According to the LA Times, Barack Obama is denying that McCain is a “maverick,” in order to say that he will be Bush III, in the pocket of special interests.
I think this places an undue burden on the message — requiring first getting past the “maverick” image to get to the critique. Instead, how about a message that accepts the maverick image but reframes it to make it dangerous on its own and to align with the Bush III critique.
In other words:
1) “Maverick” means “Not a Leader.” Leadership requires consistency as well as compromise. McCain really has neither. Yes he has at the margins been for some good government things — campaign funding, anti-earmarks, but it’s notable here that except for limited success on campaign financing, he has never brought together a sustained coalition in the Senate — in general he’s been a loner who hasn’t led except by bullying from the outside. How far has he gotten with his anti-earmark crusade? Are there any Senators who have consistently followed McCain? (At most Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, but I bet even their voting records don’t track McCain’s.) Is there any evidence that he could lead an administration made up of strong cabinet members to work with the Congress toward a common purpose?
2) “Maverick,” in McCain’s case, means “unpredictable, unreliable, reactionary hot head.” The legendary temper means he is not to be trusted in a crisis. He reacts rather than reflecting first. Ready-fire-aim. Maybe even Fire-Ready-Aim.
3) The Bush III Part— A sometime maverick with no leadership capacity, McCain has no consistent philosophy apart from the Republican orthodoxy. In fact, he is right wing (and ignorant of economics.) McCain’s positions and his record are in line with Gingrich republicanism — right wing on economics (tax and regulatory policies), personal freedom (abortion, etc.), civil liberties, etc. — That’s his starting point. And those around him — Phil Gramm, the lobbyists, etc. — show how he will govern.
In other words, accept that McCain is a “maverick,” but redefine “maverick” into someone with no leadership capacity who is a creature of the Republican party on policy. You may want him in the Senate, but you don’t want him within a mile of the presidency.
Obama should be the strong, visionary, reflective leader, capable of “walking softly” as well as “carrying the big stick,” in opposition to McCain as the swaggering unreliable reactionary loner.
Which would you rather have as your boss or the CEO of your company, not to mention the President of the United States?
Update Faint Praise: In today’s NYT, David Brooks , a friend of McCain’s, refers to the pre-campaign McCain’s “frantic and freewheeling style, which was unpredictable, untamed and, at some level, unprofessional.” In other words, erratic. Between Obama and McCain. who is the responsible adult? Who is prepared to lead?