Washington Babylon — October 27, 2008, 3:25 pm

It’s October. Where’s Our Surprise?

mccain_nose-down

Barring a complete failure of polling and political punditry (not an impossibility, of course), the outcome seems clear: Barack Obama is going to win the election. Over at FiveThirtyEight.com, John McCain’s chances of winning are rated at about three percent. “By every metric, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign appears headed for the upper deck. Polls (both national and state-by-state), organization, money, and momentum are all running strongly in Obama’s favor,” Charlie Cook wrote over the weekend. “Certainly, the 2008 presidential contest could reverse direction and result in victory for John McCain. But at this point, he would have to be the beneficiary of something quite dramatic for that to happen.”

Which leads, of course, to speculation on the legendary “October surprise.” Is one coming? Not likely. But rather than checking and rechecking the polls in battleground states, let’s take a few moments and take a look at the October surprise phenomenon.

The term “October surprise” dates to 1972, when then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger announced 12 days before the election that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam. Given that Nixon beat George McGovern by 23 percentage points and 503 electoral votes, though, it’s hard to say that Kissinger’s announcement mattered very much. Regardless, rumors of an October surprise have surfaced every four years since; and just like in 1972, it’s hard to identify a case where one truly played a decisive role.

The Wikipedia page on the topic, for example, cites two examples from the 2004 campaigns: “On October 27, the New York Times reported the disappearance of huge cache of explosives from a warehouse in Iraq,” which the Kerry campaign said was the result of mismanagement by the Bush Administration. Two days later, Al Jazeera aired a video of Osama bin Laden, which some analysts say helped George W. Bush “as it thrust the War on Terrorism back into the public eye.” Okay–but both of those stories lacked one key ingredient of a true October surprise: conspiracy. Unless you believe that the Times worked on its piece in conjunction with the Kerry campaign, or that Al Qaeda worked out its video release date with Karl Rove, neither one really holds up.

What about this year? Here are some of the last-gasp October Surprise hopes that McCain supporters cling to (and Obama’s supporters fear). Time is running out, but it’s never too late.

1. The Michelle Obama “Whitey” video

Where is it? The “whitey” rumor surfaced back in the late-Spring, when Hillary Clinton was still clinging to the faintest of hopes of winning the nomination. The story of a racist diatribe by Michelle Obama captured on videotape was spread by Larry Johnson, a former intelligence official and Clinton supporter. “Republicans who have seen the tape of Michelle Obama ranting about ‘whitey’ describe it as ‘STUNNING,’” wrote Johnson.

The story spread like wildfire across the blogosphere, even though there was never a shred of evidence that it was true, and despite the fact that the story was preposterous on its face. But there’s still hope. “If Republican poohbahs have their way the tape will remain on ice until October,” Johnson wrote at the time. “But when it comes out, Barack will be permanently branded with the Nation of Islam.”

2. War With Iran

This one has been floated for years. “It should come as no surprise if the Bush Administration undertakes a preemptive war against Iran sometime before the November election,” former Senator Gary Hart wrote back in 2006. “Were these more normal times, this would be a stunning possibility, quickly dismissed by thoughtful people as dangerous, unprovoked, and out of keeping with our national character. But we do not live in normal times.”

Certainly the possibility of war with Iran was real, but fears appear to have been overblown. With no American war flotilla spotted heading towards Tehran at this time, you can ignore this one as well.

3. The capture or killing of Osama bin Laden

This was also suggested back in 2004–the idea being that the White House knows exactly where bin Laden is and can take him out whenever it wants. The bin Laden angle gained traction again last month, when Bob Woodward told Larry King, “[T]he White House released a statement last week saying there are newly developed techniques and operations. So we’ll see. Maybe they can use it on bin Laden and, all of a sudden, the September or the October surprise is going to be the apprehension or the death of bin Laden.” I only wish the Bush Administration was this efficient and capable.

4. Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen

This also has been floated for some time, and now it seems to be picking up steam as a result of several lawsuits filed by Obama’s opponent. Among them is a case (recently dismissed in Pennsylvania) brought by attorney Phillip Berg who alleges that Obama was born in Kenya and thus ineligible for the presidency.

The ever-reliable WorldNetDaily is on the case:

In Kenya, WND was told by government authorities that all documents concerning Obama were under seal until after the U.S. presidential election on November 4.

The Obama campaign website entitled “Fight the Smears” posts a state of Hawaii “Certificate of Live Birth” which is obviously not the original birth certificate generated by the hospital where Obama reportedly was born.

The beauty of this rumor is that it will survive the election and continue to offer hope to diehards in the event of an Obama victory–perhaps we’ll see an “Impeach Obama” movement start on November 5.

But all of that aside–if you’re worried about an October surprise, don’t be. They never mattered, and they won’t matter now. Which is good; the last thing we need after the past eight years are any more surprises.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

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It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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