Commentary Magazine


Re: Re: McCain’s Challenge

Jennifer, I concur with John; McCain has been flailing around during a moment when steadiness is called for. Last week McCain seemed like a political pinball, arguing one thing and then another in a matter of hours. He then went into, and remains in, his hyper-populist mode, attacking at every stop, and seemingly at every moment, the “greed” and “corruption” of Wall Street. The problem is that he rarely offered any real insight into the causes and solutions of the credit crisis we face.

McCain then carelessly attacked SEC chairman Christopher Cox, causing many conservatives to rally to Cox’s defense (see this Wall Street Journal editorial here, and George Will’s scorching column here). McCain went after Cox in typical fashion; rather than confining his disagreements to policy differences, he accused Cox of “betray[ing] the public trust,” which is one of the worst charges you can make against a public official.

One might think that McCain, having been on the receiving end of unfair attacks on his honor during the Keating Five scandal, would be more careful when impugning the character and honor of others. McCain then compounded his error by saying on “60 Minutes” that he would consider Andrew Cuomo as Cox’s replacement.

This whole week underscored the concerns many conservatives have had about McCain over the years, including the sense that he is philosophically unanchored, impulsive, and constantly tempted to put down the party he has now been chosen to lead.

It’s been argued by others that McCain sees politics not so much in terms of policy and philosophy, but through his own interpretation of honor. In small doses, and directed the right way, McCain’s quests can be admirable. But when it is used promiscuously and in an undisciplined fashion, it causes McCain trouble. There are enough real dragons to slay without having to manufacture imaginary ones.

McCain had done a great deal to help himself with conservatives with the pick of Sarah Palin. But his actions over the last week have had a deflating effect, which he can ill afford.

The damage that’s been done can be undone by a strong debate performance. But Senator McCain has now placed himself in a position in which he needs to do very well. Otherwise, this election–always an uphill struggle–may begin to slip away from him. John McCain is not in a position where he can sustain many more self-inflicted wounds.