Can You Help?

Today we’re trying to put together a unified theory of John McCain’s speech-making crappiness.

My initial theory was that if you look at the most outstanding instances of McCain’s awkward, cringe-inducing delivery they’re chiefly about domestic issues — economy and culture war stuff — that McCain doesn’t really care about. When he’s talking about the thing he’s jazzed up about — being right about the surge — his delivery is much more straightforward. A lot of this stuff is also packaged as attacks on Obama, as Ben pointed out.

But then David pointed out that the thing that really comes through to him about McCain’s delivery is a sense of entitlement. ‘I’m a Senator and I’m John McCain so just get on with it and make me president.”

Sort of like he’s not disciplined enough to learn to deliver his prefab lines or convincingly pretend he believes or cares about them. I hadn’t thought about it quite like this before. But this has the ring of truth to me. And perhaps the two meld together. McCain is big on Iraq and wants to talk about that. But the other stuff is mainly stuff he’s changed positions on anyway and doesn’t particularly care about. So he just goes through the motions.

Part of the reason may be that, despite a few of his claims to the contrary of late, I don’t think McCain has had many contested races in his political career. I don’t know exactly how his first election to the House went. But since he’s been in, it’s been pretty much smooth sailing. So a lot of this is just new to him.

This brings us back to the question of why McCain seems to suck so much this cycle whereas many people — even political opponents — thought he was solid as a candidate in 2000. And when I say ‘solid’, I mean a candidate whose public presentation was a big part of his attraction.

Inevitably, one part of the explanation is age. A lot happens between 63 and 72. But we also forget that much of the punch of McCain’s candidacy was his anger at key segments of the conservative establishment that attacked him for not toeing the line on issues important to the religious right and on tax policy. That was his punch. That got his goat up. But most of his snark lines this season are meant to kow-tow to those same folks. And in any case, his manner seems to say, why am I up here having to do this anyway? I’m John McCain. Who’s Barack Obama? Just make me president!

In any case, we’re still looking for the grand unified theory. So your thoughts are most welcome.