Reaction: David Brooks on the Education of John McCain

David Brooks writes a sad tale this morning. One of a noble man, a brave public servant who has tirelessly spent his career bucking the washington trends to pass sensible legislation and work in a bipartisan way. That same man is now a victim of the media, the GOP political machine, and his desperate need to win. 

That man, of course, is John McCain. Of course, this column is really nothing more than a long winded excuse piece for why a politician Brooks has admired so much has stooped so low in this general election. The cause, of course, is the media:

McCain started out with the same sort of kibitzing campaign style that he used to woo the press back in 2000. It didn’t work. This time there were too many cameras around and too many 25-year-old reporters and producers seizing on every odd comment to set off little blog scandals.

In other words, McCain’s rambling when watched closely sounded a little odd to a sea of bloggers covering both sides of this campaign. McCain likes to talk from the gut, and like a certain texan we all know, that can get you in trouble. 

McCain started his general-election campaign in poverty-stricken areas of the South and Midwest. He went through towns where most Republicans fear to tread and said things most wouldn’t say. It didn’t work. The poverty tour got very little coverage on the network news. McCain and his advisers realized the only way they could get TV attention was by talking about the subject that interested reporters most: Barack Obama.

Perhaps McCain’s attempts at everyman status were slightly squashed by the policy positions he has so strictly adhered to. Perhaps the idea of maintaining low taxes despite a ballooning deficit, two wars, and growing national poverty doesn’t scan particularly well with visiting the poor. Perhaps we’ve been sold “compassionate conservatism” once, and we’re not buying again. 

Brooks goes on to make good points about McCain’s offer to do joint town halls. I am still deeply dissappointed in Obama’s ultimate rejection of them. McCain might have looked better in those events, but if you’re not willing to play on the other guy’s court sometimes, you’re not much of a player. 

But then of course we fall back on the old media excuse:

The man who lampooned the Message of the Week is now relentlessly on message (as observers of his fine performance at Saddleback Church can attest). The man who hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans now attacks Obama daily. It is the only way he can get the networks to pay attention.

Perhaps McCain has only one winning message, tear Obama down. The real trouble for John McCain is that if he runs a post-partisan campaign, acting more true to his own style, then he will alienate his base. The maverick can’t stray too far off GOP message, or the base will pummel him. Rumors of his even considering a pro-choice VP created a wave of resentment. And so he is stuck fighting the GOP hardline on policy. That policy, it turns out isn’t so very popular with the American people. Unable to be the maverick and unable to be the GOP strong man, McCain is left to run an ugly, conventional campaign. 

I believe McCain is a good man with a strong record. He seems desperate to do whatever he needs to win this time. But at what cost to his character? The John McCain America knows and loves would never let anyone make these excuses for a politician, especially not for John McCain.

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