Maverick to maverick



Jonas Kane

As he prepares to accept the Republican nomination for president tonight, John McCain has already made two major decisions affecting his candidacy: what message to run on, and whom to choose as his running mate.

In terms of message, McCain, who is shockingly incompetent at selling his own story and merits, has launched a tumultuous fusillade of attack on Barack Obama’s experience and celebrity.

Rather than running ads based on his compelling biography or vision for the country, McCain has chosen, most prominently, to run an ad comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, with a few nonfactual tidbits about Obama’s plans thrown in for good measure.

It is an admittedly interesting strategy to attack his opponent for wanting to garner the most possible support, when he himself is of course trying to convince a majority of the country to back his candidacy. Apparently, McCain believes he can alternately label himself – a person who wants to run the most powerful country in the world – as someone who isn’t overly ambitious and wanting of popular acclaim.

But then again, the race hasn’t really been about him; it’s been about forming a cloud of doubt around the new guy, about trying to convince voters he just isn’t up to the job.

Forget McCain’s admitted economic ignorance, his newfound support for the Bush tax cuts he once could not support “in good conscience,” his claim that victory in Iraq would be “easy” and the fact that his energy policy centers around offshore drilling, which even he admits would have only “psychological” benefits. Instead, shift the focus to elements that might make people uneasy about Obama, such as his popular support from abroad or his limited amount of legislative experience. Since McCain has made inexperience his harshest critique of Obama, it might appear odd that he would, with his second major decision, choose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Prior to choosing the two-year governor of Alaska (population 670,000), McCain reportedly had only one conversation with her. Considering McCain’s age and the evolving importance of the vice president in forming policy, she certainly must have told him quite a story in that brief time to convince him she was the right person to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

That is one possibility. Maybe he just sees in Palin a like-minded ethics reformer (excluding, of course, her ongoing “troopergate” scandal) who shares his vision for offshore drilling (if not, according to a 2007 Alaska Business Monthly article, his fortitude for an infinite venture in Iraq).

Or maybe the pick really is as transparent as it looks. Maybe McCain thinks this pick is a way of saying to former Hillary Clinton voters, “I sympathize with you.”

Of course, this requires some extra forgetting, of his nonchalant response to a questioner who asked, “How do we beat the bitch?” (McCain: “That’s an excellent question”), and his joke about then first-daughter Chelsea Clinton that was so tasteless newspapers would not print it.

There is additionally the small fact that on every single issue of importance, Clinton’s positions stand in stark contrast to those of McCain – and also the fact that Clinton, despite still feeling the sting of her tough loss, has gone out of her way to vocalize her support for Obama.

Palin does not seem to mind this, already hitting the campaign trail to gush over her admiration for Clinton and to modestly claim that, although Clinton put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling (a reference to Clinton’s supporters), there’s still a chance to finish that work by electing Palin as vice president.

It’s up to voters to decide if it’s demeaning to compare her selection with Clinton’s campaign – which, love or hate Hillary, was the most successful run ever waged by a woman.

But voters can glean two important elements from the McCain story so far. First, when it comes to message, McCain cares more about diversion than direction. And two, when it comes to the person he wants standing behind him in the White House, he cares more about perception than substance.

Whether or not McCain’s sleight of hand is perceived as a serious campaign will likely decide this election.


Jonas Kane is a junior English major from Harrisburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].