What Should McCain Be Saying?

A couple days ago, I suggested a few ways that John McCain could have put together a more ideological creative campaign - running as a Sam's Club candidate, running as a Rockefeller-Repub centrist on issues like health care, or running as a Perotista deficit hawk and entitlement reformer. Now Daniel Henninger has his own suggestion - more porkbusting, but with greater specifics than McCain has offered to date:

The problem isn't standard political corruption. The problem is that the $2.8 trillion federal budget is a vast ocean of Beltway pilot fish feeding off scraps from the whale -- lawyers, lobbyists, ex-Members of Congress. No one runs the Sea of Washington. It's too big, too deep.

Barack Obama wants to dig a deeper hole. John McCain should ask the American people if they want this to go on, because it's nonsense to vote for government to do "more" and then whine when it doesn't work or degrades into sweetheart-deal hell.

Unfocused "reform" rhetoric from Mr. McCain isn't enough. The public has been there, heard that. Sen. McCain should talk about what he knows -- fat Fannie and Freddie, farm-bill bloat, the ethanol subsidy fiasco, the federal procurement mess. Show people Gov. Palin's 18 single-spaced pages of 2007 vetoes. Then identify Congress's bipartisan supporters of the Legislative Line-Item Veto Act and ask the voters' support. Appear with GOP congressman from Sarah's new generation who want to help -- Eric Cantor of Virginia, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Kevin McCarthy of California. There are others.

Promise to spend the first two years on this historic political reform effort, and if a Democratic Congress laughs, promise to barnstorm in 2010 for a Congress willing to act, from any party.

George Will, meanwhile, thinks that McCain should be making the case for divided government, by running against the awful things the Democrats might do:

The 22nd Amendment will banish the president in January, but Congress will then be even more Democratic than it is now. Does the country really want there to be no check on it? Consider two things that will quickly become law unless McCain is there to veto them or unless -- this is a thin reed on which to depend -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has 40 reliable senators to filibuster them to deserved deaths.

The exquisitely misnamed Employee Free Choice Act would strip from workers their right to secret ballots in unionization elections. Instead, unions could use the "card check" system: Once a majority of a company's employees -- each person confronted one-on-one by a union organizer in an inherently coercive setting -- sign cards expressing consent, the union would be certified as the bargaining agent for all workers. Proving that the law's purpose is less to improve workers' conditions than to capture dues-payers for the unions, the law will forbid employers from discouraging unionization by giving "unilateral" -- not negotiated -- improvements in compensation and working conditions.

Unless McCain is president, the government will reinstate the equally misnamed "fairness doctrine." Until Ronald Reagan eliminated it in 1987, that regulation discouraged freewheeling political programming by the threat of litigation over inherently vague standards of "fairness" in presenting "balanced" political views. In 1980 there were fewer than 100 radio talk shows nationwide. Today there are more than 1,400 stations entirely devoted to talk formats. Liberals, not satisfied with their domination of academia, Hollywood and most of the mainstream media, want to kill talk radio, where liberals have been unable to dent conservatives' dominance.

I agree with Will and Henninger on the policy substance here, but with the exception of Henninger's mention of Fannie Mae - where McCain is already trying to make hay - all of these ideas seem like classic examples of the contemporary conservative tendency to offer answers to questions Americans aren't asking. Voters are worried about the financial crisis, the broader economic downturn, and the rising cost (or unavailability) of health care - and McCain is supposed to talk about the farm bill? About the menace of the Fairness Doctrine? Really? The GOP nominee is up against a candidate who's promising near-universal health care and a middle-class tax cut, and while that may well be an unaffordable combination, it's a one-two pledge that at least addresses itself to the issues that voters are most concerned about. Whereas line-item vetos and stopping card-check are red meat for a slice of the electorate that John McCain already has all locked up. I can see some of these issues - especially the attacks on corporate welfare - being woven into a broader populist narrative, but the notion that the McCain-Palin ticket is going to vault over Obama by attacking ethanol subsidies and defending Rush Limbaugh from as-yet-hypothetical regulation seems fanciful at best.