Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In Backgammon, It’s Called the Running Game

McCain is suspending his campaign for the moment and calling for a postponement of the Friday debate. The dramatic (or erratic) moves are understandable granted the marked decline in his fortunes that has taken place over the last ten days or so as the financial crisis made even the lowest information voters notice how badly his party has handled the economy. He’s in the situation of a chess player with a bad position who complicates the game even at the cost of making inferior moves—a perfectly rational strategy that many losing candidates have tried, though it does seem to work better in chess than politics. McCain’s desperation did not just begin, however.

The Palin nomination was already a capitulation to circumstances, a Pearl Harbor attack that inflicted temporary pain on the enemy but probably guaranteed defeat. So long as McCain had real faith in his prospects, he kept his distance from the crazy right faction of his own party and tried to run as a moderate. By signing up Palin, he ensured himself of the fanatical support of 40% of the country; but he also gave up on winning the middle. The most probable result of his surrender to the Culture War right is an increased prospect of losing less badly purchased at the cost of forgoing any reasonable chance of eking out a win.

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