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Tonight's Debate and Enough With Mr. Nice Senator

8:10 PM, Oct 15, 2008 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Raleigh, N.C.- As a fellow Washington veteran running up against a young, fairly inexperienced candidate in a surprisingly close race, I thought Sen. Elizabeth Dole might have some perspective on what John McCain can do to change the game tonight.

"I think he's probably got to be a little more forceful, aggressive, and passionate," she said, but declined to say on which points, except that she thinks the experience message remains important. "The most important job of the President of the United States is serving as Commander-In-Chief. There's just no question that that kind of experience matters."

Everyone's trying to answer that question today, except for Ana Marie Cox and Tucker Carlson, who have both rightly observed that any attempt by McCain to regain the momentum in this race would be self-evidently racist:

Ana Marie Cox: This is the $55 million dollar question. ($55M being about what McCain has left to spend on the campaign.) I am not sure if there's anything McCain can do to leverage a good debate performance into come-from-behind momentum. At best, he could change the narrative or make news (which doesn't necessarily change the narrative). I think his best bet is to somehow highlight one of the areas of nagging concern about Obama that will resonate even with those that like him: His arrogance or presumption, his apparent ease with power.

But of course that would be racist.

Tucker Carlson: I agree with Ana on both points: There's virtually nothing McCain can do to change what seems like the inevitable course of the election. Debates are always oversold as decisive moments, I think. Plus, at this point it would be racist for McCain even to try to win the election.

Only Obama can stop his own campagin at this point.

A couple of things I'd like to hear from a newly "forceful, aggressive, passionate" McCain tonight:

1) Push-back on Fannie and Freddie and the causal myth of "deregulation." Honest reporters and McCain's limited discussion of Democrats' complicity in the mortgage crisis have reached voters here in North Carolina, judging by the discussions I hear in bars, restaurants, and campaign events. Not surprisingly, the results of such an attack would likely be very good for McCain.

Beyond Fannie and Freddie, though, McCain should channel his inner Milton Friedman to fight back explicitly against the idea that it was deregulation that caused the crisis. Try these facts on for size, about who bought toxic assets and who did not:

Who were the purchasers? They were by no means unregulated. U.S. investment banks, regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, bought piles of toxic waste. U.S. commercial banks, regulated by several agencies, including the Fed, also devoured large quantities. European banks, which faced a different and supposedly more up-to-date supervisory scheme, turn out to have been just as rash. By contrast, lightly regulated hedge funds resisted buying toxic waste for the most part -- though they are now vulnerable to the broader credit crunch because they operate with borrowed money.

Or, the more sound bite friendly: "There's been deregulation in our economy over the last decades, but none of it has been in the financial sector. Furthermore, while I was sponsoring bills and speaking on the floor about the very kind of regulation of Freddie and Fannie that might have made a difference in this disaster, you were silent in the Senate, as you have often been on important issues that require going against your party or their cash cows."