WATCHING THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE tonight, and thinking about it afterward, I suddenly begin to think it's possible McCain doesn't really want to win the election — or at least doesn't really care that much about losing. Do you remember his saying at one point that he'd rather lose an election than sacrifice a principle? (I paraphrase; I don't have an exact quote at hand.) Clearly he would have had to have gone on the attack in the debate to reverse his ebb in the recent polls, and he's stated at various times that he wasn't going to engage in that kind of campaign.
I think that statement was not disingenuous, even though his campaign, if not he himself personally, has turned to character attacks — certainly his vice-president pick, Sarah Palin, has done that. But in the debate tonight, McCain really didn't. I think he can't bring himself to that kind of conduct in live real time, and of course the physical presence of Obama would have had a sobering effect.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think McCain's any better a man than he needs to be, and I certainly don't give him points for consistency, let alone fidelity to principle. But I wonder if, faced with the recent polls, the overwhelming economic disasters, the difficulties shaping up on the international front, and his age and perhaps his physical condition, he doesn't really mind not winning. Perhaps his main point all along was to revise and reshape his party, not to be president. Perhaps he came to some kind of awareness when he told his party he wanted Joe Lieberman for vice president, and the party told him no. Perhaps the Palin choice was a challenge, not to the Democrats, but to the Republicans.