McCain's Delicate Dance Away From Bush

As for the divisiveness rap it has become accepted wisdom that Bush failed to live up to his "uniter not a divider" mantra. (One can argue that the Democrats were at least equally responsible for the political vitriol over the last seven years, but the public lays blame, as it does most everything else they haven't liked in the last seven years, at Bush's feet.) McCain in this regard is truly positioning himself as the anti- Bush. He has taken up the mantle of bipartisan bridge builder and promised everything from Democrats in his cabinet to question sessions with Congress.

And, of course, McCain is delighted to share the many instances in which he defied party loyalty on campaign finance reform, torture or climate change. Moreover, his entire campaign aimed at capturing independents and disaffected Democrats seems to be a refutation of the Bush-Rove theory of endlessly expanding and bolstering the Republican base.

As for the "sheltered from facts" dig, McCain again seems happy to stress that on key issues he was and continues to be a "realist." (The unspoken remainder of that label is "and not like George Bush.") After all he legitimately can claim to have been more willing to recognize bad news, advocate dismissal of Rumsfeld and urge a revision of the entire approach to Iraq. (The irony that Obama can now be accused of being willfully indifferent to political and military developments only increases the temptation to push this line of argument.)

Likewise on stem cell research, McCain candidly admitted that he changed his mind after "getting briefed by very smart people on this issue and including discussing this with Nancy Reagan."

Finally, McCain has offered an entirely different style than Bush when it comes to interacting with the media. In short, he interacts. Indeed, he won't leave the press alone and encourages access, spontaneous interaction and endless questioning which the Bush administration (and its two presidential campaigns) would never have dreamed of permitting. In part, that is driven no doubt by poor financial resources and the desire to garner as much free media as possible. But it is also pure McCain: there isn't a debate or argument he isn't ready to have. His confidence in his own ability to persuade has only been bolstered by his success in transforming Iraq policy and the resulting political dialogue.

So, to a large degree, the message of differentiation from Bush is more stark when it comes to McCain's style and personal attributes than his policy stances. Both will be needed to convince voters that he will be a different kind of president than Bush. Voters who overwhelmingly are convinced that we are "on the wrong track" will need assurance that in style and substance McCain's election will not be a Bush third term.

Can he do it? To a greater degree than anyone thought possible he's beating the generic Democrat/Republican polling and making the race "closer than it should be." He'll need to do more "not me" work if he is going to pull off an upset even greater than his and his opponent's primary wins.