Don’t ask me how many palms I had to grease or how I gained access to certain locked drawers, but over the weekend I was able to peek into the personal journals of the four major candidates, along with the diary of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Here are some juicy excerpts, which provide some insight into their states of mind.
INSIDE JOHN McCAIN’S DIARY
I feel like I’m in quicksand, and no matter which way I move, I’m just dragged down deeper. Rove and Schmidt warned me many months ago where we were headed, and about the likely upward trajectory of Obama down the stretch, but we hoped we could pull off a miracle. "POW war hero," "straight talker," "maverick" — I thought those would make up for the age thing, Bush’s unpopularity, the negative feelings so many voters have for anything Republican.
But that strategy clearly isn’t working, especially so once the financial system swirled down the toilet and the jobless rate kept rising and the credit pond went dry; I risked it all trying to arrange a financial bailout the public could accept, but I just wound up looking inept and it was too late anyway. The public blamed the Republicans for the economic mess, as usual. And even though I tried distancing myself from Bush policies, that didn’t work either since all my votes were on the record supporting those same policies.
Naming Sarah nearly turned the campaign around. But, since we really didn’t vet her, we had no idea of the extent of the scandal-baggage she was bringing with her (which could still blow up in our faces between now and Election Day) and no idea she wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny and tough questioning by the press. Still, even with her negatives, she’s the best thing my campaign has going for it. Nothing like some fresh energy, and I just love being in her company. Raises my spirits, if you get my drift.
We had to keep her from being sandbagged by tough questions in the debate with Biden, so we prepped her not to answer those she didn’t like and to fill up her response time with the spin points we had rehearsed. She did just fine. She stopped the bleeding, which was more than we could have hoped for. Still, not even half of the voters polled after her performance thought she was qualified to be president, if need be, whereas Biden got nearly 80%. The pundits are actually questioning my judgment in naming her to the ticket. A-holes! (Speaking of "if need be," there are more clamors for me to release my full medical records. We’ll try to drag it out past Election Day.)
So, what do we do, what can we do, in the final three weeks of the campaign? The public just isn’t buying me and what I’m selling, so we have to go back to the only weapon we have that might possibly work: trashing Obama. Try to get the attention off me, and the tanking economy, and put it on him. Toss a whole lot of mud at him and see if any of it sticks. Raise so many doubts about him that maybe the voters will wonder there’s fire underneath all that smoke and back away from him. That way, maybe we can shave away some of his lead in the big toss-up states, and let Rove’s boys do the rest. Negative ads, dirty tricks, playing around with the numbers, etc. I never thought it would come to this — I really hoped I could run win by running a positive, ethical campaign — but I’ve come this far, no going back now. Not if I want to be president in the last bite at the apple I’ve got left. Let’s just hope the American voters are as dumb as we think they are. If not, I’m toast.
INSIDE BARACK OBAMA’S DIARY
Things are looking up. We’ve got lots of money, many thousands of energized volunteers, and we’ve registered so many new voters. With all that, I know I should be optimistic but I feel like Charlie Brown, waiting for Lucy to yank away the football again just before I get a chance to kick it. Yeah, I know the polls are moving in our direction, finally! But we Democratic candidates have been fooled by electoral-victory mirages before.
So much could happen between now and Election Day, and between November 4 and Inauguration Day. Cheney and Rove still have months in which to do their mischief. I think there will be October Suprises and November Surprises and December Surprises and January Surprises. What will they be? We just don’t know, and sometimes they’re pretty good at keeping secrets; we were totally flummoxed by Sarah Palin’s nomination, for example.
Speaking of which, John’s picking her was, tactically speaking, a stroke of genius. Totally altered the race and moved public scrutiny away from himself. Unfortunately for him, he was forced to choose her in August. She wore well for a couple of weeks, especially for their red-meat base, but then the middle-range voters didn’t necessarily like what they saw, and, given the amount of time for the press and bloggers to vet her, her Alaska scandals and her tendency to run roughshod over the rules and abuse her office began to catch up with her. Her policy knowledge and political weaknesses were especially noticeable when measured against Joe Biden, who generates public confidence as fully presidential, whereas she makes too many voters nervous, since she comes across as little more than a small-town mayor playing way out of her league.
