Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 31, 2004
POLITICS: McCain Pulls His Punches
Fine speeches last night by McCain and Giuliani, both of whom made some necessary points about the war on terror and the war in Iraq. The two speeches were a reminder that, no matter how else people may try to spin their presence at the podium, the two were there not because of their moderation on some issues but because of their star power, their obvious political talents, and most of all their unrelenting hawkishness on foreign policy. There's a reason McCain has a big speaking role at this convention and Chuck Hagel doesn't.
McCain's speech, however, was also an illustration of why he is unlikely to find success again as a presidential candidate. Once upon a time, John McCain was a brutally negative campaigner, promising an end to "the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore." Lately, though, McCain has seemed to take to heart his own crusade against negativity, alternating between cheerleading and chiding President Bush while staying mostly silent on the sins of the Democrats. McCain's prime-time slot covered the important stuff - the foreign policy stakes, the absence of sensible alternatives in Iraq, and a well-deserved potshot at Michael Moore - along with a clenched-teeth tribute to Bush's leadership. I particularly liked this one shot at the Al Gore far left: "I donít doubt the sincerity of my Democratic friends. And they should not doubt ours." (Emphasis most definitely in original).
But a convention crowd wants more: an explanation of why John Kerry's competing vision (or lack thereof) should be found wanting. McCain mostly left that to Rudy. And if he seriously wants to be president, he will have to change that. Yes, it's true that Bush himself mostly avoids the big broadsides against Democrats, but he is willing to throw the occasional punch at his opponent. If McCain isn't willing to do the same anymore, maybe he doesn't want it badly enough.