Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Tom Hilton says we need to define, or redefine, John McCain for voters. I think that's an uphill climb -- he's a media star, so voters think they know him -- but, yeah, we may have to try.

Here are two ways Tom thinks we should define McCain (and I know he's far from alone in this):

* Crazy John: a loose cannon, reckless and impulsive, who will lead us into more crazy self-destructive wars with countries that aren't actually a threat. Think bomb-bomb-Iran; think 100 years.

* Cranky Old John: the Bob Dole of 2008, with a nasty mean streak and an uncontrollable temper. And having himself made nasty jokes about old people, he can't well complain now that he's in a position to be the butt of them.

But I keep thinking that "angry, cranky old John" is what he looks like only to people on the left (and right) who follow the news quite closely and who don't like him.

To most everyone else, he looks spry, witty, and genial.

Can I prove this? Not quite. But I can point you to the Forbes Tracker, which is an ongoing survey of voters' impressions of the candidates. Look at McCain's numbers: only 2% of women and 3% of men think he's "mean," while a mere 4% of women and 3% of men think he's "rude."

Now compare Hillary Clinton's numbers: 9% of women and 18% of men call her "mean," while 9% of women and 13% of men call her "rude."

Or try "creepy": 12% of women find Clinton creepy, and 20% of men. McCain's numbers are just 7% for both men and women.

Remember, John McCain is the guy who said, "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno." But only a vanishingly small percentage of the public thinks he's "mean" or "rude."


I really do think McCain comes off to a lot of people as witty, or at least amusing. Being able to crack jokes cuts against both the "angry" message (laughter is seen as the opposite of anger, even though humor is often rechanneled anger) and the "old" message (someone who seems sharp enough to crack an apparently off-the-cuff joke with reasonably competent timing seems to be well in command of his faculties).

McCain, I fear, comes off as a political Don Rickles -- an insult comic who (and I say this as someone who grew up in his heyday) is seen as not really mean-spirited at all. Hell, McCain even looks a bit like Rickles:

I'm just saying I think it's going to be hard to paint McCain as angry or old unless he has a raw YouTubed moment of rage and/or extreme forgetfulness -- or one of his jokes really, really crosses the line. If nothing like that happens, I fear his image will remain exactly the opposite of what it is among well-informed McCain skeptics.

No comments: