Sunday, March 23, 2008


Two stories today strongly suggest that John McCain plans to worry less about shoring up right-wing support and concentrate more on selling himself as only kinda-sorta Republican and really really really not like George W. Bush at all.

First, there's this front-page New York Times story, which starts out with what seem to be McCain talking points, then turns a bit skeptical. Thus, earlier on, we're told that this month's overseas trip

offered him the chance to test his hope that he could repair America's tattered reputation by shifting course on some of the policies that have alienated its allies, in areas like global warming and torture....

At several stops along the trip, Mr. McCain struck a markedly different tone from that of President Bush....

Mr. McCain spoke in Britain and France about the need to take action to reduce global warming....

He also denounced torture and repeated his call to close the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba....

But much of the rest of the article discusses the difficulty McCain faces in making the case that he's not like Bush while he's an unstinting supporter of Bush's war. McCain's insistence that Iran is aiding Al Qaeda in Iraq is also played prominently.

So this story is only a partially successful spin effort for the McCain campaign. A Politico story today about McCain's relationship with Joe Lieberman is far more of a win for the campaign -- it's almost 100% spin, disguised as journalism:

...As McCain hopes to wage a campaign that appeals to an independent-minded electorate exasperated by the Bush administration and the political status quo, Lieberman, a former Democratic vice presidential nominee, has become something of a symbolic character witness meant to testify to the Arizonan's bipartisan approach.

(See what I mean?)

...Though he had initially wanted to stay out of the 2008 presidential fray, Lieberman was swayed by a personal appeal from McCain, an aide to the Connecticut senator said....

(I don't believe for a second that Lieberman intended to stay out of this race. He might not have become the constant companion of the other candidates, but I'm certain he would have endorsed whichever of the Republican candidates won the nomination, Ron Paul excepted.)

...McCain strategists see great value in the dissident Democrat and promise that Lieberman will play a key role in the general election.

"He contradicts the DNC caricature [of McCain]," says Mark Salter, McCain’s closest aide and former chief of staff.

As Democrats seek to portray the Arizona senator as representing a third Bush term, argues Salter, Lieberman's willingness to back a Republican "exposes that for the emptiness that it is."

"It's a great story about character and courage," adds Charlie Black, another top McCain adviser, alluding to Lieberman's unlikely path from would-be Democratic vice-president to senior surrogate for the GOP standard-bearer.

"And it reinforces McCain's character and courage," he adds, hinting at the Republican's own willingness to buck his own party for principle. "[The endorsement] would not have happened for any other Republican."...

No? It wouldn't have happened for, say, Giuliani, whose line about terrorists' "war against us" Lieberman once borrowed for a Wall Street Journal op-ed? AndI'm really sick and tired of the way "courage" has been defined down by people like Black, to the point that absolutely no risk, physical or otherwise, is required for some acts to be regarded as acts of courage (usually expressions of opposition to Democrats and/or liberals).

But I'm getting away from the main point, which is that McCain clearly thinks GOP voters will be with him no mattter what, and his best strategy is to persuade centrists that he's not really a Republican. I wish I thought it wouldn't work.

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