26 Sep 2008

Brooks Evaluating McCain

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David Brooks takes a serious look at John McCain.

What disappoints me about the McCain campaign is it has no central argument. I had hoped that he would create a grand narrative explaining how the United States is fundamentally unprepared for the 21st century and how McCain’s worldview is different.

McCain has not made that sort of all-encompassing argument, so his proposals don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. Without a groundbreaking argument about why he is different, he’s had to rely on tactical gimmicks to stay afloat. He has no frame to organize his response when financial and other crises pop up.

He has no overarching argument in part because of his Senate training and the tendency to take issues on one at a time — in part, because of the foolish decision to run a traditional right-left campaign against Obama and, in part, because McCain has never really resolved the contradiction between the Barry Goldwater and Teddy Roosevelt sides of his worldview. One day he’s a small-government Western conservative; the next he’s a Bull Moose progressive. The two don’t add up — as we’ve seen in his uneven reaction to the financial crisis.

Nonetheless, when people try to tell me that the McCain on the campaign trail is the real McCain and the one who came before was fake, I just say, baloney. I saw him. A half-century of evidence is there.

If McCain is elected, he will retain his instinct for the hard challenge. With that Greatest Generation style of his, he will run the least partisan administration in recent times. He is not a sophisticated conceptual thinker, but he is a good judge of character. He is not an organized administrator, but he has become a practiced legislative craftsman. He is, above all — and this is completely impossible to convey in the midst of a campaign — a serious man prone to serious things.

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