Thursday, December 25, 2008

Is John McCain still calling the shots?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on September 25th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

As you read this I am probably either getting ready to catch a plane or flying over the Atlantic on my return home to Ireland from the states. But before I leave I want to finish my discussion of John McCain’s sudden change in campaign strategy as well as his decision to embrace the same negative political attack advertising tactics President Bush and his chief advisor Karl Rove used so effectively against John McCain back in 2000.
A few months ago John McCain’s campaign events were free-wheeling and fairly entertaining affairs characterized by McCain answering questions from voters and making humorous wise-cracking remarks to audiences of interested and or undecided voters in the “town hall” format he is most comfortable with. McCain would also answer any and all questions from the TV and newspaper journalists covering his campaign from his couch at the back of his bus or the front of his plane while traveling between events.
But during the last three months it has become very evident that former Bush campaign advisor Steve Schmidt is now the man calling the shots for the McCain campaign, not McCain the Presidential candidate. Now there are two drawn curtains separating McCain from the news media on his plane and the couch is used as a repository for newspapers instead of being a seat for McCain to use when he chats with reporters. That’s because the chats reporters used to have with McCain aboard McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” bus and his jet “Straight Talk Air” are now a thing of the past.
This is the same Senator John McCain who has repeatedly promised that, unlike President Bush, if he was the President he would have press conferences every week. Hmmm. One has to wonder then why Presidential candidate McCain has not seen fit to hold a press conference since early August. The town hall meetings McCain favors have also changed from campaign events open to all interested voters into “invitation only” affairs with an audience consisting of friendly supporters rather than undecided voters.
The same John McCain, who used to roll his eyes when he was asked about the sound bite advertising and attack ads used by President Bush and other politicians, now delivers sound bite attacks on Senator Obama every time he is given the opportunity to speak into a microphone. Furthermore, McCain’s TV ads have already been criticized by non-partisan watchdog groups for their mischaracterizations of Senator Obama’s positions and lack of truthfulness. One example of this was a McCain ad accusing Obama of voting for legislation that would have led to teaching sex education to five year old children while he was serving as an Illinois state legislator.
The John McCain who once opposed opening up more of the United States’ territorial waters to off shore drilling for oil and gas now leads his supporters in chants of “Drill, Baby. Drill” at his campaign events. As for the John McCain who has sponsored legislation on campaign finance reforms, he has apparently been replaced by a team of Bush advisors who are exploiting legal loopholes to raise money in ways that circumvent the intent of John McCain’s own campaign finance reform laws.
The John McCain of September 2008, who for years was reticent to discuss his time in captivity as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war (POW), now finds a way to weave his experiences as a POW into his responses to virtually all questions. McCain’s nationally televised interview with Reverend Rick Warren last month was a prime example of this new campaign tactic in action as were the speeches given by McCain’s cohorts at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota two weeks later.
But it seems to me that the real reason John McCain and his minions want to remind voters that he suffered for more than five years in the Hanoi Hilton, is that they think doing so might make people feel guilty if they are contemplating voting for his opponent. Indeed, McCain doesn’t want voters to consider where he stands on the issues which divide our nation because he is on the wrong side of them. McCain wants people to vote for him because they “owe it to him” since he once suffered for them as a POW.
Will McCain’s new campaign strategy and tactics work? Will they be enough to get him elected President on 4 November? While I could be wrong, I believe they will not be enough to win the election for McCain on 4 November. Granted these are tried and true strategies and tactics that Republicans have successfully used in past elections and they have already allowed McCain to close the gap between him and Barack Obama which had once existed in most national polls.
Indeed, McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate has energized the social conservatives who had previously been lukewarm to McCain’s presidential aspirations. Cutting off media access to McCain and not allowing journalists to question Sarah Palin has also made it difficult for the news media to make either one of them accountable for their scurrilous attacks on Senator Obama’s record or distortions of their own positions on any number of issues. I just don’t think these tactics will hold up over the long term because I think the American voter is smart enough to figure this out before they cast their presidential ballots less than forty five days from now.
You see despite McCain’s attempts to recast himself as a “change” candidate by selecting a white working mother as his Vice President, I think American voters will eventually see the pick of Palin for what it is; the act of a politician who will do or say anything to get himself elected. Once they do, these voters will then stop and ask themselves if this is really what America needs. With an economic future growing more uncertain with each passing day, I believe America will vote for change. Barack Obama embodies change. McCain doesn’t!

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