Thursday, October 16, 2008


Watch the clip below, particularly the first half. This is what John McCain was trying for last night, and he just can't get there. What's more, he doesn't understand that he can't.

I was no fan of Reagan's politics or his style, but Reagan could express utter contempt for an opponent while (to most voters, at least) seeming genial and friendly. It was a gift -- a rather deceitful gift -- and John McCain doesn't have it:

Yeah, it's the famous "There you go again" moment. It's patronizing, but he gets away with it, because of the tone (more in sorrow than in anger) and the body language and smile (hey, Jimmy, I'm your pal, but I've just gotta tell you this). It's merely acting, but it works.

Ultimately, it's Reagan conveying a sense that he doesn't feel threatened, and therefore doesn't seem hostile, even in this setting, which is potentially unfriendly to him. McCain can pull off that not-threatened, non-threatening razzing to some extent when he's in an overwhelmingly pro-McCain crowd (I actually think his "You big dummy, you're drafted" moment earlier this year seemed fairly genial) -- but in a debate McCain just gets his back up. And it's not pretty.

(By the way, notice the subject of the exchange above -- national health insurance. Same problems we're discussing now, same recitation from Carter of the likely benefits from covering more people. But Carter's plan was explicitly universal coverage; alas, Obama feels he can't go that far. And if you want to read about what Reagan really supported in the early 1960s, go here and read about the Kerr-McGee Kerr-Mills law, which wasn't a substitute for Medicare at all.)

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