Politics & Policy

The Road to ‘President McCain’

Contrasts become clearer.

With the media preoccupied with the Democrats, the real victor of Super Tuesday II was John McCain. He won more than the necessary 1,191 delegates necessary to secure the Republican presidential nomination. McCain reminded his listeners that he did not grow up expecting to be president or believing himself entitled to the job. The contrast he made between himself and the two Democrats competing for the right to oppose him could not have been clearer.

McCain talked about protecting the nation, assuring the safety of its citizens, bringing its enemies to their knees, keeping the United States competitive in an increasingly global economy, preparing its workers for the jobs that economy demands, and using the strengths of the free-enterprise system to preserve the best health-care research and delivery system in the world and using market forces to make its benefits available to more Americans. That is what the next president will be expected to do.

One of McCain’s would-be opponents sees the presidency as a reward for years spent in the trenches gaming electoral systems. The other acts as if he regards the nation’s highest office as deferred compensation for the lucrative legal career he set aside in order to serve as a community organizer, before attempting to leapfrog his way over more seasoned professional politicians to the top prize. Both talk about “making history.” Yet both see the race primarily in terms of symbolism, and as about them. McCain talks about the rest of us.

However the Democratic race comes out, McCain starts out with an edge. His nomination assured, he lost no time appealing to independents and those whom Ike used to call “discerning” Democrats. He promised two things the nation has not experienced since the glory days of Reagan: a 50-state campaign, and a president committed to serve all the people, including those who opposed his election. Talk about making history.

Hillary Clinton’s impressive three victories were as much a repudiation of the Obama cheering section in the media as they were votes of confidence in her. No one suggested that Obama drop out of the race if he lost Ohio and Texas — yet they had been writing her obituary for nearly a month. Take that, MSNBC.

Obama’s challenge is to decide whether he seeks to be an agent of change or a better professional politician than his opponent. Thus far, he has failed to be either. Obama was absolutely Clintonesque in his handling of NAFTA (on both sides of the Canadian border), but not as good at it as either Bill or Hillary. His throwing aside of Zbigniew Brzezinski the instant his now non-adviser became the subject of criticism raised the question of why a candidate committed to change would seek an association with an administration (Carter’s) which was among the worst of the past half century.

As the Democrats prolong their agony — and ours — in the next several weeks, McCain can go on continuing to be himself. If he plays it right, he can have this election won before the Democrats settle on their nominee. And this was supposed to have been an election the GOP was certain to lose. Remember, you heard it here first.

– Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of the forthcoming Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game (Basic Books).

Alvin S. Felzenberg — Mr. Felzenberg is the author of A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. and The Leaders We Deserved: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.


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