Monday, April 7, 2008

McCain is No Ronald Reagan

McCain-Watch: the ongoing saga of McCain and the Media's Mancrush. (Another Media and McCain Mancrush Mash-up Moment...)

I've been looking for a way to try to explain this, but it wasn't until I saw this article at The Washington Independent that I knew what to do. Holly Yeager hasn't gotten the memo--you're supposed to fall all over yourself in the grips of a twitching mancrush.

The Washington Independent is becoming a favorite source of good material--Check them out. They're better than the Huffington Post, they have good substantive stories every day, and they don't fall into the trap of throwing celebrity driven bullshit on their front page to grab readers, if you want me to be honest about it.

Anyway, Yeager puts together a good story about McCain by using multiple sources, positive and negative quotes, positive and negative points, and you know, some basic analysis. Analysis that seems independent to me. Yeager didn't get the memo that you're supposed to sit there enraptured, make shit up when you get to the deadline, and then turn on anyone who criticizes McCain like someone just took your cookie at the kindergarten table.

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in all but name, has spent this week on an autobiographical road trip, seeking to pull attention from the still combative Democratic contest by highlighting important places in his remarkable life story. But if the “Service to America Tour” has shown the strength of McCain’s biography, it has also underscored his real weakness as a speech-maker.

We’re talking style here, not substance. But in oratory, this is not a minor detail. In formal speeches – like those delivered this week at his Alexandria, Va., high school and at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1958, despite what he called "an impressive catalogue of demerits" – McCain (R-Ariz.) appears dependent on a teleprompter, delivering even the most personal passages with an odd detachment. In his telling, his difficult five-and-a-half years as Vietnam prisoner of war might have happened to someone else.

His flat delivery often makes him seem bored with his own stories -- as he did Tuesday, when he told a crowd of current students at his alma mater, “Memory often accords our high school years the distinction of being among the happiest of our lives. I remember Episcopal in that light.”

Yeager points to something else I can't understand--this idea that a graduate of the Naval Academy should boast about being a jackass who couldn't behave or do well in school. That was a free education you got, Senator. It was handed to you instead of some other kid because of your blood line, not your brains. Why not show a touch of humility about not being able to act like a mature adult when you were given four years of a free education tens of thousands of more deserving kids couldn't get because their father and grandfather weren't Admirals? Typically, when daddy gets you into school, you act like a jackass because you have a sense of entitlement. Not that that hasn't already backfired on us, right?

McCain seems to do better when people ask him questions--albeit, they'd better not be critical of anything McCain has ever said or done:

But Medhurst, Trent, and other analysts agree that McCain does have one strong suit: the question-and-answer session.

David Kusnet, chief speech writer for Bill Clinton during the 1992 campaign and the first two years of the administration, called McCain “almost a mirror image of Ronald Reagan.” Reagan excelled at formal speeches. “But you wouldn’t want to have him do a town hall meeting,” Kusnet said. “He would get his facts wrong, or start repeating himself.”

“McCain is the opposite,” Kusnet said. “He’s not good at reading a speech, especially with a teleprompter. But he is good at a town hall meeting.”

McCain has often relied on that format, conducting more than 100 town hall meetings before the 2000 New Hampshire primary, in which he defeated George W. Bush, and at least 100 more in the state in the run-up to this year’s primary, which ended in his comeback victory.

“He’s not afraid of it and he’s willing to take all comers,” Medhurst said. “It sort of fits his personality.”

That confidence was on display at his old high school. After his formal remarks were done, McCain opened the floor to questions. “It can be about anything that’s on your mind,” McCain said. “Most anything that’s on your mind.”

The shift in format instantly set him at ease. McCain moved around the gym floor, leaning on the podium and holding his microphone with the breezy confidence of a Las Vegas lounge act. Freed from the teleprompter, he made eye contact with the crowd, talked comfortably about his high school wrestling record – “I won more than I lost” – and, after describing an unexpected victory, quoted ESPN’s Chris Berman: “That’s why you play the game.”

McCain’s campaign is expected to continue to use the town hall format as the campaign progresses. Obama, whose rhetorical prowess has been at the heart of his campaign, is also now using the setting more frequently -- recognizing that voters value the more relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to move from lofty ideas to bread and butter discussions.

Aside from calling a questioner a "stupid little jerk" and thereby alienating the youth vote, I would agree with that. Questioners tend to fawn all over McCain like the media does. When he's being fawned over by an adoring questioner, McCain shines brightly.

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