Time was, the Baltimore Orioles manager, was Earl Weaver, a short, irascible, Napoleonic figure who, when cranky, as he was frequently, would shout at an umpire, "Are you going to get any better or is this it?" With, mercifully, only one debate to go, that is the question about John McCain's campaign.
In the closing days of his 10-year presidential quest, McCain finds it galling that Barack Obama is winning the first serious campaign he has ever run against a Republican. Before Tuesday's uneventful event, gall was fueling what might be the McCain-Palin campaign's closing argument.
It is less that Obama has bad ideas than that Obama is a bad person. This, McCain and his female Sancho Panza say, is demonstrated by bad friends -- such as William Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist.
But the McCain-Palin charges have come just as the Obama campaign is benefiting from a mass mailing it is not paying for. Millions of households are gingerly opening envelopes containing reports of the third-quarter losses in their 401(k) and retirement accounts -- telling each household its portion of the $2 trillion that Americans' accounts have shed. In this context, attempts to shift the focus to Obama's Chicago associations seem surreal.
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Recently Obama noted -- perhaps to torment and provoke conservatives -- that McCain's rhetoric about Wall Street's "greed" and "casino culture" amounted to "talking like Jesse Jackson." What fun: one African-American Chicago politician distancing himself from another African-American Chicago politician by associating McCain with him.
Tuesday night, McCain said the $700 billion -- perhaps it is $800 billion, or more; one loses track of this fast-moving target -- bailout is too small. He proposes several hundred billions more for his American Homeownership Resurgence -- you cannot have too many surges -- Plan. The government would buy mortgages that homeowners cannot -- or perhaps would just rather not -- pay, and replace them with cheaper ones. As he spoke, conservatives on MSNBC's "dial group" wrenched their dials in a wrist-spraining spasm of disapproval.
Still, it might be politically prudent for McCain to throw caution to the wind. Obama is competitive in so many states that President Bush carried in 2004 that it is not eccentric to think he could win 350 of 538 electoral votes.