It has nothing to do with his political positions (he is almost always wrong) or occasional attempts to work with Democrats to get some things done once in a while. Unlike what we have come to expect from the slash-and-burn tactics of the sad Gingrich/Bush era, that’s what people of both parties are supposed to do once in a while. It’s not even his compelling personal story as a Vietnam POW; there are hundreds of POWs who did not insist on being president because of their long ordeal.
No, the thing I liked about John McCain was his sense of humor. In staged settings with the right lines, his eyes brighten, his timing is impeccable and he manages to have just the right level of self-deprecation while maintaining a happy dignity. There are very few politicians that have (intentionally) made me laugh out loud. It’s a gift you can’t fake, and McCain had it.
But now, McCain is about as funny that other comic talent who lost it all when he sold out to the Dark Side, radio wing-nut Dennis Miller (wanna buy gold or a steel building? Dennis is your man!). McCain claimed that the ugly, childish ad trotted out by his campaign today – repeating the right-wing talking-point, mocking Obama for supposedly being messianic, complete with Heston-as-Moses parting the Red Sea – was all in some sort of twisted jest. “We were having some fun with our supporters,” said McCain. Forgetting for a moment that McCain thinks it’s OK to entertain his troops with public ridicule of his opponent (can we run footage of McCain in the Hanoi Hilton and have a narrator speculate that he was already designing his political ambitions? Would we? Of course not), what kind of “supporters” would think it’s funny? Oh, yeah, I just wrote about this messiah nonsense on Monday.
Was the other ad released this week a joke, too? You know, the one where footage of Obama’s Berlin speech (and “o-bam-a” chants not from Berlin) are intertwined with pictures of celebrity nightmares Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton. Some have speculated that the juxtaposition of the two famous white women and the famous black man is racist (like the Harold Ford ad in Tennessee); all those who think I see racism in everything Republican, please note that I do not see it here. Spears and Hilton (regardless of how Hilton gained her initial, er, notoriety) are too damaged to elude forbidden sexual energy like the “call me” model in the Ford ad. The problem with the celebrity ad is that Obama is trivalized for the sin of his own notoriety, the bulk of which he has very little to do with. It's like blaming McCain because the media (still) sucks up to him. Like he should talk.
And how about McCain being sent out by his handlers to pretend he was offended that Obama had “played the race card” by saying something innocuous he has said a dozen times about not looking like the old guys on dollar bills? Talk about a joke. But this is the game they are playing. And, contrary to his pledge to play nice and let his surrogates do the dirty work, McCain jumped in this week with both feet.
Back more than a year ago when he started running, McCain looked like he was wearing a straight jacket, literally and figuratively. Even Republicans – not known for demanding much of their candidates – didn’t like this empty shell of his former self that someone was filling with bad lines and bad ideas. He almost dropped out of the race. Then he fired everyone (well, he was broke) and went back to his instincts, becoming the GOP candidate by default out of a miserable field of hacks and losers. The hard-line Republicans gave him some slack until he became the presumptive nominee. Now, he’s back in the straight-jacket, saying things he doesn’t believe to GOP regulars he can’t stand. His sense of humor also went out the door – who can laugh when you feel that much like crying?
Although Obama’s two books have been dissected backward and forward by the media, Robert Kaiser at the Washington Post actually sat down and read all five of McCain’s “as told to” books (Obama personally wrote his), looking for clues into the “curious mind of John McCain”. Kaiser relates McCain’s back-and-forth positions on the Confederate flag flying over the statehouse in South Carolina during his 2000 campaign against Junior Bush. He was against it, then he was for it, then he admitted in his book years later that he really was against the flag flying over the SC capitol, but lied about it for the short term political advantage. Writes Kaiser:
- "I had promised to tell the truth no matter what," McCain wrote in the book. "When I broke it, I had not just been dishonest, I had been a coward, and I had severed my own interests from my country's. That was what made the lie unforgivable."
Flash forward to 2008, and here we go again. If McCain felt his soul slip into cowardice then, how do you think he feels now, as he lets his Rovian henchman talk him into personally engaging in mocking ridicule of an opponent he pretends to respect and pledged to honor during the campaign? This is one thing he can’t blame on his famous purple rage – these personal attacks he is conducting are fully scripted, poll-tested affairs. Is the presidency really worth it for him to jettison his hard-won reputation for “straight talk” (the Keating Five, notwithstanding)?
Well, there is at least one positive part of McCain stepping away from his own campaign and letting the goons fill his empty suit. Now, it doesn't matter that McCain hates Mitt Romney's guts (another reason to like him) -- New McCain can now go ahead, suck it up, and pick him for his running mate. I really hope he does -- I miss the smarmy Captain Underpants and would love to have him back on the trail, hopefully playing the Bob Dole hitman role from 1976. Now that would be funny.
But, I guess today’s reaction tells us that McCain is going to explain away his excesses in the future by saying that it was all some kind of joke. It might be to somebody, but it - and he - is not funny anymore.