Right after watching the CGI re-enactment of Richard Candelaria’s 1945 dogfight in a P-51 Mustang with 2 ME-262s and 15 ME-109s, I read Roger Simon‘s observation that McCain was apparently demonstrating a willingness to take more political risks, by choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for his running mate, than the One. “John McCain has once again shown he is willing to, in fact eager to, move in a positive and (relatively) unexpected direction. He is his own man. Obama – the agent of change – picked the most conventional of the conventional.” I think that’s only half true: McCain will take risks, but only after figuring the odds. Those who watch the video will notice that Richard Candelaria took two huge risks in his epic dogfight, once against the ME-262 and another against an ME-109 flown by a better pilot than he was. They were calculated risks; but once taken were pursued without hesitation or reservation.
The parallels between any pilot and McCain are going to be obvious. He has the ability to wait patiently until his opponent commits himself to a move then ruthlessly strikes to exploit it. He gives nothing away to clue his opponent on which way he is going to turn. Then suddenly he snaps the stick. A collection of links by Glenn Reynolds reveals a sudden appreciation by McCain’s opponents of his unpredictability. Some are hesitating to criticize Palin’s relative youth and inexperience, lest they fall into the Trap. What trap? A classic AP head says it all: Analysis: Palin’s age, inexperience rival Obama’s.
But the other piece of combat experience McCain endured, separate from his pilot training, one which every jailbird will appreciate, was his experience as a POW. Resistance in prison is one of the hardest forms of combat there is. As a prisoner you are always in the slower plane; the guard is always, by definition in the ME-262. A prisoner has only two friends: his mind and his nerve. McCain survived years of this and some of the skills he learned may have been on display just now. A number of political commentators thought John McCain would be easy meat for BHO. Maybe. Maybe not. Candelaria got the ME-262.
One of the more interesting questions for political historians is whether McCain chose Palin before or after Obama chose Biden. After a long period of bleeding numbers at the polls, Obama had a chance at Denver to take the initiative in two ways: first to refocus the election on George W. Bush and second, to dominate the news cycle for at least a couple of days. But several circumstances spoiled the opportunity. First, Denver turned out to be at least partly about the Clintons; an misfortune which BHO endured with gritted teeth. Yet even when the duo had sullenly lumbered off and he strode at last into the limelight before the stage the rumor that McCain was about to select his Veep was beating on the edges of the media’s attention. At first there seemed little to worry about; there were contingency plans in the event McCain selected either Romney or Pawlenty. But now it is clear the old attack pilot pulled a move which aims to exploit several chinks in Obama’s armor: gender and class.
From early indications, BHO’s camp has elected to expend at least some ammunition to attack Palin. Despite its aggressive appearances it is a defensive move designed to blunt the potential threat she poses to his narratives. The effort will divert resources away from what should have been Obama’s central focus: attacking GWB and McCain.