As the presidential election season progresses, John McCain will have to make educated guesses about which issues the Democratic nominee uses to attack him. One he won't have to guess about is his age. The Democrats are already pounding him on it.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has hit him on it. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., himself 75 years old, has gone after him over it. And even Barack Obama has zinged him a bit. No matter their public pronouncements, the Democrats expect the margin of victory for this race — like the ones in 2000 and 2004 — to be razor thin. So they are going to exploit any advantage. Perceived or real.
Unfortunately for them, McCain's age may actually prove to be a net-plus for his presidential campaign. Let me explain.
Back in 1996, when my former boss and friend Bob Dole ran against then-President Bill Clinton, the age card was played wildly and often. Sidney Blumenthal, an aide to Clinton not known for subtlety, made fun of the bumper sticker that read, "Dole in '96" by saying "Dole is 96." While a joke, it was meant to raise doubts, and for more than a few voters it surely did.
Like McCain will be if elected, Dole was 72 years of age at the time. However, 72 against highly experienced Bill Clinton back in 1996 is not nearly the same as 72 now against the highly inexperienced Barack Obama or the slightly experienced Hillary Clinton. Especially when you factor in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.
This time around, white hair, 70-plus years of age and a decorated military record may be just what the doctor ordered. As the world spins more out of control, and as our own domestic situation grows more uncertain, John McCain's age may prove more reassuring than worrisome to voters.
Contrary to what some political experts may be saying, the American electorate is astute — and up on its current events. Voters recognize that terrorism is not only the defining issue of our time, but one that will most likely be with them for the rest of their lives. That said, most of these voters know that McCain is death on a cracker when it comes to terrorism. They also know that a large part of that mind-set comes from the wisdom of age combined with his real-world experience.
In conversations I've had with past Pentagon colleagues as well as some of the current crop, a recurring worry has been relayed to me. It is this: If Obama or Hillary wins the White House, what happens to the Bush doctrine of basically killing these terrorists where they stand?
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