Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Platoon of Coaches for McCain

Of all the contrasts between the two presidential candidates--political philosophy, age, race--the most glaring, as we saw this week, may be rhetorical.

Barack Obama is a masterful public speaker. John McCain, to put it kindly, is not.

Describing him as "a guy who has never really learned how to read a teleprompter," Gail Collins parses McCain's Tuesday night performance:

“'I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young man has bought into so many failed ideas,'” McCain said. Pause. Smile. McCain has only a couple of versions of smile. And for speeches, he tends to employ a kind of scary, humorless teeth-baring.

“'He doesn’t trust us to make decisions for ourselves and wants the government to make them for us. And that’s not change we can believe in.' Pause. Smile. It was Pavlovian, really, as if some handler had run McCain through his paces over and over, administering an electric shock each time he ended a sentence without revealing his dental work."

That is certainly why McCain's campaign has challenged Obama to appear with him at town-hall meetings, a venue in which their man can use the kind of ease and charm he was been displaying for years on the Daily Show in interviews with Jon Stewart. But even if Obama accepts, that won't, to use a hallowed Republican phrase, be a cakewalk either.

Half a century ago, when presidents started appearing on TV, Dwight Eisenhower's campaign hired the movie actor-director Robert Montgomery to coach the former General into acting like good old friendly relaxed Ike. It worked.

Since then, Washington has been overrun by media trainers to teach politicians how to maintain eye contact, use the right gestures and fake looking natural. The McCain people could use a platoon of them.

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