WASHINGTON -- In the aftermath of Sen. John McCain's capture of the Republican nomination, allow me to offer a quiz. When McCain was being dismissed in the media last summer as a has-been, who laid down the following observation in his/her syndicated column: "Call me a contrarian if you will, but the gloomy media mood shrouding the McCain candidacy is a reflection of the lack of seriousness inherent in the presidential campaign at this point in the news cycle"?
OK, it was I, and by gum, I ought to be big enough to admit it.
When I wrote of the lack of seriousness in the news cycle, I not only had in mind the media's mood swing against a seasoned presidential contender with the credentials of a war hero but also the media's palpable euphoria over a Democratic contender whose negative ratings steadily ran at more than 40 percent. That would be Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose negative ratings today are up to 48 percent and will doubtless grow as she continues to reveal her devious and malicious sides. Last summer, the media viewed her as "unstoppable." Well, the media was wrong both about Clinton and about McCain. Yet the journalists rarely smarten up.
Today they suffer from what might be called divided euphorias. Some are euphoric about a freshman Illinois senator with no other experience in national government. Others are euphoric about a two-term New York senator from the most scandal-plagued presidency of the 20th century, who in her advanced state of obliviousness, asks the electorate to admire her "experience." She actually ran an ad recently inviting the electorate to ponder telephones ringing in the White House "at 3 a.m." Most Americans would rather not be reminded of what went on in the Clinton White House after hours and occasionally even during working hours. Did Sen. Clinton have in mind her husband's libidinous calls to Monica that went well into the early hours? Who knows? As I say, she seems to be oblivious about her record.
When I wrote about McCain last summer, I thought that those who were writing him off were betraying an ignorance of history and a lack of seriousness about political campaigning. I thought that a man of McCain's accomplishments would, by historic standards, be no more surprising a presence in the Oval Office than Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. By contrast, the Democratic front-runners would. Sen. Barack Obama then had but three years' experience in the Senate and not much more of a record in state politics. Sen. Clinton, as I have mentioned above, had massive scandals and a record tracing back to Arkansas of controlling "bimbo eruptions," to which she more recently has added the fiction of her "foreign policy experience." Anyone who wishes to consult the historic record will note that the "experience" she refers to is a series of world tours that her husband's staff coaxed her into after her health care embarrassment and such snafus as Travelgate and Filegate.
In the autumn of 2006 when I crashed Bill Clinton's 60th birthday party in Toronto, I managed to be seated with his traveling aides and a few of his financial supporters. On that night, I picked up two pieces of intelligence that are pertinent in light of McCain's almost certain nomination. She was uncertain about running for president in 2008 and would wait to see how the off-year elections went in 2006. More interestingly, the Republican she most feared was McCain. Now after his most recent display of valor and political prowess, she has reason to fear him more. He is the most formidable residential candidate the Republicans have.
Not long ago, I dined with McCain's state chairman in New York, Ed Cox, a gentleman of the top chop and one of the most politically savvy people I know. Cox pronounced McCain a "post-9/11" candidate. He has learned from the challenges of 9/11, one of which is to unite Americans against our enemies abroad. Sen. Clinton is still off in the 1990s. She divides people, bemoaning the "politics of personal destruction," even as she practices them. Obama, like McCain, is post-1990s. He is a uniter, though vague about what he is uniting us for. McCain will unite us for our national security, as the great Cold War presidents did. Moreover, he has demonstrated a keen sense of national security. He was an early critic of our faltering tactics in Iraq, a brave proponent of the surge, and the first of the presidential candidates to recognize its success.
Now he needs to secure the support of his conservative base. He is already at work on that project, and surely he will succeed. What kind of conservative would reject him and allow either of the Democratic contenders to preside over our foreign or domestic policies?