Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Six John McCains, But No Sale

The Instant Information Age goes a step further with a retrospective about the failed McCain campaign in the New York Times Magazine next Sunday, nine days before the election and, true to the spirit of déjà vu on steroids, available online four days earlier.

Time-scrambling aside, "The Making (and Remaking) of McCain" offers a compelling inside view of how the man who might have won the presidency against Al Gore in 2000 will lose it by lurching "from tactic to tactic" this year against Barack Obama, the legacy of George W. Bush and the self he lost in the intervening eight years.

Robert Draper's report is based on talks with "a half-dozen of McCain’s senior-most advisers--most of them more than once and some of them repeatedly" as well as "midlevel advisers and to a number of former senior aides" over the past months.

The campaign, in the classic pattern of losing enterprises, burned through six different narratives about their candidate in a desperate search for a winning formula:

*The Heroic Fighter vs. the Quitters (pumping up the tentative gains of the Surge into Victory with Honor)

*Country-First Deal Maker vs. Nonpartisan Pretender (the maverick who fought his own party as opposed to the newcomer who is all rhetoric)

*Leader vs. Celebrity (to counter the success of Obama's triumphant trip to the Middle East and Europe by picturing him as a celebrity akin to Paris Hilton)

*Team of Mavericks vs. Old-Style Washington (the "Hail Mary" choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate rather than Joe Lieberman, whom he really wanted)

* John McCain vs. John McCain (going along with smears of Obama despite his own misgivings so that he "sometimes seemed to be running against not only Barack Obama but an earlier version of himself")

*The Fighter (Again) vs. the Tax-and-Spend Liberal (a "cobbled together one last narrative with less than a month to go").

All these McCains running in so many different directions make for wistful thinking about what might have been if John McCain, in true maverick style, had overridden all his advisors and campaigned as himself.

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