Six months ago, amid the wreckage of the Bush presidency, a Democratic victory appeared inevitable. Then the Republicans nominated an extremely white 72-year-old dude who can't keep Sunni and Shiite straight, knows less about economics than my spaniel Buffy and is considered unfit for the presidency by many in his own party. The Washington Post recently quoted high-ranking Republicans saying that Sen. John McCain’s screaming temper tantrums and propensity for holding grudges make him a poor choice. McCain’s the ideal GOP candidate for the influential white-sorehead demographic. The so-called straighttalking-maverick-war-hero also happens to be much beloved by Beltway media courtiers, largely because he feeds them donuts and tells them funny stories about his youthful pursuit of Brazilian strippers. Both Democrats handle reporters as gingerly as poisonous reptiles. Hence, what ought to be the proverbial "lay-down hand" for Democrats now looks chancy. (my emphasis)
My usual phrase for "white-sorehead demographic" is the "whiny white guy vote". But Lyons' phrase is more gender-inclusive.
But we shouldn't forget that given the broad-based adoration for him among the press corps, that McCain will be able to come off as a Maverick to some swing voters unless the Democrats counter the media and the Republicans effectively.
Check out the transcript of the bold Maverick's interview last weekend on ABC's This Week, Transcript of McCain on ABC’s "This Week" 04/30/08. (Why I couldn't find the transcript at the This Week Web site after 15 minutes of searching is one of those many tiny mysteries we experience daily.) This excerpt caught my attention in particular:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But we’re not going to have a balanced budget before you leave office in your first term?
MCCAIN: Well, that still should be a goal, but the goal — the goal right now is to get the economy going again.
Here’s $100 billion right here for you, George. Two years in a row, last two years, the president of the United States has signed in a law, two big-spending, pork-barrel-laden bills worth $35 billion. That increases the budget, the baseline of the budget. In the years before that, $65 billion. You do away with those, there’s $100 billion right there, before you look at any agency of government.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let’s talk about that, then.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Because you have $300 billion a year in tax cuts, by your count, $200 billion a year in spending restraints by your count. So I think it’s hard to see how you’re going to get…
MCCAIN: At least.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... to a balanced budget in four years. But first ...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... let me just follow up on that. You talk about earmarks…
MCCAIN: Could I just finish my thought? You scrub every agency of government, is there any American that doesn’t believe that there's tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars that can be saved? I saved the taxpayers $6 billion all by myself — well, with a little help from my friends — in the $6 billion on a bogus Air Force tanker deal.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about that, though. You claim ...
MCCAIN: There’s hundreds of billions that can be saved, and Americans know that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you only claim $60 billion a year from your earmark reforms. Every other…
MCCAIN: It will be $100 billion when you look at $35 billion in the last two years and $65 billion in the years before that, and…
STEPHANOPOULOS: But sir, let me finish the point ...
MCCAIN: OK, sure.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Every other estimate I’ve seen says that the earmarks are about $18 or $20 billion a year. To get to the $60 you’re talking about — that includes an earmark like the aid to Israel, $2 billion a year, $1 billion a year for military housing. You’re not going to cut those.
MCCAIN: I’m going to cut at least that — look ...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you cutting aid to Israel?
MCCAIN: Of course not. I’m not cutting ...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you cutting military housing?
MCCAIN: No, of course not. I am cutting billions and billions out of defense spending which are not earmarks. The $400 million ship that they had to scrap that was supposed to cost $140 million. The $30 billion, I believe it is, add-on for a system in the Army that’s going up $30 billion and we still haven’t got any result from it. The $50 million contract to some buddy of Air Force generals. I mean, there are so many billions out there just in defense ...
STEPHANOPOULOS: To hit your number, you say $160 billion in discretionary spending. The entire non-defense discretionary budget is $500 billion a year. That means you’re talking about a 30 percent cut in every program. Education, veterans benefits ...
MCCAIN: I’m talking about looking at every institution of government ...
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you’re prepared to (inaudible)?
MCCAIN: I’m talking about changing the way we do business in Washington.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But are you prepared to cut 30 percent?
MCCAIN: I am here (ph) to cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of wasteful and unnecessary spending in America, whether they be ethanol subsidies, whether they be sugar price supports, whether they be payments to the wealthiest farmers, whether they be the loopholes that are out there worth I don’t know how many billions and billions of dollars.
I guess my critics — and frankly from the tone of your question, from the tone of your questions — think we’re going to do business as usual in Washington. We’re not.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator ...
MCCAIN: I’m their worst nightmare. I’m their worst nightmare, my friend.
Yeah, it's the same old conservative standard, claiming we can save billions and billions and billions by cutting "waste and fraud" or the like.
But here's McCain declaring that he's going to cut unnecessary spending out of the Pentagon. McCain could turn this into an opening that could help him pass off his militaristic foreign policy during the campaign as something more moderate and "maverick".
Because the Dems, still fearing the accusation that they are "anti-military", are bending over backwards to find ways to say they'll provide more of this and more of that to restore the military to full readiness, etc. I can picture a debate in the fall where McCain is talking about these kinds of cuts while Obama or Clinton will say only that they are going to add troops and spend more money on this or that pet military project. Independent voters, real swing voters I mean, could come away from a scene like that with the idea that McCain is really more moderate than his Iraq War policy may sound. And we have to remember in the entire campaign, much of the mainstream media will be looking for things like this to explain the Great American's "maverick" status, because that's a central part of their script for "the war hero".
The Democrats will be passing up a big opportunity if they listen to their conventional-minded consultants and de-emphasize the Iraq War as a campaign issue. Because the continuation of the Cheney-Bush policy for which McCain stands is highly unpopular. But the media aren't going to do the Dems' work for them on this issue. They themselves will have to hang that albatross around the bold Maverick's neck.
Particularly given the media's continuing train wreck on reporting the Iraq War, McCain may also be able to convince a lot of independent voters to give him the benefit of the doubt on the Iraq War with pitches like this:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve defined success in Iraq as a “generally peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state. That is a very, very tall order. And we’ve seen how much difficulty the Iraqi leaders have had coming together.
Doesn’t that mean that U.S. troops are being held hostage to decisions of Iraqi leaders, under your standard?
MCCAIN: No, I don’t think so at all. And I’m very pleased at the overall progress that’s been made since we started the surge.
I know Americans are frustrated and saddened by the sacrifice that’s been made. I was frustrated for nearly four years as I fought against the Rumsfeld strategy, and the president’s strategy in Iraq.
This new strategy, the tactic and the surge is working. The Maliki government has made progress. A lot more needs to be done. We’re going to work on some prisoner releases. We’re going to continue to fight the battle of Mosul, where Al Qaida is still holding out.
In Basra, the bad news is that they’ve had very big problems in Basra. They have regained control of the Port of Basra.
The Maverick is practicing the opposite of "straight talk" when he gives these kinds of spiels. But the Democrats will have to call him out on it. Because some of this stuff will sound persuasive to many swing voters.