I've learned something about the Republican nominee over the course of this last week: John McCain isn't very good at executive leadership, specifically managing people.
The big news of the last week, of course, is his VP, a painfully obvious gimmick pick that undermines perhaps his most salient argument against Obama. His strategists' choice to respond to the criticisms by arguing that being mayor of a town of 6,000 is better experience than being a United States Senator, and even more absurdly by arguing that living near Russia counts as foreign policy experience, is pretty heinous overreaching and only further highlights her incredible weakness as a candidate. That's not even considering her ties to an Alaskan separatist party which undermines his patriotism card, and her hiring of a lobbyist and support for the "Bridge to Nowhere" which undermines his reformer card.
For that matter, have you ever seen a clearer example of a karmic justice against a social conservative, of a Christian rightwinger getting swatted by reality? Think about it: she guts special education funding in Alaska by 62%, only then to have a baby with Down Syndrome. Then she opposed comprehensive sex education in her state and slashed funding for a state program helping teen mothers... and her 17-year-old daughter comes up pregnant. Her life story is a refutation of conservative beliefs.
In fact, she's such a terrible choice that the press started asking if he even bothered to vet her. Even worse, it appears that he really did cut corners on the vetting process, despite having finished his primary more than two months before Obama. And why did he suddenly find himself with a candidate he hadn't vetted? Because he wanted someone else, but "the party" said no. Apparently the Original Maverick, at this late point in the campaign, still doesn't have a solid enough purchase on his party to make his own decisions about the most important matters of his own campaign. And it has not gone well so far, if we can judge by the reactions of conservative pundits Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy when they thought the mics were turned off:
Then there was this week's convention. First there was the interruption by Gustav, where he directed the party to postpone the convention for a day and take on a mood of sober compassion ("We will be contacting corporations and others to ask them to be respectful of events in the gulf," his campaign manager said), but his admonishments meant little to the party. They went out and partied their asses off, on camera, at lobbyist-funded shindigs while Gustav rattled the levees in New Orleans.
Unfortunately, canceling the first day meant having to find another spot for Rudy 9iu11ani. They chose to put him right in front of their most important speech of the entire convention, that of Sarah Palin, at a critical moment in the timing of the convention events since it was on live network television at that point. Rudy then went off script on live TV, thankfully not making a gaffe, but going so long that they had to cut the introductory bio for Sarah Palin, the VP candidate they were literally introducing to the nation at that point.
And then there was John McCain's own speech. The speech was not terribly good and pretty poorly delivered, and everyone on TV was a little perplexed at seeing yet another "green screen" behind McCain reminiscent of the disastrous speech he gave right as Obama clinched the nomination.
It appears that no one checked to see what part of the backdrop the cameras would pick up:
Oh, but this screw-up gets better! Some of you may be wondering why the McCain campaign would up behind McCain a picture of some anonymous middle school in California that isn't even obviously marked as a school and in a speech that barely mentions schools or education. Well, a little digging by Josh Marshall unearthed exactly what school this is: Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, CA. It appears that the campaign told some flunky to go get a picture of "Walter Reed" to put behind McCain, never checked what the guy found, and this inexplicable image ended up behind McCain during what was probably the most important speech of his life.
John McCain just isn't any good at managing people. We keep seeing his campaign making rookie mistakes and botching the details (and some big decisions), always scrambling to clean up messes or make up for unforeseen circumstances or react to Obama's last move rather than taking initiative, something that reflects poorly on his leadership. He appears to have trouble judging who to put in high administrative positions and who needs more oversight. Perhaps worst of all, he's no good at discerning his employees' weaknesses and liabilities, so their screw-ups catch him off-guard. After this week, I think we've gotten a pretty good look at which of the candidates would run a more efficient administration, which one would be "ready on day one." It clearly is not John McCain.