If McCain had not been a POW, he would not be in this position. Everybody respects his service, particularly surviving torture. But surviving torture wins you respect; it doesn't win you the White House.
Like the current occupant of the White House, McCain got his first career breaks from the connections and money of his family, not from hard work.
The son and grandson of Navy admirals, he attended Annapolis where he did poorly. Nevertheless, he was commissioned as a pilot, where he performed poorly, crashing three planes before he failed to evade a North Vietnamese missile that destroyed his plane. McCain spent more than five years in a prison camp.
McCain talks a lot about a few issues: "honor" in foreign policy, fighting earmarks, campaign finance reform. Other than those few issues, however, he hasn't actually gotten much done. He was chairman of the Senate Commerce committee. I have no idea what he did in that position.
Campaign finance reform, the line-item veto, and earmarks are high-profile, low-impact issues. Campaign finance is important, but no one is ever going to stop money from flowing into campaigns - the best that we can hope for is to manage it. But it's an easy issue for the public to understand, and it makes for a great soundbite. I've always thot the line-item veto was a Presidential fantasy, completely worthless. It's profoundly unconstitutional. Railing against "pork" and "earmarks" is like taking on campaign finance - they are high-profile, low impact issues. One man's pork is another woman's desperately needed highway project. But these issues play well with the public:
McCain hasn't accomplished much in the Senate. Even his own campaign doesn't trumpet his successes, probably because the few victories he's had still rankle Republicans.
His campaign finance law failed to significantly reduce the role of money in politics. He failed to get a big tobacco bill through the Senate. He's failed to change the way Congress spends money; his bill to give the president a line-item veto was declared unconstitutional, and the system of pork and earmarks continues unabated.
McCain has done one thing well -- self promotion. Instead of working on legislation or boning up on the issues, he's been on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" more than any other guest. He's been on the Sunday talk shows more than any other guest in the past 10 years. He's hosted "Saturday Night Live" and even announced his candidacy in 2007 on "The Late Show with David Letterman."Campaign finance, the line-item veto, and earmarks are also issues that are relatively simple legislatively. They can be defined in black-and-white, clearcut terms: campaign finance is good, earmarks are bad. They don't require much subtlety or nuance, like, say, international relations.
McCain says he doesn't understand the economy. He's demonstrated that he doesn't understand the workings of Social Security, or the political history of the Middle East. He doesn't know who our enemies are. He says he wants to reduce global warming, but then proposes ideas that would stimulate -- not reduce -- demand for fossil fuels.McCain's campaign is not about policy or ideas or even ideology. It's about "honor." Which, for McCain, means that it is about Vietnam. For him, our loss in Vietnam was a loss of honor. He takes this personally. Most of the rest of us, however, don't.
Most of the other high-profile politicians who fought in Vietnam -- Colin Powell, Chuck Hegel, John Kerry, and Jim Webb -- aren't stuck in the past, and they don't view the Iraq War as a chance to get Vietnam right.Finally, here's a great description of the two kinds of presidents:
Successful presidents come from two molds: visionaries, or mechanics. The visionaries -- think Reagan or FDR -- see what others can't and say 'Why not?" to inspire the country. The mechanics -- think LBJ or Eisenhower -- know the ins and outs of government and are able to harness the power of millions of humans to accomplish great things, or at least keep the wheels from coming off.Most unfortunately for McCain, Obama is both a visionary and a mechanic. He gives incredible speeches AND develops great strategies. AND he actually likes policy debates.
Even more unfortunately for McCain, his record of talking a lot without achieving much hasn't made him many friends in his own party:
To achieve anything as president, McCain would have to win over two hostile parties: The Democrats and the Republicans.I don't think he's going to have a chance to try to do that.