McCain’s Bob Dole problem

No, I’m not saying Bob Dole personally is causing a problem for John McCain. I’m saying his problem is that in this election, he’s playing the Bob Dole part — and Barack Obama is Bill Clinton (but don’t tell him that — the way he and Bill have been getting along, he’s likely to take it as an insult).

You remember Bob Dole — the other disabled war hero who couldn’t win the White House, the one who always referred to himself in the Third Person, by his full name ("Bob Dole doesn’t do that! Why would you say Bob Dole does that? Leave Bob Dole alone…") .

Dole ran a lousy campaign, lousy primarily in that it utterly failed to present convincingly why he should have been president. McCain is doing the same thing now.

The big difference between the two, for me, is that I started out liking McCain a whole lot more than I liked the guy that the NYT once called the Dark Prince of Gridlock. Bob Dole was a much more wholehearted partisan warrior than McCain. He was no maverick, not by a long shot. You don’t get to lead your party in the Senate by rebelling against it.

So with me, he started off in a hole. And in the end, I still think McCain should be president — while I no longer thought that of Bob Dole by the end of the 1996 campaign. I had thought it for awhile, though, comparing him and Bill Clinton. I had liked Clinton in 92, but he had disappointed me in a lot of ways by 96. The bottom line was that I just didn’t trust the guy anymore, based on a number of things. (I have no dramatic personal story about that, but I know someone who does: Hodding Carter III told me of going to see Bill Clinton with a delegation concerned about Bosnia. I forget what the delegation wanted — that the U.S. get involved, that the U.S. stay out, whatever — but whatever it wanted, Clinton promised bald-faced he would do. They left feeling confident. About a week later, Clinton did the exact opposite, and it came out that he had known that was what he was going to do when he met with the delegation. Carter felt personally betrayed by that. It seemed consistent with the impression I had formed by then.)

Early in the campaign, I wrote some columns — and editorials, too, I think — that pretty clearly expressed a preference for Dole over Clinton. But when the time approached to do our actual endorsement, I went to then-editor Tom McLean and told him I could not in good conscience write it, because I had become convinced that Dole couldn’t govern his way out of a wet paper bag. I knew by then that I couldn’t convince the board not to endorse Dole, but I declined the honor of writing it. (Of course, you didn’t hear all of this at the time because it was long before I became editor and adopted the policies of extreme transparency that you see today. The board was Old School in those days; you didn’t see the man behind the curtain.)

I never got to that point with McCain, but in the last weeks I thought about it. Those of you who insist that this endorsement was fully decided long ago don’t understand how much I thought about it. But in the end, for me, John McCain may not be good at communicating via a political campaign that he would be the better president, but I still believe he’d be the better president — based on Iraq, based on the Gang of 14 and judicial selection, on free trade, on immigration, etc., all that stuff I’ve already told you.

Now here’s a postscript to the story that will cause you to do a double-take: Despite what I’d said to Tom, I voted for Dole in 96. Why? For the exact same reason I voted for McGovern in 72. You probably don’t know many people who can say that, but I can. (Never doubt my deep devotion to UnParty unorthodoxy.) And I don’t regret either vote.

Essentially, both were protest votes. I thought McGovern would have been a disaster as president. But I wanted to register a protest against Nixon, mainly because of Watergate (even based on what little was known by then). If McGovern had had a chance to win, I’d have held my nose and voted for Nixon, because on the whole I thought the gummint would be in more capable hands that way. And I’d have regretted it forever. But McGovern’s hapless candidacy gave me the opportunity to make the gesture.

Same deal in 96. If I’d thought Dole had a prayer, I’d have held my nose and voted for Clinton — much as I distrusted him by that point, I thought him more competent. (Note that Nixon and Clinton had an advantage with me that Obama lacks — they had shown their competence in office, as president.) But Dole had no prayer, so I voted for him as a protest. And it felt exactly like voting for McGovern.

By the way, torn as I was, I made both of those decisions in the voting booth. So I can, indeed, identify with Cindi’s indecision.

11 thoughts on “McCain’s Bob Dole problem

  1. Lee Muller

    Bob Dole was a dead duck when he failed to stand up against the Clinton-Schumer banning of firearms, and 2,500,000 NRA members didn’t vote for anyone for President, or voted 3rd party.
    The number one problem with the GOP is lack of core principles and lack of courage to oppose the Democrats on their socialist agenda.
    No red-blooded American conservative or libertarian is going to vote for a me-too, kinder-gentler socialist.

  2. wtf

    Brad, it’s so much nicer having that big new link on the homepage now after the revamp. At first it took forever to find your blog. Now it’s much easier.
    Work in progress, but I like where it’s going.

  3. p.m.

    Interesting. I voted for both McGovern and Dole. My views changed in the interim, but I despised Nixon. If that election were happening this year, I would still vote for McGovern against Nixon.
    I have never voted for anyone for any reason other than wanting that candidate to win more than any of the others, however, save when I have written in the name of someone not running rather than hold my nose and vote for someone I can’t stand.

  4. Michael Rodgers

    Yes, with this insight and the insight you had recently, I think you’re really on to something.
    Basically, McCain and many of his supporters are operating, in this Obama supporter’s mind, under the Peter Principle.
    I think Sen. McCain is a fantastic guy with an amazing biography. I think Sen. McCain is a terrific senator. He’s really a great, great senator. He has voted too much with President Bush for me, but apart from that, his leadership and courage in the Senate are outstanding.
    I think Sen. McCain would be a horrible President. I think this way because I’ve been evaluating his performance during the campaign. He’s got nothing new to say to the American people, and he listens to bad advice, and he makes terrible choices.
    I think Sen. Obama would be a wonderful president. Sen. Obama is also a fantastic guy with an amazing biography. And his performance during the campaign shows that he has a lot of new things to say to the American people. Sen. Obama listens to all kinds of advice and uses his excellent judgment to reach conclusions and implement new actions. Sen. Obama makes excellent choices.
    McCain is not presidential, and Obama is. We need Sen. McCain’s voice in the Senate. He has a lot of important things to say and to do as a Senator. And we need Barack Obama’s voice in the White House. He has a lot of important things to say and to do as President.

  5. bud

    Obama might make a good president ….
    On that we can agree. Liberals can take things out of context too, just like Rush, Sean and Bill O.


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