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McCain Narrative 5: John McCain vs. John McCain

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The series continues, but if you haven’t already…first read the intro, Narrative 1, Narrative 2, Narrative 3 and Narrative 4.

Now we take a look at the time after the Palin pick where the McCain on the campaign trail didn’t seem like the McCain we knew in 2000…

In the period before the campaign’s decision earlier this month to wage an all-out assault on Obama’s character as the next narrative tactic, McCain was signaling to aides that it was important to run an honorable campaign. People are hurting now, McCain said to his convention planners as Hurricane Gustav whirled toward the Gulf Coast. It’s a shame we have to have a convention at all. But because we have to do this, tone it down. No balloons, nothing over the top. When his media team suggested running ads that highlighted Obama’s connection with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, McCain reminded them that he pledged months earlier not to exploit the matter, and John McCain was not about to go back on his word. In such moments, the man who renounced negative ads during the 2000 campaign because he wanted (as he told his aghast advisers back then) “to run a campaign my daughter can be proud of” has been thoroughly recognizable.

But that John McCain had lost. Of the noble but perhaps naïve decision in 2000 to unilaterally take down his attack ads, Rick Davis would vow: “That’s not gonna happen a second time. I mean, the old dog can learn a few new tricks.” And yet on this landscape of new tricks — calling your opponent a liar; allowing your running mate to imply that the opponent might prefer terrorists over Americans — McCain sometimes seemed to be running against not only Barack Obama but an earlier version of himself.

The flipside to John McCain’s metanarrative of personal valor has always been palpable self-righteousness. In this campaign, his sense of integrity has been doubly offended. First, an adviser said, “He just really thinks the media is completely in the tank for Obama and doesn’t feel like he’s getting a fair shake at all.” And second, another said, “I don’t think John likes people who try to do jobs they’re not qualified for” — referring, in this case, to Barack Obama.

That last bit about McCain not liking Obama seems fairly evident by his demeanor in the debates. There’s nothing subtle about McCain’s emotions…he has a health disdain for this newcomer and voters have subsequently punished him for it.

I think this part of the campaign, where McCain had just made a disingenuous VP pick and was attacking with fairly disingenuous fluff, really put the nail in the coffin in most independents minds. They didn’t recognize this guy anymore. Because instead of McCain changing the Republican party, it appeared as if it had changed him. And so the luster was gone.

One last narrative to go…