Well, the Republicans have run out of anything positive to run on, so Michelle and I had better brace ourselves for what we basketball players call "garbage time." Except this will be real garbage: Pastor Wright, Bill Ayers ("palling around with terrorists"), unpatriotic ("waving the white flag of surrender"), a "secret Muslim," an "uppity" or "angry black man," and whatever other race-card and irrelevant nonsense they can come up with.
Can’t quite figure out how calling me "unpatriotic" for trying to end the war in Iraq is going to play since nearly 70% of the American population thinks going into Iraq was a bad mistake and it’s time to get our combat troops out of there. Do they really want to accuse most American voters of being "unpatriotic," of "waving the white flag of surrender," by urging a 16-month redeployment of our forces from Iraq?
Two more debates to go with McCain. He’s becoming more unhinged by the day, consumed by rage and frustration and a growing sense that the American voters are not going to permit him to fulfill his one driving ambition in life. So, having nothing to lose, he may pull out all the stops in the debates, just go ballistic, spreading all sorts of lies, making all sorts of promises, spouting all sorts of nonsense, something, anything, to try to change the dynamic and momentum.
I just hope I can keep my cool, and I hope he can’t keep his, so that more ordinary Americans will be able to see what a good many Senators long ago saw in him: a dangerous, reckless, hyper-ambitious and largely ineffectual grandstander in the old style. And I just hope the voters are able to wade through the partisan slime and muck being thrown our way, and see it for what it is: last-minute desperation tactics.
INSIDE SARAH PALIN’S DIARY
I’m really scared but I’ve still got to put on the game face like I know what I’m doing all this 24-hours-a-day politics in Washington is way beyond me the small-time Alaskan political world I live in can’t really prepare anybody certainly not me for the national and international stage but I thought I did pretty well in the debate and I was so proud of myself for getting Biden to let me use his name "Joe" since I’d been rehearsing that "say it ain’t so, Joe" line for days the pundits had a field day with the fact that I didn’t answer t hose dumb questions the moderator posed but chose to get my set of facts out there but that’s OK the public won’t care really they just love me for who I am "doggone it" "you betcha" i just love delivering those lines they drive the elite East Coasters crazy!
But I can’t let any of my inner doubts surface i’ve got to keep plugging away for McCain and for myself got to resurrect my image as a strong resourceful conservative politician since McCain will be out of the picture by 2012 especially if we lose the election but he’s also a really old man (one who’s constantly staring at my ass, thank you very much!) and I can be the one to lead the party into a new age and back to popularity I can’t wait to run next time and wipe the smirks off their faces those pointy-headed terrorist-aiding traitorous communist pinko liberals you know who they are I’m just so excited to reach lots of people who seem to love and adore me and who will follow my lead God help me I really get off on that power now if we can just somehow swim through the legal crap in Alaska the various abuse-of-power investigations into Todd and I possibly breaking the law in trying to get my sister’s ex-husband fired and other officials fired because they wouldn’t go along with my requests maybe some IRS problems as well maybe my "alleged" adulterous affair with Brad also if we can just keep the lid on all this until after Election Day thank you mainstream media maybe it’ll all go away bring back Ronald Reagan God bless America.
INSIDE JOE BIDEN’S DIARY
I knew the minute I stepped on the primary debate stage with Barack and Hillary that I was never going to be President. So I could loosen up and be myself, and, surprise!, voters seemed to like me more that way, despite (or who knows, maybe because of) my motor-mouth gaffes. Obviously, I impressed Barack or he never would have chosen me as his running mate.
I think he’s a bit wet-behind-the-ears — compared to me, he’s got the political and international experience of a gnat — but being his Veep is the only way I’ll ever get to the White House and I’m glad he chose me to sit shotgun.
God, I love politics and campaigning is such great fun. So far, the highlight of the campaign for me was "debating" Sarah Palin. I put that word in quote marks because, obviously, she didn’t come there to debate ideas. She and John don’t have ideas, at least none that the majority of the public agrees with or wants to hear. She came with her note-card talking points and made sure to get them all in, and simply ignored the questions posed by the moderator. And what was it with Gwen Ifill? She seemed in even more of a speed-rush than Palin, almost as if the idea of swapping ideas on a hot-button issue for five minutes would have been boring to the viewers. Damn it, that’s why they tuned in!
