Assuming we can believe the polling, if the general election were held today Barak Obama would win the electoral vote by roughly 275 to 262 (with 270 being necessary to win). It is very difficult for me to believe that such a high percentage of Americans would vote for a McCain-Palin ticket, but that’s in large measure because I sit out here on the West Coast, and California, Oregon and Washington will all go solidly for Obama.

On the brighter side, I’m writing this during what should be the height of the McCain post-convention bounce, and he still doesn’t have the votes to win.

It is clear from the process of the Palin pick, if not the pick itself, that McCain’s decision-making is terrifyingly rash. I think he would be a very dangerous president, and after eight years of George Bush, that’s hardly what we need.

My long-time fear has been that this election will come down to the debates, the problem being that I have never seen George Bush win a debate and yet he was elected (so-called) twice. Gore and Kerry both took turns plastering Dubya, and it didn’t lead either of them to the White House.

Assuming it’s a debate on the issues, I can’t see Palin holding a candle to Biden, but she only need seem passably competent to succeed. The GOP measuring stick for “how-bad-can-a-veep-be” is Dan Quayle, so Palin’s got some room.

Who knows what will happen in the presidential debates? I think for many folks the standard will be “Can I see Obama as president?” If the answer is “yes”–and it’s long been “yes” for me–then I think he’s in.

That said, the consequences of a McCain victory are only exceeded by the ramifications of an Obama loss. Let me draw the distinction more clearly: It’s bad enough that McCain would be in the White House. What is worse is what an Obama loss would mean for the nature of our political debate going forward — negative advertising is all that works and all we can expect in our politicians.

It is, by the way, the same mantra that Hillary Clinton preached during the primaries, and in many ways the Obama campaign remains a referendum on that ideal. If Obama is not elected, I don’t see how anyone could argue against negative campaigning in the future. That negative campaigning has worked in the past (especially for the Clintons) doesn’t mean it’s the only or best way to win an election, but if Obama’s positive approach fails, it’s madness to think the Democrats or Republicans will attempt anything approaching civil discourse for the foreseeable future, and that might be an even larger loss for America.