I think McCain was at his worst last night when he used lines that are sure-fire winners when thrown at a right-wing audience but which leave the rest of us cold or confused.
For example, on the Right, General Petraeus is the second coming of Robert E. Lee. To the Left, he’s a tool. To Independents, he’s some military guy they may vaguely associate with the Bush Administration, or not. To the Right, everything Petraeus says is gospel. To the Left, it’s suspect. I believe that to most Independents it’s white noise — just more of the endless bullshit about the endless war, and who knows what to believe any more?
McCain says Petraeus as if he expect the audience to genuflect at the sound of the General’s name. Memo: They ain’t genuflecting.
Also, if you were watching CNN, whenever McCain deployed the words Iraq, Petraeus, surge, victory and success together in near proximity, you saw the squiggly lines go flat. I don’t think most people bleeping care about the bleeping surge or a bleeping victory in Iraq. Iraq itself represents the Ultimate Bleepup to most people, and nothing associated with it can ever be made shiny.
And how long will it take the Right to notice that “fourth generation” wars don’t end in victory? At best, they sort of taper off into reasonably favorable conditions. Victory is obsolete. And I think many people who are not right-wing ideologues understand this on some level, even if they cannot always articulate why it is so.
The United States stayed in Vietnam way too long because our political and military leaders continued to pursue the mythical beast of victory. Some of McCain’s talk about bringing troops home with “victory and honor” could have been picked up verbatim from 1971 or so. It was dumb then; it’s insane now.
I also think McCain comes across as a dolt whenever he continues to harp on some right-wing talking point that Obama, clearly and calmly, has just demolished. For example, in both debates McCain continued to claim that Obama will raise just about everybody’s taxes, even after Obama stated and re-stated his actual tax proposals. This is an especially poor tactic (but not a strategy, Senator McCain) when the opponent standing next to you is such a likable guy. Here’s this nice fella, and that nasty McCain’s calling him a liar.
As I remember, when McCain said “Well, you know, nailing down Sen. Obama’s various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. There has been five or six of them and if you wait long enough, there will probably be another one,” the squiggly lines dropped. I bet that brings down the house at McCain rallies, but in front of a non-partisan audience a line like that is just pettiness.
Memo: Ronald Reagan is still dead. And, as more than one blogger has written today, “I knew Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt was a friend of mine, and you, Senator McCain, are no Teddy Roosevelt.”
You get a glimpse of McCain’s real problem in this post by The Weekly Standard‘s Fred Barnes:
The candidates were queried on a narrow range of foreign, economic, health care, and environmental issues–the stuff they talk about every day at rallies and fundraisers. These didn’t come close to what voters at a real town hall meeting might have asked. There was no mention of abortion, immigration, moral values, same sex marriage, guns, their role models, their view of the presidency, or their religious faith.
In other words, the questions didn’t come close to what right-wing ideologues hand-picked to fill up McCain town hall meetings might have asked. Instead, it was boring stuff about foreign, economic, health care, and environmental issues.
Barnes is right that the candidates — well, Obama anyway — address these topics in their stump speeches. However, most of the nation has not heard the stump speeches. For most voters, the debates provide the only view of the candidates outside of commercials and brief news clips they are going to get. That’s really sad, and we need to change that, but that’s how it is.
Rather than an unrehearsed town hall meeting, the Commission on Presidential Debates let NBC anchor Tom Brokaw to select the questions. The result was questions that reflected what interests an East Coast newsman. Nothing wrong with that, except this was supposed to be a town hall debate in which the concerns of average folks would be front and center. They weren’t.
Barnes might think it’s elitist of me to say this, but I don’t think Barnes would recognize the concerns of average folks if they bit his ass. In fact, polls say their priorities of concerns are pretty much inverse of what Barnes thinks they are.
Last night and this morning some on the Right lambasted McCain for not bringing up Bill Ayers or Reverent Wright or the host of other red herrings the Moosewoman has been throwing lately. But he did not, and this shows us that at least some of McCain’s handlers make occasional visits to the real world.
The base can’t get enough of Ayers and Wright. The base is more interested in Obama’s alleged Muslim-terrorist ties than in the financial crisis. The base is out of its bleeping mind. But to Americans who are not lunatics, the sleazy allegations and hate speech the McCain campaign uses to fire up the base would have been shockingly out of place in last night’s debate. Think nude
poll pole dancing at a church supper. It would have damaged McCain a lot more than Obama.
Put another way — the Right’s fantasy narratives and agenda cannot survive outside the Right’s fantasy world. Forced into a real-world context, they dissipate like smoke.