Don’t underestimate McCain’s ability to pander and "sympathize" Posted by: McQ
on Wednesday, January 23, 2008
A very revealing post by Matt Yglesias that gives you an idea of how he, and I'm sure others see the upcoming presidential campaign being waged. And, of course, they see McCain as the prefect opponent for what I would describe as an "I feel your pain" campaign based on emotion, hyperbole and pandering (and the economy, stupid!). It is one of the disadvantages of seeing Iraq fade as a major issue as far as John McCain is concerned.
John McCain's unquestionably a popular figure, but David Kusnet is also surely right that it's hard to see him winning in bleak economic times if he keeps talking the way he was talking at his South Carolina victory speech. There's just nothing in there whatsoever to suggest that McCain has any awareness of anyone experiencing any kind of financial difficulties. What's more, I think it'll actually be quite hard for him to pivot in a more sympathetic direction. After all, throughout all his flipping and flopping and back again of the past ten years, the "cares about people in economic pain" persona is one he's never tried on. And I think he's never tried it on because it runs contrary to his entire schtick, which is all about finding causes greater than ourselves, salvation through nationalism, etc., etc. On some emotional level, he probably thinks a woman who needs to declare bankruptcy because the racked up massive credit card bills while her uninsured husband was dying of cancer should just grin and bear it the way he did as a POW.
After what he's been through, it's probably hard to muster a ton of sympathy for workaday problems. And yet that's what politics is all about.
Is it? That's certainly the fight -mostly successful- on one side to define it that way. Somehow government is the panacea now for life and what life brings. Somehow not being sympathetic to redistributing income earned by others to those in "need" is tantamount to a secular sin. If you listened to any of the Democratic debate the other night you heard the plans. Universal health care, targeted "fiscal stimulus", fighting poverty (and the open ended spending that entails), taxing the rich, etc., ad nauseam.
Add to that particular mix the emotional arguments about the environment which will translate into more cost than probably all of those programs above as well as the pernicious and possibly devastating attacks on corporate America and you have a recipe for disaster. The probability of a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president killing (or at least severely hobbling) the engine of growth while pandering to every special interest group under their umbrella is very real. And the recession that it will push us into (after, most likely, just beginning to recover from the impending one) will, of course, be blamed on the "bad economic shape" in which the previous administration left the country.
But back to McCain. I think Yglesias totally underestimates him. Again, I'm absolutely not a McCain fan, but this is a politician who is as adept at changing his "schtick" as any out there. I watched him - when questioned about whether he thought that changing his position on immigration helped him in SC - look straight in the camera and claim he hadn't changed his position on immigration. Of course, that's a load of crap.
And McCain can pander with the best of them, despite his claims that he hasn't brought home any "pork" to his state. Pork is a very minor part of the problem. He can and has backed major legislation which has spent exponentially more money than all the pork out there.
McCain is as much a political chameleon as any career politician and has been able to successfully redefine himself on the fly during this campaign (as pointed out about immigration). He's still, at heart, deeply disdainful of the Constitution (McCain-Finegold and the clean government quote) and the principles of the party he supposedly represents (McCain-Kennedy, carbon-tax, voted against Bush tax cuts (even while now claiming they should be permanent)) and is not a "small-government" proponent.
So if Yglesias and the Dems think that they can out pander John McCain and paint him as unsympathetic and unwilling to engage an "I feel your pain" campaign, they haven't watched this guy work politically over the years. Right now he doesn't have too and won't, because he's engaged in trying to grab the Republican nomination. So it is tough talk and reminders about Iraq and the surge. But after that, if successful, Katy bar the door. You'll see a McCain dripping with sympathy, empathy and plans to use government to cure all problems, if he thinks that will get him elected.
And that unfortunately means that the choice in November, if McCain succeeds in capturing the Republican nomination, will be between the usual horse-drawn or rocket powered sleds to fiscal and governmental hell. Although with McCain running on the Republican side, I think the horse-drawn sled will get a V8 upgrade at the very least.
McCain is certainly a politician and bends along the way, but on Iraq he made the right call on the insurgency, earlier than just about anybody. He’s acknowledged that he’s no economist, but I still rate security as the most important issue.
On the economy, temperament, and executive experience, I think Romney gets the nod. My big worry about Giuliani is his temperament...