Tuesday, October 14, 2008

John McCain Stars In "The Gambler"

One can almost imagine the frustration of Michael Jordan.

Gambling rumors once came close to destroying his lucrative endorsements. Yet this fall, the Chicago Bulls great has watched as a front page story in the New York Times about a presidential contender's habit has immediately disappeared from the public's attention.

John McCain doesn't hide his habit. Is it because of this, because he can sit there and respond, "I am a betting man" on national television, that no one is interested in what this could mean as part of the philosophy of the Commander In Chief?

The easy excuse is that we assume that a man who has spent twenty-five years in a position of great authority is beyond the temptation to follow his reckless urges on matters of national importance. After all, no President would take such wild chances. Just because someone enjoys putting their money on the table in Vegas doesn't mean they would gamble with the responsibilities of their office.

The problem with this assumption is that Mr. McCain's own behavior is contrary to it. The McCain campaign has been rolling the dice for months, and they continue to do so without the slightest hesitation. Sarah Palin is only the most obvious of these questionable decisions, and the book is still out on the wisdom of that choice.

In the immediate aftermath of the campaign's controversial decision to name the Alaska governor as running mate, it seemed to be a good bet. The polls in the days that followed allowed the campaign to rake in a few chips, and it energized the Republican base in a gratifying way. In short, the decision was a short term winner.

However, as any race track aficionado knows, hitting a long shot early does not necessarily mean that you will leave with more money in your pocket than you had on arrival. In many cases, quite the opposite is true. Your success at the beginning often fuels wild and unwise choices late in the afternoon, so that by the time you head for the parking lot, you end up down far more than you ever intended to spend.

John McCain has been laying crazy bets for the last month. Mortgage plans and "Who is Barack Obama?" are just two of them. The most damaging was the false suspension of his campaign, a mistake he is now trying to minimize by returning to David Letterman. Upsetting the only man more popular in Indiana than Larry Bird was hardly a wise choice.

So, John McCain is willing to gamble with the choices he makes in his campaign. A campaign that is the culmination of years of preparation and in itself is a fulfillment of a lifetime struggle to emerge from the shadows of his famous father and grandfather.

The Presidential nomination is the most important thing that has ever happened to Senator McCain. It is obvious, in his demeanor and in his desperate abandonment of many of the moral positions he has held throughout public life, how much the presidency means to him. Yet his impulses remain. In the pursuit of the one goal that has dominated his destiny for decades, John McCain is immediately willing to shake those dice, ask Sarah Palin to blow on them and let fly. He'll take his chances.

The problem is that if he wins his biggest bet, the stakes will change forever. It won't be his livelihood and reputation on the line. It will be the well-being, safety, and security of every single one of us. If John McCain somehow manages to go on a three week winning streak and ends up in the White House, his long shot win will fuel years of belief in his own luck.

Every pit boss in Vegas will tell you that, eventually, the house always comes out ahead.

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