Thursday, August 28, 2008

The No-Talk Express

Wow, I had predicted awhile back that the media would eventually turn on McCain, but reading this "prickly" McCain interview with Time Magazine's James Carney and Michael Scherer was embarrassingly awkward.

It's yet another strong sign that McCain's media admirers are becoming disenchanted with the guy now that they're forced to ask even moderately interesting softball questions. The reporters were clearly bending over backwards (or forwards, depending on your POV) in order to remain friendly, but McCain refused to see it that way and made himself out to look like an even bigger jerk than he normally does.

First off, here's a list of the subjects McCain outright refused to talk about:
Limited media access
Change in campaign tactics
Campaign mistakes he's made
His sons

From his reaction, you'd think they were asking him about the time he called his wife a cunt. But even the questions he answered weren't really answered. Instead, he did the age-old trick of answering the question he wished he'd been asked, rather than the one that was actually asked.

Like when he was asked to respond to people who criticize him for being belligerent towards Russia and all he could do was tell us that he's been criticizing Russia since Putin came to power, without addressing the actual question. An actual answer would be to explain why toughness against Russia is better for America than what his critics suggest we do. But instead, all we got is more anti-Russia toughguy talk, as if he had been asked about his feeling of Russia, rather than addressing his critics.

And this kind of thing makes sense if you're in a hardboil interview facing tough questions you really don't want to answer. But this wasn't one of those interviews. In fact, there wasn't a tough question in the batch. If anything, the admitting to campaign mistakes one is always a bit tricky, but it wasn't really "tough." And none of the rest were even remotely difficult. A proper answer to the Russian question should have put his critics back on their heels. As it is, all he did was repeat what we already know, which didn't hurt his critics or help his cause. Just stupid.

Country First®

For whatever reason, McCain imagined that the reporters were putting the screws to him and he never really wanted to move beyond basic talking points that were little more than meaningless slogans which seemed excessively clunky in this sort of forum. Slogan-answers can be used in a propaganda interview with Rush Limbaugh or Free Republic. But even Time Magazine's readers are sophisticated enough to be offended by that sort of meaningless marketing gimmick.

But even worse, he accidentally used his slogan to insult his own party. When asked what he'd like voters to know about him, all he could say was that he put his country first. And then when asked how he was different from the Bush Administration, he was again back at the "Putting the Country First" well, with that apparently being a guiding principle that separates him from other Republicans. And that was entirely dumb, as the "Putting the Country First" thing is supposed to be an insult to Obama, who supposedly doesn't put his country first; yet his use of it was a clear smear against Republicans in this answer. It's like he doesn't even know what his slogans are for.

But overall, it doesn't matter what he said. All that matters is that Time Magazine has already realized that the Straight Talk Express has been mothballed, and is now seeing the new, "prickly" McCain. And this is going to hurt him more than anything. Were McCain to have a reputation as someone who was always aggressive with the media, this wouldn't be a big deal. Or if his machine could manipulate them the way the Bush Machine did. But it was the media who took McCain as far as he got, and when mainstream folks like Jay Carney are openly talking about a jerk McCain is, he's screwed.

I'm not sure who imagined it was a good idea to re-open media access to McCain, but I would imagine that they got balled-out by McCain in the way he clearly wanted to give during the interview. And remember, this is still August. September and October will be rough months for McCain. Will they be as tough on him as he deserves? Of course not. But it'll be far worse than he imagines. This was the softball interview. The more he offends these people, the harder they'll get.

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