Saturday, July 26, 2008

The McCain scrutiny XII

Friday’s Huffington Post featured an image of Sen. John McCain that, as pictures often do, told a story of at least a thousand words. The image showed McCain at some 2008 campaign event, holding in his left hand a cell phone —not one created in recent years, but a piece worthy of space at the Smithsonian, one of the early models the size of a brick.


The blogosphere, as you might imagine, has been, well, the blogosphere. Especially at HuffPost:

ChristiB (paraphrasing McCain): “I wonder if I can get on the google with this contraption …”

LAJimm: Come on guys, give him a break. He’s trying to build a bridge to the 19th century.

6WaysToSunday: Looks like the same phone from Dukakis' tank.

VolvoBirkenstock: He's talking to tech support on the Iraq/Pakistan border.

Kahni: That's the phone he uses to contact Czechoslovakia.


We’ve referred to this thing as an “image” — it’s impossible to tell by looking if this is an actual photograph or something cleverly doctored by Photoshop. If it’s really a “photo-illustration,” it’s a very good one. But whether it is or not almost doesn’t matter.

In more substantive ways, particularly on matters on foreign policy and the war in Iraq — matters in which McCain and the Bush administration are in lockstep — the picture perfectly illustrates McCain’s current standing as a man compromising his own best and presumably distinctive qualification, a candidate behind his own curve.



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For years now, the Bush administration has been steadfast in refusal to engage in direct negotiations with Iran over the issues of uranium enrichment and nuclear weapons — direct talks that Sen. Barack Obama, McCain’s challenger, has publicly supported for months.

The administration, of course, changed course, approving the appearance of a senior U.S. official, William J. Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, at a July 19 meeting of Iranian officials. This was right around the same time the Bushies announced plans to explore the opening of a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran — a necessary precursor to outright diplomatic relations.



For many months, McCain has trumpeted his bona fides on matters of prosecuting the elective war in Iraq, and loudly criticized Obama for his 16-month timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Before Obama’s foreign tour, the senator from Arizona was relentless in attacking both the Obama timetable and Obama’s qualifications to even have a timetable.

McCain was, of course, baldy trumped — chumped? — by Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, who endorsed Obama’s 16-month proposal as fully achievable given the evolution of events on the ground in Iraq, and the expectation of that evolution continuing.

In a heartbeat, McCain’s lock on anything approaching singular wisdom on dealing the Iraq war vanished.

And almost as suddenly, the Straight Talk Express made a wild U-turn.



“I think it’s a pretty good timetable,” McCain said Friday in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room,’’ before volunteering his Iraq-war boilerplate: that withdrawal be based “on the conditions on the ground.’’

Blitzer asked McCain why he thought Maliki had backed the 16-month scenario.

“He said it’s a pretty good timetable based on conditions on the ground,’’ McCain said. “I think it’s a pretty good timetable, as we should — or horizons for withdrawal. But they have to be based on conditions on the ground. This success is very fragile. It’s incredibly impressive, but very fragile. …”

“He only had one message to stay on-message with,” said HarrytheHat at HuffPost, “and he couldn't even manage that.”

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What’s evolving “on the ground” is a gathering sense that McCain’s campaign is expedient to a fault; right now he’s not just making pivots and adjustments but flat-out reversals on policies he was thought to have owned.

Richard Clarke, the always on-message former national counterterrorism adviser, saw this latest McCain self-destruction weeks ago, on the July 14 “Countdown With Keith Olbermann on MSNBC — taking note of a developing disconnect between McCain and … McCain.

“There’s a kind of interesting phenomenon going on. Obama is saying things that turn out later to be obvious and true, and even the Bush administration has to admit it and start doing what Obama was on to months before they were. And yet, McCain is the national security expert?”

As pragmatism replaces posturing, as stagecraft aligns with substance, we’re finding that Barack Obama has an increasingly secure sense of what’s required to be President of the United States.

As the clutch on the transmission of John McCain’s Straight Talk Express grinds hard, the man behind the wheel is finding it hard to get a signal on his phone. The prospects are real that his best chances for assuming the presidency have been self-disconnected and are no longer in service.
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Image credits: McCain and the Jurassic phone: The Huffington Post. Obama/Petraeus/Hagel: Staff Sgt. Lorie Jewell, USAF (Public domain)

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