June 27, 2008

Noonan: The Problem With Being McCain

Pomeroy mentioned Peggy Noonan's rise in prominence the other day so I paid attention to this post at Marbury pointing to Noonan writing in the WSJ.  After explaining that McCain is interesting only when he is being McCain and not a formalized shade of McCain, Noonan goes on to say this:
And there is another problem that is bigger than all of that, and he is going to have to think himself through it. And that is that there is a sense about his campaign that . . . John McCain has already got what he wanted, he got what he needed, which was to be top dog in the Republican Party, the party that had abused him in 2000 and cast him aside. They all bow to him now, and he doesn't need anything else. He doesn't need the presidency. He got what he wanted. So now he can coast. This is, in the deepest way, unserious. JFK had to have the presidency—he wanted that thing. Nixon had to have it too, and Reagan had to have it to institute his new way. Clinton had to have it—it was his destiny, the thing he'd wanted since he was a teenager.

The last person I can think of who gave off the vibe that he didn't have to have it was Bob Dole. Who didn't get it. And who had a similar lack of engagement in terms of policy, and philosophy, and meaning.
I saw a clip of McCain on the news last night and thought the same thing:  he's totally phoning it in, he looks incredibly bored.  Her prediction of how things will play out come November also sounds very plausible:
The campaign will grind along until a series of sharp moments. Maybe they will come in the debates. Things will move along, Mr. Obama in the lead. And then, just a few weeks out from the election, something will happen: America will look up and see the inevitability of Mr. Obama, that Mr. Obama has already been "elected," in a way, and America will say, Hey, wait a second, are we sure we want that? And it will tighten indeed.

The race has a subtext, a historic encounter between the Old America and the New, and suddenly the Old America—those who are literally old, who married a guy who fought at the Chosin Reservoir, and those not so old who yet remember, and cherish, the special glories of the Old—will rise, and join in, and make themselves heard. They will not leave without a fight.

And on that day John McCain will suddenly make it a race, as if moved by them and wanting to come through for them one last time. And then on down to the wire. And then . . .


Pomeroy Kinsey said...

I think she's absolutely right about McCain. So many people have taken McCain's side in 2000 against Bush, but honestly, I've always felt like when push came to shove, McCain just didn't seem to want it. Anyone who is in politics knows that politics is a winner-take-all tournament, and you either fight to win or you lose, and McCain with his posturing of moral superiority in politics has always smelled fishy to me. I wonder if she's not actually right and that maybe it's more to do with him, not so much wanting to be President, as to be the top dog.

I'll tell you one person who wanted it - Hilary Clinton. I respected to her tenacity and fight in this race. We could all stand to have more Hilary in our blood. And I'm not even remotely convinced that those qualities are bad for a President to have, btw - but I'll need to think about it more.

Of course, the other side of it may just be that McCain can see the writing on the wall and he is just going through the motions because he knows it's already over. I go back and forth in being a fundamentalist on this kind of thing, but Emily Oster's dad, Ray Fair, has a model that has correctly predicted most if not all the last major elections, and it's an extremely simple empirical model based mainly on economic variables. With it being a recession year, and that being the singlemost important determinant of turnover for the White House, I don't see how any REpublican could win, but especially against someone like Obama who is like a superhero practically. McCain's weak with his base, Obama's adored by his base and they're both popular among moderates. Plus, the futures have had a Democrat winning at 60% even before it was settled who that Democrat would be. So maybe he's just enjoying it while it lasts.

j said...

I think you're right it is a useful quality in a President, as long as it's paired with a dose of self-awareness that prompts you to surround yourself by people who don't just parrot you but reign you in when needed and move you towards compromise. At times Obama seems to have that character set but at others it seems his pride gets the best of him, maybe he's still learning to listen, we'll see. I still think the conventional wisdom is correct (or at least I think this is conventional wisdom, maybe it's not anymore) that the two most likely scenarios are an Obama blowout or an incredibly close vote with it going either way in the end (possibly with some dispute). I think Noonan is right on when she says that the "old guard" is going to rise up for McCain in the end (many of them motivated by less than noble principles) to try and keep Obama out of the White House and i think that group is large than people think and not nearly as "old."

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