McCain emerges from a magic hat

At last, something we can all agree on

| It's a win-win! We can't lose! Both candidates want change!

At least that's what John McCain would like you to believe after watching his speech last night. He has waved his magic wand and tried to once again rebrand himself as a maverick out to battle the forces of corruption and self-interest.

Indeed, there was a lot to like in McCain's speech.

"We need to change the way government does almost everything.... We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington."

Who couldn't agree with that? Americans, as much as 80% of them by some polls, believe that American is on the "wrong track," and public opinion of the job Congress is doing is near the bottom of the chart.

"We [Republicans] were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us."

McCain is referring to the last great throw-the-rascals-out time when Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America swept into power, ending decades of Democratic dominance in Congress. Over time, what started as a well-intentioned aim to bring reform turned into a less-noble aim to amass and retain power.

I agree with McCain on this point, but I'm not so sure that the delegates in the convention hall do. The applause that greeted this analysis was, er how shall we say? tepid? lukewarm? perfunctory? unenthusiastic? Any synonym will do, really.

Ay, there's the rub!

Don McCain and his trusty squire (squiress?) set out to conquer Washington. But which is playing the role of Don Quixote and which Sancho Panza? And at which windmills will they tilt? to what effect?

What a curious situation! The Republicans have controlled the White House for the last eight years and for six of the last eight years they have controlled the Congress. So McCain is making an audacious claim — Republicans have to move in and clean up the mess made by ... Republicans! McCain, a 25-year incumbent in Washington, wants us to believe he is running against Washington.

And for all the bombast, McCain left undefined what "change" means to him. Sure, he said we need to "change the way government does almost everything," but any damned fool knows you can't do that all at once. So, what are his priorities? What does McCain think the three most important things are to tackle first? The speech provided no answers.

It's just like his claim that "victory" is at hand in Iraq and how the US has to achieve "victory" — except that he has never told us what he thinks that means.

When it came time to be prescriptive, tell us what changes he wanted to bring about first and why those are important, he offered up standard Republican nostrums: low taxes, opening new markets, cutting government spending, etc.

And then there's the matter of the Expectations of the right-wing branch of the Republican party. With the naming of Sarah Palin, those Expectations are really high. One of their complaints about George W Bush was that he talked a good line but didn't "walk the talk" — there was a sense among many that they had been betrayed, and they made noise about even sitting out the election if the right candidate wasn't chosen. McCain has never been the right candidate for the hard right, but Sarah Palin is. If McCain thinks he can use the right wing to get elected and then go about his business, I think he'll be sorely disappointed.

Distance

At no time was McCain's determination to separate himself from the Bush administration more in evidence than during the perfunctory acknowledgements at the beginning of his speech. George W Bush was never mentioned by name, but referred to obliquely as "the president of the United States" and was thanked only for leading the country in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. George W's father fared no better, referred to only as "the 41st president," praised for his long marriage. Indeed, the only time the word Bush escaped McCain's mouth was when he called "first lady, Laura Bush, a model of grace and kindness in public and in private."

But

By casting himself as a reformer bent upon giving Washington a make-over and positioning himself as a maverick even in his own party, McCain is trying to take away the Obama argument that McCain is just four more years of Bush. The Democrats just can't let that happen if they want to win this election. And if they can't win this election, I don't know how they'll ever be able to win another one.

Campaign tone

McCain deplored "the constant partisan rancor" that typifies Washington, and did make a classy acknowedgement of Barack Obama's achievement. On the other hand, he declared that "We'll go at it -- we'll go at it over the next two months -- you know that's the nature of this business." Apparently there will be no change there; the campaign will be business as usual. McCain can talk about bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle and changing the way Washington works, while his surrogates, supporters, and right-wing pundits will take care of savaging the opposition through mockery, half-truths, and downright lies.

C'mon McCain, show us some change!

The editorial funnies

The editorial cartoonists have already sharpened their pencils to poke fun at the Grand Old Party in revolt against itself.

Tony Auth
Tony Auth
Mike Luckovich
Mike Luckovich
Tom Toles
Tom Toles
Stuart Carlson
Stuart Carlson

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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