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How Much Pandering and to What End?

I’ve been very disappointed in the way this campaign has gone. Not that it’s that much more nasty than any other campaign. As I recall from previous elections, things get pretty emotional and nasty. My disappointment has been in the candidates who could have done much better for the country.

Obama made a mistake, in my view, when he declined (or failed to arrange) the series of town hall meetings that McCain proposed. At the time the conventional wisdom was that it would have been McCain territory all the way. I don’t think so. I think things would have worked out well for the American people, and we might have gotten to hear the two men discuss issues.

But at this point McCain is definitely taking the lead in nasty, and that’s also a disappointment. In 2000, I had every plan to vote for him. The election was a done deal by the time he got to my state. I even considered very temporarily registering as Republican to vote in the primary.

Since that loss McCain has been pandering more and more to the right wing of the party, including folks he once condemned, such as Pat Robertson. If you want to know someone I think is a crazy associate, I’ll name Pat Robertson. It’s not that I think his ideas are the craziest around, but he also has a more substantial following than any of the crazier people I could name.

David Corn wrote a column on CQ Politics that expresses my thoughts about McCain better than I could. He says:

Many of the folks in charge of the McCain campaign don’t really care that much for him. Worse, they are treating McCain as a generic Republican candidate–smothering whatever once was special about him. And McCain has allowed this to happen. He has emasculated himself.

Just so. McCain isn’t really this nasty at heart and he can’t bring off this kind of criticism properly. Couple that with the fact that the criticisms that are front and center are pretty lousy fodder to work with and you have a losing strategy.

Normally one plays to the base in the primaries and broadens out in the general. I hear the calls of right-wing Republicans for a more vigorous tone and I have to wonder who they think they’re going to reach in that way. The people whose emotions engaged in that way are pretty much already engaged. You might get a few. But you also get moderates like me who are not entirely with Obama on policy issues and have seen McCain do some good things, but are turned off by smears and guilt by association.

David Corn discusses some of the groups that have endorsed McCain and the way the rallies are going, and then he says this:

But it’s hard to get over past hatred. And at the recent rallies, McCain supporters have been displaying disappointment that he has not been truly there for them–in that he has not pummeled Obama as the terrorist-hugging Socialist they know he really is. (And he’s probably a Muslim, too!) They appear to be worried that even after all that pandering McCain is still not one of them.

That’s the problem with pandering. It’s so very, very hard to pander enough to get the panderees on board. They are just so slow to forgive you for not being absolutely one of them. McCain’s well conceived plan to get some judicial nominations through the senate, for example, is not enough to endear him to liberals, but certainly enough to leave conservatives angry forever.

It’s a fundamental problem for politicians. Being yourself isn’t supposed to work. You have to be not all things to all people, but the right things to the right combination of people. If that’s not who you are, you may wind up looking out of place. That’s what McCain looks like to me.

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