Tuesday, February 12, 2008

(Re-)Defining McCain

There is one advantage in having the Republican race be over before ours: they don't know which target to focus on, and we do. The most important thing to do right now is to define McCain before he has a chance to define himself. The Saint John media narrative that has taken hold is no more than a vague impression of fuzzy goodwill for most people; if we can create a more vivid (negative) narrative now, define him the way Dole was defined in 1996, we just might win this thing.

Off the top of my head, McCain is vulnerable to definition in several (non-exclusive) ways. In order of effectiveness, as I see it:

  • More of the Same: More Iraq, more neo-con adventurism, more fiscal irresponsibility, more government by lobbyists. To that end, this picture is worth several thousand words.

  • Flip vs. Flop: a man of no settled convictions who reverses himself as political expediency dictates. The Carpetbagger Report has an excellent list (more here); there's also a video, and another video (same attack, but from the right).

  • Crazy John: a loose cannon, reckless and impulsive, who will lead us into more crazy self-destructive wars with countries that aren't actually a threat. Think bomb-bomb-Iran; think 100 years.

  • Cranky Old John: the Bob Dole of 2008, with a nasty mean streak and an uncontrollable temper. And having himself made nasty jokes about old people, he can't well complain now that he's in a position to be the butt of them.
This is what I see as the basic framework for defining the persona of the candidate McCain. To the extent that right-wing criticism fits into this framework (as opposed to calling him insufficiently conservative), we should welcome and exploit it.

I have a feeling there's one more approach, although this one I'm less sure of (I'd be more certain if Huckabee had won Virginia): the L word. Elections in Gringolandia aren't about issues, they're about superstition: every contest is between the Lucky and the Doomed. People want to associate themselves with good fortune, and distance themselves from bad. Accordingly, there is no word more toxic in American politics than 'loser'.

McCain could be fit for the part. He lost to Bush in 2000, and was so peeved that he talked about joining the Democrats (see 'Crazy John', 'Cranky Old John'). In 2008, in a field of generally acknowledged losers, he came from behind to be the least loser of the bunch...and still couldn't seal the deal, denied majorities even after he was the presumptive nominee.

As you can see from the above, various people have painstakingly assembled the evidence against McCain. Now it's up to all of us to use it.