“The Martin Prince you made a deal with no longer exists!” – Martin Prince
Why is John McCain running for President? It’s a deceptively tricky question. We know why Barack Obama is running for President, he wants to end the Iraq War and repair the damage Bush the Younger has done to the federal government. We know why George W. Bush ran for President in 2000, he wanted spend the budget surplus on tax cuts. We know why Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, he wanted to get the economy going.
By contrast, we’re still not sure why Bob Dole ran for president in 1996, something about not liking Bill Clinton and it being his turn. Substituting Bush the Younger for Bill Clinton John Kerry ran for pretty much the same reasons in 2004 as Dole did in 1996. Al Gore ran for President because he was Bill Clinton’s Vice President but he never articulated much of a reason beyond keeping the White House Blue.
So, why is John McCain running for President? Because he wants to keep the White House Red and he wants to keep the Iraq War going. If there’s more to it than that he hasn’t done much of a job explaining it. Eight years ago John McCain ran for President, he did it because he thought Bush’s tax cuts were irresponsible and he didn’t think much of Bush personally. After Bush the Younger was in office McCain spent the next couple of years sulking, apparently very publicly. He flirted with becoming a Democrat in 2001 and did nothing to tamp down rampant speculation that he might be John Kerry’s running mate on some kind of half assed national unity ticket in 2004. After that election McCain sold himself down the river and began positioning himself for 2008.
Unfortunately for him 2004 was a very bad moment to begin a political realignment. At the time there were loud whispers of a “permanent Republican majority” and George W. Bush ruled the world. Those frightening notions have since been proved the height of foolishness but McCain’s journey was already underway. He cozied up to the right wingers who had previously despised him. He wrapped both arms around the War on Terror and George W. Bush. Now, eight years after he first set his sights on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he is his party’s standard bearer. He is their champion. And his timing couldn’t be worse.
All of this was on display earlier this week when McCain went on The Daily Show. The first part of the interview is McCain at his best. Jon Stewart, like many other media titans, has made a lot of bread off McCain in the past and McCain is comfortable with the format. They’re horsing around, joking about McCain having Secret Service protection now, quoting Chairman Mao and generally doing what talk show hosts and guests do. As they go to commercial Stewart says, “When we come back, you and I, pleasantries over; we enter the Octagon.”
You couldn’t sum it up any better. McCain is no longer a fun talk show host who can get away with saying unorthodox things because he’s a Senator for Life. Now he is a candidate for the presidency and the horseplay he’s so good at gets put away. The second segment of the interview starts with Stewart bringing up McCain’s tortured relationship with Bush the Younger and gets worse from there. Despite Stewart giving him plenty of opportunities to get out of it, McCain sticks by his slimy assertion that Hamas wants Barack Obama to be President. He repeats a macho-tough-guy talking point, that even he doesn’t seem to quite believe, about him being terrorists’ “worst nightmare”. And he finishes it off with a joking reference to The Office that’s literally scripted.
The likable McCain, the one from eight years ago who wasn’t a Republican robot, the one in whom independents and even Democrats found a lot to admire, is on display in the first segment. But that is not the McCain who is now running for President. That McCain is the one in the second Daily Show segment, the one who implies that Obama is a terrorist, who reads jokes he doesn’t understand off of index cards, whose only response to questions about Bush the Younger is to pretend to walk off stage.
That is the John McCain that Barack Obama is running against. That is the John McCain who will soon find his media friends turning on him. That is the John McCain of 2008. It is a sad transformation, but he has a lot of company. John McCain may be the last person ruined by George W. Bush. Let’s hope so.
Note: I am/have been traveling this weekend. I thought I’d try the new delayed posting feature on WordPress. If I haven’t screwed it up, then this post went up automatically at 6:00 am on Sunday. If I have screwed it up, then this post went up around 11:00 pm on Sunday when I got home and saw that it hadn’t updated.