Monday, June 9, 2008

John McCain's problem: John McCain

Jed Babbin blames the hired help:
McCain's June 3 speech -- designed to rob Obama of some media attention -- might have been a good idea and it might not. But it was poorly-written, badly staged and obviously a text McCain wasn't comfortable with. McCain's themes were good, but the speech made him sound petty, almost as if he were a challenger competing against an incumbent Obama.
So some in McCain's camp convinced him to grasp for media attention on Obama's night, and then pushed him to make a speech that wasn't right for him. And then?
These supposed "advisers" and "strategists" immediately leaked to the McCain-hostile press that the only problem was McCain, not the speech or how it was managed as a media event. All you need to know about these problem "insiders" is in the Politico piece by Jonathan Martin entitled, McCain Bumbles Delivery.
Allow me to make the opposite case. A political candidate either is, or is not, in charge of his own campaign. Either the candidate controls the staff, or the staff controls the candidate.

There is no member of the McCain campaign staff who couldn't be fired in 15 minutes if the candidate said so. So if McCain's speechwriting staff is inept, if his media coordinator is a dunce, if his field organizers are bunglers -- and yet they remain employed by his campaign -- there is only one person responsible, and his name is John McCain.

This goes back to the hapless George Allen campaign in 2006. It would be easy, and arguably fair, to blame Allen's meltdown on his campaign manager, Dick Wadhams. But who hired Dick Wadhams?

To blame a campaign's failures on the staff, in an effort to exculpate the candidate, is to argue that the candidate is not in charge of his own campaign. How can a candidate who is not in charge of his own campaign claim to be a responsible leader who can be trusted in public office?

Anyone who's studied Ronald Reagan knows that he had staff problems just like any other politician has staff problems. But Reagan fired John Sears, didn't he? And as for speechwriting, you can go to the Reagan Library today and see how Reagan changed and altered the texts of the speeches his staff had prepared for him. If Reagan had been a pliant tool of his advisers, the most famous line in his Brandenburg Gate speech -- "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" -- would have been omitted.

Babbin is trying to argue that there is some meaningful distinction between the idiot who writes a bad speech and the idiot who delivers a bad speech written by some other idiot. Well, whose speech is it?

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