The fascinating thing about New York Times columnist David Brooks is his ability to faithfully serve the interests of the Republican Party while maintaining a stance of ironic detachment and independence. His column today is a small masterpiece of the genre. Entitled “The Education of McCain,” it is devoted to the story-line that the GOP candidate is deep down the same unconventional and wholly admirable man he’s always been, but who has been forced by contemporary political realities to slavishly follow the party line and personally attack Barack Obama.
Touting McCain’s “long-running rebellion against the stupidity of modern partisanship,” Brooks says there’s just no question that McCain’s current campaign rubs against his very nature:
In a thousand ways, he has tried to preserve some sense of self-respect in a sea of pandering pomposity. He’s done it through self-mockery, by talking endlessly about his own embarrassing lapses and by keeping up a running patter on the absurdity all around. He’s done it by breaking frequently from his own party to cut serious deals with people like Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. He’s done it with his own frantic and freewheeling style, which was unpredictable, untamed and, at some level, unprofessional.
But alas, alackaday, McCain had to abandon the Straight-Talk Express because of “too many 25-year-old reporters and producers seizing on every odd comment to set off little blog scandals.” And he had to run a nasty, negative campaign because “McCain and his advisers realized the only way they could get TV attention was by talking about the subject that interested reporters most: Barack Obama.”
Poor, poor John McCain, forced to behave like a regular politician, even though he’s not.
This story-line is of inestimable value to the McCain campaign, which is engaged in a high-stakes gamble that its candidate can talk out of both sides of his mouth to conservatives, who must be convinced that McCain is if anything a more principled right-winger than Bush, and to swing voters, to whom he is being marketed as a reforming centrist with no loyalty to anyone other than his country. McCain has taken this game to a new level of duplicity in recent weeks. The man who relentlessly channeled the conservative message at Saddleback Church over the weekend is hard to reconcile with the subject of his current network ad, which describes him as the “original maverick” always ready to reach across party lines to battle drug and tobacco companies and Big Oil. (This last assertion must have spawned some head-scratching or cynical belly-laughs among the oil executives who have been showering McCain with campaign contributions after his flip-flop on offshore oil drilling.)
Brooks would have us believe that all the glaring contradictions and vicious tactics characterizing the McCain campaign are just the unfortunate byproduct of our benighted political system–which, presumably, the Real McCain will deal with in office, when he’s not defeating evil somewhere overseas.
One way or another, Democrats need to take on the “Original Maverick” story-line and expose it as a deceptive and hypocritical stunt.
I think Democrats, and Obama in particular, take on the issue that has the polls solidly in McCain’s favor: Georgia, which is soon to be turned into Pakistan, or any other ‘international relations issue requiring 3AM phone calls, etc’.
I found a distinctly bothersome missed opportunity by the Obama camp when they did not call McCain on his ridiculous assertion that the Georgia issue was the most important event since the end of the Cold War (or whatever it is he said).
It could and should have been pointed out to be more bluster, more over-promising, and a huge mis-step from Mr. Commander in Chief. Too soon has the public forgotten about the Shia v. Sunni kerfuffle, and this would have been a fantastic way for Obama to point out that McCain may speak in terms of being the most experienced, but he sure doesn’t act it, no matter how many times he utters his POW status.
Additionally, with the resignation of Musharraf, look to hear lots more bloviation from McCain and the ‘dangers’ facing this world. I truly hope the Obama camp does not miss the opportunity to shape this debate in broad daylight and without reservation, demanding McCain to explain to voters just how rational this American Exceptionalism meme really is and how we got into the messes we are in. I’d specifically demand to know how he’s any different than the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Kagan/Kristol/Boot camp that has proposed us inserting our weakened selves into every international issue going forward.
Sadly, I suspect like with Georgia, it will get brushed aside and Obama will find himself on the defensive.
It’s been a while since I even considered Clinton to be the candidate to help him win. Today I can’t help but wonder if this is the only way. Seems me and David Gergen are the only folks entertaining a surprise choice.
I suppose that’s why I’m an armchair QB. 🙂
Note that David Brooks cites John Weaver, even though Weaver disagrees with him. Brooks says that McCain’s camp has been forced to talk about Obama and that Weaver is “dismayed”, but Weaver is actually dismayed that the campaign “wants to get Obama’s negatives up”.
Really .. isn’t it time that James Garner, a committed Democrat (although unfortunately recently victimized by a stroke), allowed his image and person to move forward with a “You Sir, are NO real Maverick” moment?