I sometimes feel a great deal of pity for John McCain. He really seems like a super guy — someone you could sit next to at a bar and toss back a few with while swapping amusing stories.
He has served in Washington during some of the most consequential times in our nation’s history and been a leader of some stature among the small group of lawmakers who appear to take a realistic view of America and her role in the world. He has supported presidents of both parties when they took this nation to war
And for a politician, he is relatively honest and doesn’t seem to be infected with the disease of greed that afflicts so many on Capitol Hill. I’m not sure about the “Straight Talk Express” being all that “straight,” but McCain has proved over the years to be governed by a set of principles and has generally stuck with them.
In short, there is much to admire in John McCain. We know his life story — his service in Vietnam and ordeal as a prisoner of war, his emotional homecoming, a divorce, a remarriage to a very attractive, very rich woman. He is, in many ways, as familiar and as comfortable as an old shoe; a reassuring presence on the national stage who no doubt would make a good president.
But in truth, it appears from where I’m sitting that history is about to deal Mr. McCain a very bad hand. John McCain has the rank misfortune of being a Republican in what almost every expert is saying will be a most Democratic of years. The public is wild for change — almost an “anything would be better than this” mentality that means the Democrats could put up a pie-eyed prostitute as a candidate and probably win.
More than 80% of the nation believes the country is headed in the “wrong direction.” Think about that for a moment. Is there anything else in the history of the United States where 80% of the people agreed about anything?
I’ll bet less than 80% of Americans like ice cream. I would wager that less than 80% of Americans like McDonalds hamburgers. And I’d bet the farm that less than 80% of Americans like old re-runs of The Carol Burnett Show even though I believe you have to be brain dead not to recognize its brilliance.
About the only thing that 80% of Americans might agree on is that they like sex. I asked Sue if she thought that was true:
ME: Hon, do you think more than 80% of Americans like sex?
SUE: (Glaring at me) What is this, a trick question?
ME: No dear, it’s just that 80% of Americans think we’re on the wrong track in this country and I was trying to think of something else 80% of Americans would agree on.
SUE: Are you talking about like, sex in general or like sex with a specific individual?
ME: Um…do I want to know the answer to that?
With so many Americans believing the country has gone off the rails, it won’t matter that John McCain is a war hero or a fine senator or a man who promises a steady hand on the tiller of the Ship of State. All that will matter is the great big Scarlett Letter “R” after his name on the ballot.
The polls don’t reflect the fact that McCain is facing a landslide loss of historic proportions. At the moment, he trails Obama nationally by only 7 points in the latest Gallup poll. But head to head polls at this point are meaningless. The undercurrents of history are revealed in what issues the American people think are most important and which party they believe is best able to deal with them.
In this, there simply is no contest. Every major poll lists the three most important issues facing Americans as the economy, Iraq, and health care. According to the latest Rasmussen survey, Americans who name the economy as the number one issue favor Obama over McCain by an astonishing 59% to 33%. Those who thought Iraq-national security was the number one issue favored McCain by an equally lopsided margin of 61% to 35%.
The problem for McCain is that twice as many people think the economy is the most important issue as opposed to national security. And voters who named health care as the number one issue favored Obama 57%-35%. In short, 55% of the public believes that the economy or health care are the most important issues and they support Obama by a two to one margin. Only 24% believe Iraq-national security is the top issue.
To make matters worse for McCain (if they could get any worse without the candidate contemplating hara kiri), a recent Pew Research Survey showed the toxicity of the Republican brand. Those identifying themselves as Democrats totaled 38% while those saying they were Republicans languished at 27%. It is the worst showing of Republican identification since 1992 when another President Bush was in office.
Finally, there are the psychological aspects of the race. Can anyone doubt by what has been written and said about this campaign on both sides that Democrats are eager, hungry, extremely well financed, and confident of victory while Republicans are dispirited, hurting for cash (at least McCain’s campaign — the national party is flush), and fearing the worst. This may be McCain’s greatest challenge as the titular head of the party; he must find a way to breathe new life into the party, get people excited about his candidacy, and motivate the legions of volunteers each campaign relies on to do the scut work necessary for victory.
In short, he must take charge of the party and make it his own — a herculean task given that hanging around his neck, dragging him down is the decidedly mixed legacy of George W. Bush – the most unpopular incumbent president in the modern history of polls.
I’m sure if McCain had his druthers, he would answer any question about Bush by saying “George who?” Even if it were possible, the Democrats will not let him get away with it. They will tie McCain to Bush using a political Gordian Knot that will make it very difficult for McCain to emerge as his own candidate. “New politics” aside, they will use the oldest tricks in the book to make people think “Bush” whenever they see or hear “McCain.
Yes, I feel sorry for John McCain. He doesn’t deserve the shellacking he is in for unless several unlikely scenarios unfold. Obama could be severely damaged by some rookie mistake or misstep. This is not likely to turn things around for McCain if only because the press seems to be in a very protective mood when it comes to Obama.
Then there’s the possibility — God forbid it — of a serious terrorist attack on American soil. Such an event would have unknown consequences for both candidates although it may change the debate in the country from one concentrating on the economy to one dealing with national security issues. Would that help McCain? A wild card to be sure.
Finally, something in Obama’s past may leap up and bite him making him so unpalatable that he would be rejected by large swaths of voters. Given the candidate’s known radical associates, on the surface this might seem possible. But if Obama’s campaign wasn’t finished following Reverend Wright’s tantrums and his subsequent actions in disowning his pastor and quitting the church, it is hard to see any other revelations making a big difference come November.
Of one thing we can be sure; John McCain won’t quit. You don’t spend 5 1/2 years in a prison camp suffering serious injuries, receiving the most brutal beatings, and emerge alive and relatively well adjusted. Some in McCain’s position gave up and died. But the Arizona senator endured and persevered.
Compared to that, losing the presidency might seem a little less important to McCain than it would to some other candidate.