Here is an example - I have a very good friend who I have known since I was 8. He is a self identified “republican libertarian”, one who is conservative with money and somewhat liberal on many social issues. He contributes to the republican party, and generally votes that way. Last night, he was telling me about his views, and how he thinks that John McCain represents them. After telling him that McCain is by no means a libertarian, I realized that he is one of millions of people that know a little bit about McCain and probably thinks he is middle of the road enough on most things (I bet he says the same thing about Lieberman too) and will not be convinced to not vote for McCain based on issues.
Sure, I can tell him about his stances on a number of things, and I can try to convince him that Clinton would be very similar on certain issues that appeal to him about McCain, or that both she and Obama will certainly not do the things that will be said about them by the right wing smear machine, and will also be able to accomplish the same socially liberal things that my friend wants without the horrific right wing out of touch warmongering side that McCain brings. But that won’t work - the fact is, despite all of the evidence that is out there and that I can throw back at him about McCain, I have to change the way he feels about McCain as someone who should be the leader of this country (and I would throw in “in a post 9/11 world” with just a bit of sarcasm).
Another point was made when I was talking to my good friend thereisnospoon the other day. Since the Democratic nomination is far from resolved, spoon pointed out that McCain would run to the right of Obama, and would try to make himself similar enough to Clinton so that he could win independent votes. So, at this point, without a nominee, it would be a guess as to how we would want to attack McCain specifically on his positions, although there are many many things to attack him on, issuewise.
So where am I going with this? My point here is that George W. Bush was “they guy you wanted to have a beer with”, and both Reagan and Clinton were very likable and appealed to people on a personal level. We have a tremendous opportunity to do just the opposite with McCain and brand him as someone who is neither trustworthy nor likable, and can take away much of the sympathy factor based on his war prisoner status without even mentioning his being a war prisoner. What makes this even better is that we can use the words of his own republican party colleagues, also without even making mention of his being too conservative or his positions on issues.
If we can brand McCain as “Senator Hothead”, or as “erratic”, someone who holds grudges or who is “stubborn” - those are all things that have been said about him by republicans - many who are in Congress. Of course, those are similar qualities of a certain current resident of the White House, and look at what a hotheaded, erratic, grudge holding stubborn bully who makes snap decisions has done for this country over the past 7 years.
Just under 2 weeks ago, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) said the following about McCain:
"The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Cochran said about McCain by phone. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."
Do we really want someone in the position of dealing with the increasing disaster in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan who loses his temper? Do we want a Commander in Chief who, as Senator Charles Grassley knows from personal experience, will hold a grudge and won’t talk to you for two years? Yet, that is precisely what republican Senators are saying about McCain’s character and judgment.
And who can forget that back in 2000 on the campaign trail, McCain’s sanity was and judgment was questioned by his own party. Granted, these were dirty tricks by Karl Rove in support of Bush, but they were uttered by people associated with the President and there were very few high level officials in the republican party who spoke out against this, refuted it or denounced it.
Do you think that many people know that McCain shoved a 90 year old on the Senate floor? Yes, as so wonderfully provided by Mitt Romney’s campaign, in a “scuffle” on the Senate floor in 1995:
In January 1995, McCain was midway through an opening statement at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing when chairman Strom Thurmond asked, 'Is the senator about through?' McCain glared at Thurmond, thanked him for his 'courtesy' (translation: buzz off), and continued on. McCain later confronted Thurmond on the Senate floor. A scuffle ensued, and the two didn't part friends." (Harry Jaffe, "Senator Hothead," The Washingtonian, 2/97)
Lastly (at least for now), there is the Double Talk Express - a man who can pander with the best of them and betray the so called values that make him a so called “maverick”. The Real McCain highlights many of these instances that we can pull out of our pockets to show just how untrustworthy McCain really is.
Attacking McCain will be easy. I didn’t even touch on his age or health yet, but will probably do so at some point in the near future. The point here is that people think of McCain as “reasonable” or “moderate” and they can pick out a couple of instances that back up their views. He certainly would qualify as more reasonable or moderate than say, Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter on some issues. But to really get past that - we can’t fall into the trap of debating McCain on McCain’s turf. We have to hit where it will do the most damage - and that is his likability and fitness to be Commander in Chief.
If his own party is scared of him, thinks he is erratic and a bully and a hothead, and doesn’t think he is reasonable, what does that say? This is from a party that has taken radically extreme positions on everything and think that he can’t even have the good judgment to think things through.
If his own party can’t trust him to be rational, then does America want that in someone as a leader with vision when there is so much that is on the verge of disaster?