My staff and I rehearsed and rehearsed so that I would never come across as condescending or patronizing to the moron standing opposite me. I think I carried it off, at least verbally; I couldn’t help myself from broadly grinning at her more absurd locutions and positions (expand beyond Cheney’s power-grab as Vice President? Did that one come out of Darth’s behind?) and spin-point attacks. She’s an ignorant whacko, to be sure, but she knows how to throw the elbow and the Republican base eats her up. I’d love to see her debate Ross Perot, that would be a hoot.
INSIDE HANK PAULSON’S DIARY
What a roller-coaster ride! As it turns out, we got what we wanted: the $700 billion bailout fund, but it came at quite a price. True, the potential catastrophe is real — becoming worse by the day, with a worldwide depression not out of the realm of possibility — but lots of economists and pundits saw the housing meltdown, credit squeeze and derivatives disaster coming long ago and yet the politicians, especially we Republicans, did nothing. They were like me, true believers in the glories of the unregulated free market, terrified that by proposing tight government regulation, we’d kill the goose that was laying all those golden eggs. We all were in a major state of denial. We knew that the economic good times were resting on flimsy foundations and eventually would come crashing down, but we didn’t want to prepare for that disaster. We all hoped the catastrophe would happen on someone else’s watch. Here and abroad, we movers and shakers were so comfortable, so deluded by greed, we just wanted the free ride to go on forever, so we looked away.
The consequence of waiting too long is that the whole capitalist financial system may come tumbling down on our heads, along with our social/political structure as we know it. On the other hand, when a disaster strikes, there’s opportunity for massive political and economic changes that benefit those that can take advantage. (Naomi Klein in her "Shock Doctrine" book calls it "disaster capitalism," but I call it an "opportunity.") We’re not even very subtle about it with this bailout. Those victimized by the various financial schemes will get little more than some trickle-down, if they’re lucky. But they don’t really have a viable set of leaders or way of protesting. I love this system!
Yes, we suffered an embarrassing defeat when the hot-under-the-collar Republicans in the House turned down our bill, but we turned it around four days later. However, the damage was done, not the least being that the huge fissures in the Republican party were brought to the surface, and none of our actions reflected well on our candidate and party. As a result of that and his own ineffective grandstanding, McCain is tanking steadily in the polls.
The saving grace is that when Obama takes over in January, he’s going to have to deal with the two biggest messes in modern American history, courtesy of us Republicans: the Iraq quagmire and a thoroughly depressed economy. There’s no way Obama can do anything more than simply tread water in that roiling ocean. Sorry, Barack. Hee, hee, hee. He won’t have any money to implement his liberal reforms and initiatives, so the public will get fed up with him and the Democrat party early and return Republicans to power in 2010 in Congress and 2012 in the White House.
I don’t envy Obama’s Herculean tasks. And he won’t be able to talk his way out of any of those messes with high-flown oratory. He’s stuck in our Republican molasses. For the sake of the country, I hope he can keep the situation relatively stable and that things won’t get much worse, or else the anger and hopelessness may well spill over into calls for revolution. FDR had to face many of the same problems in the 1930s, but I don’t think Obama has the experience and political smarts to be another FDR.
…We’ve got two immediate problems to deal with in the bailout:
Number One: While we are getting our rescue infrastructure up and running, the rescue operation won’t really kick in for another couple of months; the cash (and then freed-up credit) won’t even start flowing until next year. During that lag-time, the credit squeeze will get worse, not better. Already two of our largest states, California and Massachusetts, have announced that they need many billions of dollars in bridge loans just to get by until anticipated tax revenues arrive next year. And there are a dozen other states lined up right behind those two.
Number Two: We really don’t know if our plan will work. What if we buy up all this toxic paper (assuming they want us to take it off their hands) and we pay the wrong price and lose most of it or can’t unload it to buyers? It’s mainly my plan and even I’m not sure it will do what we hope it will do. That’s what keeps me up at night. Figure of speech. I’ve got mine, Jack, and I sleep just fine.
We made all sorts of concessions to get the damn bill passed, including strong regulation of the financial markets, and had to add $150 billion of this "Monopoly" money for local pork projects to buy the votes we needed. We’re in hock up to our eyeballs and beyond. Who knows? The economic situation may get so desperate, just to survive we may wind up selling key parts of the American economy to the Chinese. As Tiny Tim would have said: "God help us, everyone."