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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Fightingest Fighter Who Ever Fought a Fighting Fight

Yesterday on National Public Radio, John McCain campaign advisor Steven Schmidt explained what the candidate's problem was. "With the financial crisis, we have fallen slightly behind in this race, and we have some ground to make up," he said.

With Obama leading by a significant margin in every major poll, McCain is slightly behind in the same way that a motorcycle burns slightly less gas than an SUV. It's a little bit of an understatement.

In his defense, Schmidt's boss was a little more wide of the mark yesterday with a speech detailing how he plans to make his big comeback. It's not in the transcript, but McCain began his big comeback speech with "We’ve got them just where we want them." Schmidt's understatement seems fairly reasonable in comparison.

Writes Justin Gardner of Donklephant, "Yeah, I’m sure it was the plan all along to be 10 points behind in the national polling and on the cusp of an Obama landslide in the state polling."

What we learned about McCain's new strategy and his plans for his presidency is that he'll fight. Fight, fight, fight. Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. He's a fighter who'll fight the fightingest fighter with a fightburger and a side of fight.

"[D]oes anybody else remember somebody saying she was a 'fighter'?" Gardner asks. "Of course at that time it meant Hillary could beat McCain in the election. So what does 'fight' mean in this context? That he’s going to fight the banks back into liquidity? That he’s going to fight Iran into accepting our terms?"

In terms of what he'll fight, he gives plenty of options. John McCain -- who in the primaries previously tried to out-Reagan all the other would-be Reagans -- is a little short on optimism.

These are hard times. Our economy is in crisis. Financial markets are collapsing. Credit is drying up. Your savings are in danger. Your retirement is at risk. Jobs are disappearing. The cost of health care, your children's college, gasoline and groceries are rising all the time with no end in sight. While your most important asset -- your home -- is losing value every day.

Americans are fighting in two wars. We face many enemies in this dangerous world, and they are waiting to see if our current troubles will permanently weaken us.

"The next President won't have time to get used to the office," McCain said. "He won't have the luxury of studying up on the issues before he acts. He will have to act immediately."

Great. We've seen what happens when you act immediately, John -- choosing Sarah Palin after about five minute's thought and running off to Washington to pretend to "solve" the credit crisis come to mind. Those both blew up in your face. Besides, we've already had a Conan the Barbarian-type "deeds, not words" president and the near-consensus is that he really, really sucks. We've also had our fill of people who try to scare the pants off us with long lists of things to freak out about. You forgot the plagues of locusts and the Hunnish army massing on the northern frontier, Senator.

Is this just one more campaign reboot that's going to fall by the wayside? I don't know. It's not going to work. It's hard to see any voter out there thinking, "He's going to fight? Why, I didn't know that. McCain-Palin '08!"

But the dumbest idea is this one:

I will freeze government spending on all but the most important programs like defense, veterans care, Social Security and health care until we scrub every single government program and get rid of the ones that aren't working for the American people. And I will veto every single pork barrel bill Congresses passes.

Look, you may not like it, but government spending is a big player in the economy. That's just the way it is. The largest employer in the United States is government at all levels, from the soldier in the field to the cop on the beat, from the foreign policy wonk in the State department to the guy who mows the lawn in the park. Freezing government spending during an economic downturn is stupid beyond words. You want more money moving around out there, not less. What McCain is basically saying is "we'll strengthen the economy by pulling a whole bunch of money out of it." That'll work about as well as you'd imagine.

The McCain campaign has been trying to get us all to ask, "Who is Barack Obama?" Looking through this speech, I'm left to wonder who the hell McCain is. How many versions have we seen? When one version of McCain fails to bump him up in the polls, he debuts another. Remember when his answer to everything was "I was a POW?" Not hearing that much anymore. When that failed, he became the maverick. In the last debate, he didn't use the word "maverick" once. He then became the attack politics king, but this last speech doesn't mention William Ayers once. In fact, McCain now says he doesn't "give a damn about an old unrepentant terrorist." Now he's the guy whose answer to everything is "fight!" That attitude is what has us stuck in Iraq.

Who will John McCain become when this new fighter persona fails? Will we be treated to John the Pious? John the Diplomat? John the Green? Maybe John McCain should've decided what sort of president he was running to be before he started running to be one.

If McCain's laying out a new persona for the final debate, fighter's probably a better idea than jerk -- which has been how he's been running in recent weeks. But all of this casting around for proper branding has left him without any core to rely on and makes him look hollow and synthetic.

McCain may be "slightly" behind, but it's not because he hasn't found the right character to play. It's because he's "slightly" manufactured.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i wrote about this (not as well as you) spending freeze nuttiness after the last debate. but then HE'S nuts.
lucky he's old, short and has those stumpy little arms.
as long as he doesn't become president, he won't hurt anybody other than himself.