January 22, 2008, 10:12 am
I have been mulling over Bret Stephens’ column on McCain and his discussion of “honor” as the central premise of McCain’s campaign. This sort of stuff drives the McCain haters crazy, evoking howls that he is using his war record in some inappropriate manner to evoke sympathy for him. Perhaps it infuriates his foes (specifically his conservative ones) because it suggests some higher purpose than politics. Or perhaps they just dislike him for valid policy differences and it irks them to be reminded that their hated opponent has a record of personal courage that no other candidate (on either side) possesses. I suspect that this thematic message does not trump policy issues for many voters but it may be that we underestimate Americans’ desire for a hero figure. (Bill Kristol wrote McCain is a neo-Victorian figure battling against very modern opponents.) To some degree McCain’s “honor” message is akin to the Obama “hope” theme — a rallying cry for supporters and a bipartisan basis for attracting a-political voters in a general election. (Both also evoke eyerolling from skeptics.) Can it be overplayed? Of course. Is its potential impact under-appreciated? I’m beginning to think so.