Which McCain for President?

Washington Matters

Which McCain for President?

A lot of voters say they hesitate to vote for Barack Obama because they don't know enough about him -- they don't know who he really is. Obama clearly has work to do to better define himself. But the same can be said about John McCain, who continues to present conflicting images of himself that leave some voters scratching their heads about which McCain they'd be voting for.

New York Times writer David Brooks has an interesting column today explaining all the reasons why McCain deserves our respect and admiration. His military heroism is well known, but Brooks concentrates on his many profiles in courage as a senator -- his hard work behind the scenes to fix the flawed Iraq war strategy, his effort to save the Senate from itself by negotiating a truce on the issue of judicial nominations, his bipartisan negotiation of an immigration bill, his courageous votes against pork-laden bills and the misguided Medicare prescription drug bill and his fights for campaign finance and ethics reforms.

Brooks then acknowledges that we've seen a whole different John McCain in this campaign. This is the McCain who led the charge into the dirt on deceptive campaign ads, who questioned Obama's patriotism while promising not to, who sought loopholes in his own campaign finance bill and who betrayed his promise to put the country ahead of politics when he picked a running mate whom even he can't believe is ready to lead a nation at war should that be necessary. Add to that the fiasco of the last few days -- with his inappropriate and useless trip to Washington to complicate the bailout negotiations.

As the New York Times notes today, Obama's campaign has plenty to answer for as well, and Brooks seems to make light of both campaigns' shortcomings as necessary in the modern world of election politics. Brooks concludes that if McCain is elected, he will revert back to his old honorable, principled, maverick self, and he argues that this is better than the unknown inherent in a vote for Obama.


But that's a big leap. As Brooks points out, what's missing from McCain's campaign is vision -- and I would add leadership, which is supposed to be his strong point. This is not a small matter. Being a good senator -- and a maverick -- requires an altogether different set of skills than being an effective president. It's not clear that McCain can unite his own party, let alone the nation. And having put aside his guiding principles and surrendered to the Karl Rove tactics of his party, it won't be that easy to turn back into his old self. If he wins, it will be because of support from the party base. Are we to assume he will turn against those supporters once he is in the Oval Office?

We can hope so, but there's one decision that can't be reversed -- his pick of Sarah Palin. I know any criticism of her is greeted with charges of sexism, but I defy anyone to defend her performance yesterday when she tried once again to explain that Alaska's proximity to Russia gives her foreign policy experience. It was embarrassing to watch. If she simply acknowledged that she has no foreign policy experience and promised to be a quick study, it would be a lot more comforting than this farce of pretending she's ready now.