Those who understand American electoral politics better than I do say that a sitting administration, especially when its fate in an upcoming election looks dire, can spring an October Surprise on the country in the hopes of affecting the election outcome. On this, the last day of October, I’ve got my eyes peeled.
The Washington Post reminds us that:
Four years ago, that "surprise" was a videotaped message from terrorist Osama bin-Laden; eight years ago it was the revelation that George W. Bush had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in the 1970s.
Of course, historians are likely to say that the economic catastrophe was the administration’s October not-such-a-Surprise sprung on itself, on the campaign and on the rest of the world.
The October Surprise whispers have hinted at a nice new war, so that McCain could focus on what appears to be his one untarnished point of pride: a war record. Many anticipated from the rhetoric earlier in the campaign that something ugly was going to come down in Iran. The political changes in Israel probably ended those rumored embryonic plans. Then just on Sunday, October 26, the United States invaded Syria.
Syria? you ask. Who says?
As a news-junky who watches BBC News daily and keeps up with a few overseas online news sources, I can’t really blame any American who didn’t realize that their country was killing Syrian civilians and provoking massive anti-American demonstrations around a now-closed American embassy in Damascus. It was briefly mentioned here and there – I saw a sentence or two on CNN and on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show. In contrast, the rest of the world featured it as the top news story for at least a couple of days. The UK Guardian screamed: “Shooting first, talking later.” The Times (UK) pointed out, “Syrian Foreign Minister condemns US 'terrorist aggression'”.
If the whole country is going to ignore these provocations, then perhaps such attacks can’t be counted on to be an October Surprise. Only stuff that has a chance of changing the numbers is worthy of that title. There have been a number of nominations.
Would the tarnishing of McCain’s military record provide an October Surprise? The LA Times wrote that John McCain’s reputation as an aviator was less than sterling. Their examination of his three early crashes – often cited by pundits as proof of his resilience – is loaded with references to “mishaps,” “several errors” and “question or fault his judgment.” An investigation into one of his crashes blamed “the pilot's preoccupation in the cockpit . . . coupled with the use of a power setting too low to maintain level flight.” However, no one seems to be paying attention to these revelations, so that’s not our October Surprise.
There’s whispering in the entertainment world that the new D.L. Hughley political comedy is what Rich Noyes of WebBusters calls: “October Surprise: CNN Gives Bush-Bashing Comic His Own Show.” However, he notes the last-minute aspect to the start of the Hughley show on October 25.” That only “gives Hughley two weekends to rant about Republicans before Election Day.”
Here’s a fake commercial Hughley showed on his first installment:
Finally, one blogger’s nomination goes to the guy he called “Maverick Dad” who pulled an October Surprise on his wife right after the birth of their daughter. He snuck out and registered the child’s name as Sarah McCain Palin. The wife was expecting the agreed Ava Grace. How much of this action was a secret, a surprise?
Secretly as in, he was talking to the local newspaper about how only "some friends and family members who I have called for prayer support know at this point," but he hadn't actually told his wife yet.
Perhaps if and when the new mom pulls a Bobbitt on the proud father, we can all agree to count that as the October Surprise.