The networks are recruiting 8-year-olds as we speak!
Two weeks ago, Mr. Obama pledged not to discuss the vice-presidential search until he was ready to make an announcement. But after a campaign event here today focusing on the high costs of college tuition, Mr. Obama apparently couldn't resist taking a question from a young girl – a student reporter – who held out her tape recorder as he walked by.
So would he consider the former vice president as a possible running mate?
"I have just started looking through possible candidates. I haven't made any decisions. I'm getting some recommendations," Mr. Obama said with a smile, measuring his words carefully as others reporters began to listen in. "Obviously Al Gore is a great public servant. He was a great vice president."
As Mr. Obama's press aides rushed over, he continued his brief remarks about Mr. Gore.
"He may not want to be vice president again, since he's already done that for eight years," Mr. Obama said. "But certainly he's somebody that I'll be getting advice from as we go forward and hopefully he'll help me when I'm president."
McCain on offshore drilling (CNN vid)
McCain on Soc Sec privatization (TPM vid)
McCain on his wife (vid- funny)
NYT on Michelle Obama
Obama's response to the McCain campaign's assertion that he has a "September 10th mentality:"
"Let's think about this: these are the same guys who helped engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9-11," Obama told reporters on his campaign plane. He said his statements about Guantanamo were intended to suggest that suspects have a right to be heard, not freed, and accused McCain of playing political games on national security.
"What they're trying to do us what they've done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as a club to make the American people afraid," Obama said.
Reminded that the Republican playbook worked in the 2004 presidential race, Obama countered: "Well, it's 2008."
Even the briefest of surveys of the supporters gracing McCain's events underscores the kind of red-meat appeal he's making. Immediately after his speech in New Orleans, a pair of sweet-looking old ladies put down their McCain signs long enough to fill me in on why they're here. "I tell you," says one, "if Michelle Obama really doesn't like it here in America, I'd be very pleased to raise the money to send her back to Africa."
The diminutive and smiling old lady's friend leans over. "That's going a little too far, dear."
"Too far?" says the first. "Farrakhan is saying they were brought here against their will, and their bodies are still feeding the sharks at the bottom of the sea! I mean, really!"
"OK, sharks still eating bodies," I say, writing it all down. "Could I have your name, ma'am?"
"Janice Berg," says the first old lady. "And lest you think I'm Jewish, the name comes from Norway. Berg is 'mountain' in Norwegian. I'm part German, part French myself."
A few paces away, I catch up with a man named Ron Saucier and a woman who would only identify herself as Mary. Ron says his problem with Obama is the integrity thing. "He exaggerates too much," Ron says. "He's not honest."
"OK," I say. "What does he exaggerate about?"
"Well, like that time he was saying he had a white mother and a white grandmother," he says.
I ask him how this is an exaggeration.
"Well, he was saying . . ." he begins. "As if that qualifies him to . . ."
Despite my repeated prodding, Ron seems unable or unwilling to say aloud exactly what he means. Finally, his friend Mary, a grave-looking blonde with fierce anger lines around her eyes, jumps in, points a finger and blurts out one of the all-time man-on-the-street quotes.
"Look, you either are or you aren't," she says.
"And he aren't," Ron says, nodding with relief.
Some of us who have been mesmerized by the Obama-Clinton cage match during the past six months may have developed certain delusions about the state of American politics, in two areas in particular. One is the idea, much pushed by wishful-thinking media commentators like myself, that the abject failure and unpopularity of the Bush administration somehow means the Republican revolution is over, and the mean-ass hate-radio conservatism of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh is finally dead. The other is the even more quaint notion that the historic, groundbreakingly successful candidacies of a black man and a woman have ushered in a futuristic era of political tolerance and open-mindedness.
It's bunk, all of it, and nobody understands this better than John McCain. With his chameleonlike, whatever-gets-you-through-the-
night ideology, McCain intends to use the same below-the-belt, commie-baiting, watermelon-waving smear tactics that Clinton used against Obama in the Democratic primaries, except at tenfold intensity. Once the victim of a classic racist smear job in backwoods South Carolina (where he was whipped in the 2000 primary after a Karl Rove whispering campaign suggested he had an illegitimate black daughter), McCain has now positioned himself on the business end of that same deal.
Cindy Oestriecher, a McCain supporter who turned out for his speech in New Orleans, is stumped when I ask her for an example of Obama's lack of patriotism. "What was that thing about anti-American?" she asks a friend. "What were they referring to?"
"What thing?" asks the friend.
"People were talking about that thing, that anti-American thing," Cindy says, frowning.
"You mean about the flag, the thing on the Internet?" the friend replies.
"Yeah, I guess," says Cindy. "The anti-American thing." "That bothers you?" I ask.
"Of course it does!"
"But you don't even know what it is," I say. "You just know that someone else said he was anti-American. You don't even know who it was that said it!"
She shrugs. What's my point? We all know what the deal is. When it comes to presidential politics, you either are or you aren't. And Barack Obama aren't. If you can't grasp the simple math of that statement, you don't know much about elections in this country. It's not about the war, or the economy, or the faltering Republican brand, or any of that: This is about hate and fear, and a dark instinct in our blood going all the way back to Salem, and whether or not a desperately ambitious ex-heretic named John McCain can whip up a big enough mob in time to drown the latest witch.