“I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land. I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way.” ~John McCain
Well, you can tell I’m Conservative: I’m just now getting around to the 2008 election. Perhaps because I’m still discovering books and films about the election, and because it was formative. It was the election that brought us Socialism, a trillion-dollar deficit, and ObamaCare. And we are still living with the pain and will be for a long time, unless some genius comes along to change things.
If Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue: An American Life (2009) is her side of the story, John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s Game Change must be her handlers’ version of events. After the campaign lost, the players had to find someone to blame, so they blamed each other. Sarah wants us to believe the political advisers and handlers sabotaged her in the 2008 Presidential campaign; the handlers want us to believe Sarah went off the deep end and let them down. True: watching her self-destruct in Game Change (TV 2012) was like watching The Story of Adele H (1975), the real-life account of Victor Hugo’s daughter’s descent into madness. Yet a physician who observed her at McCain’s Arizona ranch, said he thought Sarah was doing fine for a perimenopausal woman who had recently delivered a child with Downs Syndrome, had a seventeen-year-old daughter pregnant out of wedlock, had an eighteen-year-old son serving in Iraq, was governor of a state, and was now knee-deep in a grueling Presidential campaign. Maybe he’s right. Maybe we have all been too hard on Sarah.
As much as the handlers want to fault her, to spare themselves, the truth is that the nominee is responsible for the persons he picks for his team: political advisers, handlers, and veep. And if mistakes were made in the 2008 campaign, the fault is John McCain’s. Why did he choose Steve Schmidt? Why didn’t he listen to Mark Salter? Why did he allow an unknown to be vetted in five days? Why did he think he needed a wow factor? or a female? If he wanted to win, why did he refuse negative campaigning and, at one point, even endorse his opponent?
“We want a fight, and I will fight, but we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments, I will respect him and I want—everyone to be respectful, and let’s make sure we are, because that’s the way politics should be conducted in America … I want to be President of the United States and, obviously, I don’t want Senator Obama to be. But I have to tell you: he is a decent person, and a person that you do not have to be scared of as President of the United States … He’s a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about [the issues not him].” ~John McCain
After becoming acquainted with the writer, the advisers, and the team, I decided the persons around McCain were not that bright themselves. They may have been rational, sane, and informed; but some of them were too young, with still much to learn, and they were not thinkers. So, they fouled up. Though, as he observed, his campaign was an uphill battle anyway—coming on the heels of a two-term GOP administration and faced with a sizeable economic downturn—McCain would have been better served to consult cerebral seniors, gray-haired eggheads, retired professionals.
One thing people are looking for in a candidate is strength. John Wayne. A big, strong he-man. Someone who knows his mind, doesn’t have to study on the subject, can make snap decisions based on knowledge and experience, and is short on words. Why do you think people liked Reagan? The 72-year-old McCain may have been old enough, and experienced enough, but his diminutive size—about the size of James Madison, Father of the Constitution (an analogy he should’ve capitalized on)—didn’t make him a visibly formidable opponent. In choosing a veep, he should have made up for that deficit by picking a hefty male with a lot of down-to-earth common sense.
A second thing people are looking for in a candidate is maturity. All the good intentions and hard work will not pay off if the candidate is young and light-headed. Inevitably, the public will feel insecure putting him in charge. These days candidates may think they have to look pretty and plastic to please the camera, but people aren’t that shallow. Given the choice of a late-middle-aged father and a thirtysomething son, they’d choose the elder. Why? They still want someone who knows what he’s doing.
A third thing people are looking for in a candidate is leadership. They want a father figure. In that regard, McCain’s opponent, a constitutional lawyer with a quiet demeanor, had more to offer, and he had the good sense to choose someone capable of stepping into his shoes, which is all the veep is. The moment he pushed Sarah on stage, McCain lost. Because Sarah had no strength and, therefore, no authority. Figuratively, she was nothing more than delicate, fragile stemware: decorative but not functional.
A fourth thing people are looking for in a candidate is character. Something deeper than a background check. People can forgive wayward family members or even an occasional lapse: look at King David. What they cannot forgive is a pattern of dishonesty, infidelity, and inconsistency. If candidates were honest, we wouldn’t have to do background checks anyway—they’d just tell us. Or they already be so well-known, we’d just know. But because so many persons these days are dishonest, we assume they’re lying. Where do we find the honest man? the incorruptible man? That is what we are looking for.
“No one of good character leaves behind a wasted life—whether they die in obscurity or renown. ‘Character,’ wrote the 19th-century evangelist, Dwight Moody, ‘is what you are in the dark.’ Your character is not tested on occasions of public scrutiny or acclaim. It is not tested in moments when the object of your actions is the regard of another. Your character is what you are to yourself, not what you pretend to be to yourself or others. Although human beings often attempt self-delusion, we cannot forever hide the truth about ourselves from ourselves. It will make itself known to us by means of our conscience despite our most strenuous effort to suppress it.” ~John McCain
A fifth thing people are looking for in a candidate is stability. Many jobs or professions require more than background checks: they require testing. Why are politicians allowed to run for office, to sit in the legislature or on the bench, when they haven’t undergone an IQ test, for instance, or a mental health or personality inventory exam? Certain requirements for candidates to Congress and the Presidency are laid out in the Constitution. In today’s world, those requirements could be amended to include psychological testing. Or nominees could take that duty upon themselves before vetting a running mate.
Finally, what people want—GOP voters, at least—is an old-fashioned Conservative party and an old-fashioned Conservative candidate. We knew McCain, at least the public McCain. We knew his voting record, his ad libs to the chronic mic thrown in his face, his Leftist views, and the fact that we didn’t like him because he was a RINO. Too Liberal for Conservatives. We didn’t need or want another Democratic party or a Democratic candidate in the GOP. “I agree with my party more than Senator McCain agrees with his party” (Hillary Rodham). We grimaced when he took the nomination. What we wanted was another Eisenhower not another Mondale.
Do you know who lost the 2008 election—assuming elections are more than theater? It wasn’t McCain, or Palin, or the handlers. We did. We the people. We lost the election. Because the wrong candidate ran on our ticket and made bad choices in selecting his team. Now look where we are.
“I work in Washington and I know that money corrupts … I would rather have a clean government than one where ‘First Amendment rights’ are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have a clean government. ~John McCain
Copyright © 2013 Alexandra Lee