Campaigns look to historical parallels for comfort and guidance. Barack Obama hoped to run as Jimmy Carter in '76. John McCain's best-case scenario was from the same election: He needed to run as Gerald Ford-plus, eking out a win where Ford's late surge fell short.
But the way this race has turned out, the McCain campaign's real parallel might be the Book of Job.
Job, you'll recall, was a prosperous, pious man whose faith God tested with various unjust afflictions and calamities. McCain had been a (politically) prosperous man whose good fortune helped him capture the Republican nomination. But since June, the fates have scorned him.
Throughout his Senate career, McCain has made a point of working with Democrats. He passed the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reforms, orchestrated the "Gang of 14" compromise on judicial nominations in 2005, and worked with Ted Kennedy on a failed immigration-reform package. For these efforts, he was roundly abused by Republicans.
Yet a few weeks into the race, it was Obama, who has never reached across the aisle on divisive issues, who was being hailed as the bipartisan uniter.
Furthermore, with one exception (Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel), no Republican in Congress had been more critical of President Bush's administration than McCain. He was the only Republican to seriously oppose Bush in 2000, and the two had never been personally close.
And yet the Obama campaign, with some success, has depicted McCain as Bush's heir. And it wasn't just Bush who was being hung around McCain's neck. In September, the Obama campaign ran ads tying McCain to Rush Limbaugh.
Limbaugh, of course, detests McCain, having said during the primaries that he would vote for Obama or Hillary Clinton before casting a ballot for the Arizona senator. McCain had always worn this scorn as a badge of honor. But now he was getting it coming and going.
By the time Hurricane Gustav forced McCain to cancel part of his national convention, it looked as though God himself really was against him.
But that was just the start of McCain's troubles. Seven weeks before the election, Lehman Brothers collapsed, setting off a financial panic that has shaken the global economy and destroyed a couple of trillion dollars of Americans' wealth. McCain was punished in the polls because people concluded, reasonably (if not quite fairly), that the party holding the presidency is responsible for the economy.
The timing of the economic catastrophe couldn't have been worse for McCain. If it had been seven weeks earlier, there would have been time for his campaign to assimilate the events and recover; seven weeks later, and it would have been a non-issue. But after simmering for six long years, the crisis manifested itself at the moment when it could do maximum political harm to McCain.
Injustice kept raining down from the heavens. Looking to further scapegoat McCain for Bush's economic mess, Obama portrayed him as a maniac for "deregulation."
In general, this charge is true of McCain and most conservatives. But in one essential failure of the subprime mess, McCain actually had been on the other side. In 2006, McCain called for the reform and regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a call resisted by Obama and the Democrats.
The final straw may have come last week, when the word terrorist could be heard among catcalls from the crowd at a McCain rally in Wisconsin. (It's not entirely clear if the malcontents were referring to Obama or his associate William Ayers.) The media had a fit, decrying the "insane rage" McCain was stoking on the right. Columnists, reporters and bloggers hyperventilated about dangerous, deranged Republicans.
This sensitivity seems somewhat selective. For the last six years, some on the left have constantly referred to President Bush as a war criminal. In 2002, a columnist for the New Statesman offered a bounty for killing Bush, the most direct of several left-wing allusions to assassination.
More recently, Madonna and Sandra Bernhard expressed hope that violence would be visited on Sarah Palin. And the son of an elected Democrat in Tennessee committed identity theft against her.
But you don't hear much fussing about the insane rage of Obama supporters. The Atlantic Monthly serenely described the crime in Tennessee as an attempt to "vet" Palin.
So McCain has had it rough - Old Testament rough. Really, all that's missing are frogs and locusts.
Of course, in the end, Job was rewarded for his steadfastness in the face of adversity. Which may be where the parallel with McCain breaks down.