August 8, 2008
McCains Gone Wild
By Mary Lyon
Hey, I realize John McCain has a thing for young blondes, but this is ridiculous. To watch his ad campaign over the past week or so has been painful, whether or not you support Barack Obama. And this week takes the (cheese)cake. Or maybe we just call it cheesy and leave it at that.
Oh the humanity! Oh the pain. It's been downright painful to hear the distortions, the attacks, the sheer nastiness. It curls the lip to see the images and the subliminal messages that the McCain campaign hoped to sneak through the little crack under the door. The most yuck-worthy of course was the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton commercial - a spot so ridiculous even Hilton's mother Kathy felt compelled to speak out against it. And she's a McCain campaign donor no less (well, maybe not anymore). And now, Paris Hilton's own video response can well be expected to keep the story alive.
It's even more cringe-worthy to watch Cindy McCain at the big biker fest in South Dakota. The woman's worth at least 100-million dollars, runs up six-figure balances on her credit cards, and enjoys hassle-free travel on her own luxury plane. Yet there she was at the Sturgis Rally trying to be a good sport, with hubby parading her out there on stage and suggesting she should run for her own lofty position - as Miss Buffalo Chip - a beauty contest, as the L.A. Times puts it, "in which nudity is not uncommon."
Her frozen smile-cum-grimace reeked of "wait til I get you home!" Ouch. I felt for her. Now there's one first-class way to go after the women's vote.
Maverick, shmaverick. I don't care what kind of "high road" John McCain tries to take from here on, to recapture that image as the straight-talker, the guy above the fray, the rare honorable man in Washington who wouldn't crawl down the gutter. He won't ever convince me after these two tacky weeks. First, he aimed straight below the figurative belt (complete with longer-than-they-are-wide structures popping up here and there between glimpses of Britney and Paris). This week, he humiliated his thin blonde aristocratic wife in front of a honking hoard of rowdy bikers. What is this, anyway, some kind of twisted Venus Envy?
And it wasn't just the Paris/Britney eruptions in his campaign commercials, either. There were the insinuations about race, there was the Moses commercial implying Obama has some sort of messiah complex. There was the utterly vile campaign slogan about how Obama supposedly would rather win a campaign than win a war. And there was also the flim-flam spot painting Obama as some scheming publicity-hound, passing up a visit with wounded troops only because his media entourage couldn't come, too. That one stunk so badly even the otherwise-fawning mainstream media that helped inspire McCain's nickname "Teflon John" couldn't help but point out its numerous errors and misrepresentations.
It was just this past April that McCain said the American public deserved a campaign on the issues. Cindy McCain made similar statements in her own right, denouncing sleazy campaign tactics and, like her husband, assuring us there wouldn't be any with the McCain brand on them. I would respectfully remind the presumptive GOP nominee and his friends that the decisions to use commercials like these, behave like this, and mislead like this, all constitute one heckuva judgment call, a testimony to character.
This is a character issue all by itself. What does it say about a campaign that will stoop to such lows? What does it say about a candidate who allows this to be done in his name by others, never mind how he behaves in front of a crowd of crazies? The commercials hint in one disturbing direction: if that's what McCain allows of the people around him when he's a candidate, Heaven help us if he makes it to the Oval Office. We've already seen more than enough of that over the last seven-plus years.
Then again, the embarrassment Cindy McCain had to endure in public is a whole different animal. This wasn't a sleazy mud-slinging commercial crafted by handlers for his approval. This was John McCain appearing, at least, to wing it - although he was visibly working off notes from a lectern while offering his wife as a Miss Buffalo Chip contestant. If the shameless pandering he did at the expense of her dignity is any indication of his conduct in the future, imagine how we can expect him to behave if he wins and thus doesn't need your approval anymore.
I could suggest that McCain show he means it about running a clean, above-board campaign. I might urge him to prove he really is a man of character. I'd invite him to call off the dogs - no more scorched-earth campaign ads or tactics. From ANYBODY on his side. Swear his smear-machinery to fairness and genuinely non-partisan accuracy. Work the issues instead of the tabloids. It would be a most disarming way for him to show America he really is different, and not just merely different from George W. Bush.
But I'm concerned that perhaps this is the real McCain we're seeing. We discover the kind of person he is in his actions and his relationships, the kind of representation of him of which he formally approves, the recklessly casual attitude whether it's toward facts or decorum, and the sloppiness on any number of topics and occasions. A president should have gravitas and dignity. Especially our next president. Especially since we've now seen what happens when America bets on a guy believed to be fun to go have a beer with. The 2008 version from the same party seems to be shaping up as the candidate gone wild.