. We laughed at rather than with the nominee.
Many onlookers were respectful in responding to the gaffes, which included the now infamous "my fellow prisoners" speech and the comment, "I couldn't agree more" in referencing Senator John Murtha's remark about racists in southern Pennsyvania. Some were polite in exercising open-mouthed breathing techniques - smell-fart acting, it's called - and while I chose the lower path of laughing heartily and pointing shamelessly, I think we all understood what these moments meant for McCain.
They stood as just some of the examples why he lost. And along with the more significant missteps - the dos he didn't do and don'ts he did, they added credence to Obama's claim that the Dustbowl State senator was "erratic" and "out of touch".
McCain the martyr
A growing number of conservative pundits and Republican party leaders are clinging to lame excuses and the hopelessly idealistic possibility that Americans handed Obama the executive branch while adding to the Democratic majority in Congress not because the Republican philosophy is skewed, but because of the poor behaviour exhibited by several GOP leaders of late.
This may be true. But the main strategy - or is it a tactic? - in quelling media speculation about the demise of the now immobile conservative movement has been the deployment of the martyrdom card.
While it's a tad late, right-leaning media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and National Review are finally speaking a consistent message: that McCain's defeat is due not to his abandonment of the real maverick principles we once knew and admired, but is instead the result of the late emergence of the economic crisis.
In a piece clearing the Republican ticket of any wrongdoing, Dan Janison of Newsday went so far as to title his McCain defence "Maverick McCain now political martyr".
The Review's Byron York wrote, "What sank McCain's presidential bid was a set of the worst conditions to face any candidate in decades …"
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