Thursday, September 18, 2008


Adam Nagourney of The New York Times sighs with regret over a lost love:

Senator John McCain's campaign events were once free-wheeling journeys marked by flashes of humor, candor and arch observations from the candidate about presidential politics -- and John McCain. Oh, and moments that left no doubt that Mr. McCain was not working from any script.

... Not these days. As Mr. McCain worked his way through Florida and Ohio as the Republican Party's nominee for president this week, he was a candidate transformed. The Arizona Republican unsmilingly raced through a series of relatively brief speeches, reading often from a Teleprompter, and served up a diet of the kind of sound-bite attacks that he used to dismiss with an eye-roll.

... He takes far fewer chances, meaning there are fewer risque jokes, zingers at a familiar face in the crowd, provocative observations on policy or politics, or exercises in self-derogatory humor.

And, in the privacy of the boudoir campaign plane:

... There are now not one but two firmly drawn curtains separating Mr. McCain's spacious quarters on his plane from the press corps. Left idle is the couch that was built in the front of his plane -- called "Straight Talk Air" -- to reproduce at 30,000 feet the free-wheeling chats with reporters that were the stock-in-trade on his bus; the other morning it was covered with newspapers....


We've all noticed that the press is actually criticizing the McCain campaign for lies and distortions. I think this is why: The magic is gone. McCain's no fun to have a beer with anymore, on the stump or (in particular) on the plane.

Previous GOP candidates attacked the media, but I suspect they knew enough not to alienate the media. I don't recall anyone ever writing a story like this about a Karl Rove political operation.

But Rove's protege Steve Schmidt made a calculated decision to genuinely alienate reporters, and to make McCain less "colorful." If McCain were still colorful and fun to be with, I think he could have campaigned against the media and lied to his heart's content in speeches and TV ads, with no negative repercussions.

Unfortunately, Schmidt actually seems to believe the wingnut anti-media rhetoric his side usually uses so effectively. That may turn out to be the fatal flaw of the McCain campaign.

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