TPM Reader MO actually boils it down to a formula …
MGUT: Age + Over-handling = Cringe
My thoughts on the gauntlet that Josh just threw down. I say this as someone who would be classified as a grudgingly McCain admirer back in ’00 (as a combination of Clinton fatigue and a visceral distaste for Bush before it was cool):
The way McCain looks on the stump now reminds me of how my older relatives looked after I came back from college. Before I left, they were the people I always knew. When I got back, the changes that age produces were glaringly clear. As Josh says, a lot happens between 64 and 71. Furthermore, let’s compare McCain and Reagan – the last national politician running for office at an advanced age. McCain’s charisma has been based on energy and pugnaciousness. Reagan was always avuncular. McCain doesn’t do avuncular. And, of course, Reagan in ’80 was younger than McCain is now. The Reagan of ’84 was given a huge benefit of the doubt with regards to age because of incumbency.
Also, clearly, McCain is being over-handled in the way that reminds me of the Gore of ’00. In general, the more times people give you advice about your personal mannerisms, the less you come across as natural. That’s what people mean by WJC and Obama (and GWB, alas) being natural politicians.
So, I don’t think it has anything to do with the topics he’s covering. Sure, better speech writing would help to steer clear of landmines (here’s a hint: no jokes and no sarcasm!).