McCain’s No Paradox.

December 30, 2007

McCain’s No Paradox.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Every Sunday CUIP’s president Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, December 30, 2007 after watching “The Chris Matthews Show” and “Meet the Press.”

Salit: The shows had a funny quality today. The talking heads are still talking but there’s not much left to say.

Newman: Blame the calendar for that.

Salit: Exactly. So, not in a predictive mode, here were a couple of things that interested me. The main refrain is about Obama and Clinton and “change” vs. “experience.” And then, at a certain point in the discussion, somebody invariably says ‘And don’t rule John Edwards out.’ There’s a new set of polls out this morning that has Edwards in first place in Iowa. Then, Joe Klein or Howard Fineman on “The Chris Matthews Show,” reflects on the consistency of Edwards’ anti-corporate and populist message and observes ‘Oh, well, we’re all populists now.’ I was struck by that because the focus among the Democrats is that “We’re all anti-war now.” That’s been the big shift. Everybody’s against the war. So, “We’re all populists now” suggests that Edwards’ message has reshaped the voice of the Democrats, too.

Newman: Like most comparisons, that comparison is misleading, the one between populism and being anti-war. Populism is a deeply entrenched component of American history. It goes way back to a time before most people in America had ever heard of Iraq, actually before there even was an Iraq. There is a history of anti-war movements in America but they’re specific to the war. The current anti-war movement is relative to the Iraq war. So comparing these two currents is a little bit like comparing apples and oranges.

Salit: Yes, but Edwards is making a go of selling a populist message.

Newman: Edwards has chosen a very traditional theme, particularly in the Democratic Party, and is trying to build a bridge between the old Democrats, including labor, with whom it resonates and younger Democrats who are just now identifying corporate America as the source of the country’s problems. He’s had some success at doing that, that’s why he’s still in the race. It’s hard to make the anti-war thing work for him because the Democratic candidates are all against the Iraq war – in some form or fashion – and people have gotten tired of the same old “who was against the war first” or “who did and didn’t apologize for the war” arguments. The thing to say about all three of the Democratic frontrunners is that they’ve run competent, skillful, in some ways excellent campaigns. And that’s consistent with their being effectively tied in the polls. There’s no paradox. There’s no inconsistency. They’re sharing roughly 65% or 70% of the vote in relatively equal portions. And it’s obvious that whoever gets their voters out to the polls, whoever gets them to do their thing in the Iowa caucuses will win. How that works out will be known on the night of January 3rd.

Salit: Okay. So, no paradoxes on the Democratic side.

Newman: I don’t think so.

Salit: What about on the Republican side? The discussion today turned, not surprisingly, on the resurgence of John McCain in New Hampshire. Five weeks ago, The Matthews Meter was asked “Does McCain have a shot in hell of winning New Hampshire?” The panelists said “no way,” by 10 to 2 or something like that. A couple of days ago they were polled again, and now 8 out of 12 think he’s got a real shot at winning New Hampshire. Do you think there’s a paradox there?

Newman: I don’t think it’s very complicated. McCain looks much better since he supported the surge. The surge produced some military gains and stability in Baghdad, at least that’s what’s being projected. That makes him look a whole lot better. I don’t think there’s any great mystery there.

Salit: Plus, Huckabee has helped McCain since Huckabee has hurt Romney and that creates space for McCain to grow.

Newman: Combine that with McCain’s popularity in New Hampshire and the military “success” of the surge and I don’t think it’s hard to see how that equation equals increased support for McCain.

Salit: This is in the category of biography and how biography connects with the American people. Somebody on “The Chris Matthews Show,” talking about McCain’s popularity in New Hampshire, observed that people love his straight talk and – this was the thing that struck me – they even like the way he has a kind of “self destructive streak.” That’s connected to his being committed to the positions he believes in, no matter the political cost.

Newman: I don’t know, Jack. Does a “self destructive streak” equate to anything other than voters backing someone other than him? It’s not a self destructive streak in the sense that he goes out when it’s ten degrees below…

Salit: …in an undershirt. I get your point.

Newman: I think he has a quality of humanness that people relate to. And why wouldn’t they? He seems more honest than a lot of other politicians. He seems more willing to stand on principle, and I think people respect that. Why wouldn’t they respect that?

Salit: I really didn’t like the Russert interview of Huckabee.

Newman: No?

Salit: I thought the demeanor of the interview was the voice of the Washington establishment coming in to put Huckabee in his place, to cross examine him to show that he’s really a bum and that any Americans who like him are idiots.

Newman: That’s what Russert takes to be his job. Huckabee’s a new guy on the block and now Russert’s going to put him through the ringer and see if he has what it takes to deal with this kind of stuff. I find it somewhat objectionable also. But I don’t like the Electoral College either.

Salit: That is the role of “Meet the Press,” it’s one of the hurdles you have to get through. But even so, I thought Russert was being anti-American.

Newman: Maybe anti-the idealized version. He’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to do in the actual version.

Salit: I’ll grant you that. I know you don’t like to make predictions, but are you interested in answering Chris Matthews’ question “What’s the biggest surprise of 2008 going to be?”

Newman: If it’s really a surprise, you’re not supposed to know in advance. But I will make a prediction. McCain will do well in New Hampshire. That’s a safe one. But I’ll add my name to the list of people who are saying that.

Salit: Did you expect that the Bhutto assassination and the events in Pakistan this week were going to impact on this stage of the presidential race?

Newman: No. And I don’t think they are.

Salit: Thanks, Fred. Happy New Year.