For the past couple of days, Team McCain and the Republicans have been whining that the Mean Ol' Left is going after poor Joe the (not-legally-licensed-but-still-handy-with-a-drain-snake) Plumber. This is, I supposed, a refreshing change from all of their whining about how the Mean Ol' Left had it in for poor Sarah Palin. Still, at this point the campaign should consider whether this compulsion to serially import new saviors is ultimately counterproductive.

Back in late summer, Senator McCain found himself languishing in Obama's shadow. What did he do? Tap the winking, nose-wrinkling, too-cute-for-color-TV Governor of Alaska to provide the electricity he and his team had failed to generate. Voila! Problem solved.

Or not. Palin's star soon dimmed (at least for those beyond the base), and going into Thursdays' debate, McCain once again found himself in need of a way to change the conversation. Enter Joe the Plumber. Whew!

Alas, like Palin, Joe could only take McCain so far, in part because (exactly like Palin) McCain wound up leaning too heavily on his savior-du-jour and in part because Joe (exactly like Palin) had been plucked from obscurity in such a rush that McCain's handlers had no time to vet him properly to determine if he was the perfect prop that he seemed. (Oops.) 

And so once again, McCain and the Republicans find themselves with little more to do but whine about how another of their celebrated figures is being unfairly savaged. But it's not the Left that is being unfair to these people. It's Team McCain. In its desperate quest to find someone--anyone--able to divert attention from the fundamental vacuity and instability of McCain's candidacy, the campaign keeps thrusting unprepared bystanders into the spotlight and expecting them to deliver the entire enterprise from failure.

Not to disparage Joe, but that's not the job of an almost plumber. It's not even the job of a first-term governor, no matter how spunky. It is the job of the nominee. But less than three weeks out, McCain is still furiously contracting out that work.

--Michelle Cottle