John McCain As Bob Dole


I shared Richelieu's skepticism about this McCain ad, and I thought that Ed Kilgore's comparison of the McCain "biography tour" to Bob Dole's "build a bridge to the American past" campaign in 1996 was spot-on. Moreover, I disagreed with Kilgore's suggestion that "McCain is advancing a more appealing version of Dole's political package, gussied up with plenty of Prodigal policy offerings that will make it harder to typecast him as reactionary." I think McCain's pre-existing popularity makes him more appealing than Dole ever was, but I'm not sure what "Prodigal policy offerings" Kilgore has in mind; so far, the McCain message seems to boil down to his biography, the Surge, and ... that's about it.

Now of course it's still early, and there's a case to be made that a biography-centric roll-out for the campaign is good way to lay the groundwork for the fall contest. But the latest web ad from the McCain camp pushes all my Dole-redux buttons. It's a paean to heroes in general, to McCain's favorite high school teacher specifically, and more specifically still to the principle that you ought to turn in your friends when they break the honor code. Now maybe this is, as Jonah suggests, a canny below-the-radar pitch to the crucial crotchety-white-guy vote. But it makes it seem like John McCain is running to be the headmaster of the school in Dead Poets Society, and while anything that sticks it to Robin Williams' annoying and irresponsible Emerson-wannabe of an English teacher is catnip to me, I'm not sure that running as the guy who'll clean up the local prep school is the best way for a seventysomething politician with a reputation for being, well, a little crabby to make his case for the American Presidency.

I would also note that the only thing worse than the substance of the ad is the opening sequence, which calls a roll of four American heroes - an inventor (Thomas Edison), an athlete (Ted Williams), a politician (TR, of course), and a rock star (a headless guy carrying a guitar). The implication seems to be that the McCain campaign is just hip enough to know that rock and roll exists and that the kids are into it, without being hip enough to identify any actual musicians.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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