In the past several days various pundits and the editorial staffs of several newspapers have been saying John McCain is finished and that Barack Obama is about to become the 44th president of the United States. McCain believers have pointed out that several presidents pulled off last-minute upsets, Harry Truman being foremost among them. But with Colin Powell’s endorsement today of Obama (and an F-minus efficiency rating for McCain), the last nail seems to have been driven into McCain’s coffin of presidential hopes.

Powell’s initial comments had to do with Obama and his “ability to inspire, show intellectual vigor, and doing business that will do us well.” McCain, on the other hand, said Powell, “hasn’t given me a reason to vote for him.” Powell also thinks the choice of governor Sarah Palin was a huge mistake and that McCain’s campaign tactics were disappointing.

Powell’s comments sounded very much like an efficiency rating that a senior officer might give to an underling. After all, here is a former four-star general evaluating a man who graduated nearly last in his class at Annapolis, and who had a well-known reputation for mischief and disrespect for some of his superiors. Also depicted as a prankster, McCain had more than his share of demerits. Once, as a lowly plebe, McCain challenged an officer to a fist fight. While McCain has, to his everlasting credit his record as a war hero, his recent displays of poor judgments were “the perfect storm that has set the stage for an Obama victory” [Charles M. Blow, The New York Times, Oct. 18].

There are things for which McCain cannot be held personally responsible, such as the collapse of Wall Street and the economic disaster that has befallen many Americans. But as Mona Charen notes in the National Review, “McCain needed to explain to voters that Obama hails from the further reaches of the left wing of the Democratic party.” Obama’s approach to the economy, says Charen, “is the European brand of socialism, which is government-heavy, bureaucratic, and intrusive.”

McCain has fallen short, to some degree, in handing the blame to the Democrats who failed to rein in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and who supported the practice of issuing subprime mortgages. McCain also has not fully responded to Obama’s health care plan which, Charen argues, would push the U.S. into a nationalized health care system.

Most of all, McCain has been virtually defenseless to the charge that his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was a whopper of a mistake. After Palin was skewered by the Katie Couric interview, McCain and his support team failed to muzzle Palin or at least give her a crash course in the major issues of the day. Aside from Roe v. Wade, Palin was unable to comment credibly on any other Supreme Court case. And her answer to the question “what newspapers do you read?” (“All of them”) made one wonder if she had ever heard of The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, St. Louis Post Dispatch, or the Atlanta Constitution (“Covers Dixie Like the Dew”) – who can’t remember that slogan?

Virginia, which has voted Republican since its founding, may vote Democratic for the first time. A McCain adviser, Nancy Pfotenhauer, didn’t do him any favors when she alleged that “Northern Virginia is not the real Virginia.” Missouri, which has voted with the winning ticket for several decades, appears to be up for grabs, if not leaning toward Obama. And there is the issue of McCain’s anger, his explosive hothead reputation that has surfaced several times during the campaign. With international relations in the most delicate of balances, anger is a questionable negotiating tool.

The agony of the Republicans will not end with McCain’s defeat next month. Upon being sworn in, Obama will inherit a majority in the Senate. He will possibly have the opportunity to appoint a number of Supreme Court justices. And he will assume the presidency as the first black ever elected to that office, extending the traditional presidential “honeymoon.”

TIME magazine observes that with McCain trailing and the election just days away, he appears to have no endgame. The continuing financial crisis has overshadowed McCain’s campaign strategy – people are more interested in making their house payments than his campaign messages and robo-dialed telephone recordings. McCain’s gambles, such as the Sarah Palin selection, has left him, in the words of TIME magazine, “looking impulsive and erratic. He now appears the beleaguered, sometimes frustrated fighter, an inherently and less optimistic and less appealing personality.”

As Winston Churchill said during one of England’s brief respites in World War II, “This may not be the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.”

– CHASE HAMIL

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