I’ve contemplated writing this post for some time, but I could think of arguments against what I wanted to say, so I put it off. In February, I wrote a post entitled Can McCain Pull It Off?, in which I asserted that John McCain could win the Presidency if he played his cards right. I said that, if he ran against Obama, he should focus on his experience and his role as a reformer. That would look good against Obama’s inexperience, as well as nullify Obama’s claim to be the candidate of “change,” since McCain himself has bucked the Washington establishment. McCain would then look like someone who could bring true reform–with the necessary experience backing him up.
You see, back then, I didn’t expect what I see today. When I was in the shower thinking about politics, I thought that the Democratic candidate (whom I imagined would be Hillary) wouldn’t be able to tie John McCain to George W. Bush, at least not successfully. After all, John McCain did so many reformer things: he sponsored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, he opposed earmarks in deed and not just word, he supported caps on CO2 emissions, he favored the importation of cheap prescription drugs, and the list goes on. I remember 2004, when John McCain was mentioned as a possible running mate for John Kerry. Imagine that! The Jib-Jab “DC-Land” cartoon says it all: McCain plays both sides in DC!
But McCain has been tied to George W. Bush and Washington-as-usual politics, and people don’t seem to remember John McCain’s status as a maverick, as someone a lot of conservatives (including myself) were suspicious of.
I was watching Bill Moyers last night. Even though I think he’s a shameless liberal who unfairly bashed Sean Hannity, I have a cozy feeling about him, probably because I liked his Joseph Campbell interviews and his series on religion and politics. He had two people on, who weren’t exactly on the right-wing of the American electorate. One of them was a woman from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Foundation, and she characterized John McCain as an actual reformer who’s gone against his own party on numerous occasions. He supported taking on HMOs with a Patients’ Bill of Rights, after all! But her speculation was that McCain has not capitalized on this because it would alienate his conservative base.
The same sorts of thoughts have gone through my mind this past couple of weeks, but I’ve been hesitant to write them because, technically-speaking, McCain has done what I said he should do: he’s mentioned his experience, and he’s discussed his role as a reformer. How many times have he and Governor Palin used the work “maverick”? But there’s a difference between saying something and truly communicating it.
Sometimes, McCain hasn’t gone into detail about his record because he assumes that everyone knows it. “Everyone knows that I’m called the sheriff,” he remarked in the first debate. But there have been times when he’s made a conscious effort to present himself as a reformer, as when he criticized Barack Obama’s support for earmarks, and contrasted his (McCain’s) opposition to the corporate welfare-laden Bush energy bill with Barack Obama’s (“that one’s”) support for it.
Maybe some of it has to do with what has become the theme of his campaign, at least over the past month. McCain has gone negative. As of late, he’s not focused as much on his experience and his record as a reformer, but on attacking Barack Obama–his cronies, his liberalism, and his connection with Ayers. I can understand why he did this. John Kerry didn’t go negative that much in 2004, and his campaign sank. When I try to imagine what it would be like if McCain hadn’t gone negative, I envision him calling himself a “maverick” in his stale mayonnaise voice, while people flock to Obama’s fresh youth and charisma. McCain has seen a need to redefine Obama–as someone who will not bring change because he’s tied to elements of a corrupt political establishment, as a person who’s further to the left than he’s letting on. But that strategy isn’t working, and it looks like desperation.
Also, his activity during the bailout crisis hurt him. I don’t think Obama shined in that moment either, but keeping a low profile ended up helping him, believe it or not. McCain thrust himself into the spotlight and claimed he’d save the economy, only to run into some pretty unruly mavericks in their own right: House conservatives. His stunt fizzled pretty fast!
His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate had a lot of strengths. She’s a compelling speaker. She’s a reformer in her own state, in that she took on her own party’s establishment. She has a unique story. She’s a gem. You don’t find too many people like her! But if only she had more executive experience. Then, the experience card would be more in the McCain camp. And she’d still be a Washington outsider, since she’s Governor of a remote state–Alaska. But McCain could only work with the cards that he’s been dealt: he thought certain strengths were worth the pick, even though there were a few glaring weaknesses.
I don’t know who’s going to win Tuesday night, since there is a lot of hatred out there towards Barack Obama. But there was a lot of hatred for Bill Clinton, and he won both times. We’ll have to see.