The thing is, of course, that this is serious.

Colin Powell has endorsed Obama. Most tellingly he spoke of John McCain’s choice of running mate as being indicative of the Republican candidate’s lack of judgment on critical issues. Even David Letterman is on to that one. When he grilled McCain over the weekend he focussed on the Palin question. He wanted McCain to “tell him straight” that the Alaskan governor had the wherewithal to handle another 9-11 or, worse, the situation that now confronts the US and the rest of us: the combination of global economic calamity and ongoing armed struggle. McCain’s almost rote reply was that Palin had “inspired” Americans and that was what they needed most. Hardly.

Taking Palin on to the GOP ticket was a gamble, a high risk play that looked for a moment as though if had hit the right, resonating, media-arresting button. But as events have unfolded, as the sense of just how grave this moment of economic crisis might be has become clear, then the less that sort of naked political theatre has appealed. The more Obama’s candidacy has looked certain and capable of throwing the switch to presidential. these are circumstances that have enhanced even the popularity of Kevin Rudd; times in which dour, consensus-building managerialism is prized. Serious times indeed.

McCain was supposed to have been capable of carrying the Republican moderates. People like Powell were supposed to have been his natural constituency. But it was the way in which he went about broadening that support to the darker corners of the deep conservative base that has even lost him the good will of his fellow travellers. He could have gone for Huckabee, or any number of darker conservative suits. Palin was a vivid gamble. And these are not times for a president who sees that sort of risk taking as an acceptable strategic option.