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McCain’s Appearance

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

The impression Senator McCain has left on me in the second and third presidential debates is that of someone old and tired, lost somewhere in the past. This isn’t a statement about his age, or his intellectual capacity. He’s clearly a vigorous guy. It’s hard to imagine how anyone endures the physical, mental, and emotional intensity of a presidential campaign. It’s more about his demeanor, his continued focus on now-tired ideas, on the trivial, on slogans, on meanness. What he says, how he carries himself, the expressions on his face all are of a piece, and not an inspiring piece.

The New Yorker’s superb writer George Packer captures some of what I’m seeing in his latest blog post:

It made me sad, watching the tight-necked, pop-eyed, clenched-jawed, eyebrows-twitching, shoulders-heaving, ghoulish-smiling, rapid-blinking John McCain go from pale to translucent as he flailed away on TV last night, to remember the man I saw at a town-hall meeting in Salem, New Hampshire, last January—years ago. Back then he was witty, he was relaxed, he was appealingly combative, he was generous. For sheer talent at engaging with voters he had it all over both Obama and Clinton. The contrast now is so severe that it makes running for President seem like a personal disaster on the scale of a prolonged nervous breakdown leading to physical and psychological ruin. This campaign has done something terrible to McCain. And it’s entirely his own fault. Character is fate.

See also the comments of The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison. Some excerpts:

McCain never made the case for himself, because he assumed that he would be the default winner once the public decided Obama was unprepared. …

What is striking about McCain’s failure is how irrational it was to approach an election this way amid conditions that everyone acknowledged to be very good for Democrats. It might make sense to coast along on biography and belittling your opponent’s readiness and depth in a year when you have the wind at your back, a coherent message and a party label that is not radioactive, but McCain had none of these advantages.

… no one put a gun to McCain’s head and demanded that he talk senselessly about earmark reform and the “surge” for half of the campaign. No one forced him to have no message beyond calls for generic reform against stereotypical corruption. The lack of policy detail, indeed lack of policy knowledge, the ad hoc, day-by-day planning, the utter disorganization in the campaign, the obsession with scoring tactical victories, and the endless sanctimony, all of which have crippled the McCain campaign’s ability to communicate a consistent, clear argument for his candidacy and build a successful “ground game,” are all reflections of who McCain is. …

Perhaps most remarkable about the attempt to potray Obama as a lightweight celebrity is how true of McCain that description now seems to be.

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