It will be interesting to see how the Republicans try to spin away John McCain’s reported temperament issues for the fall election. But we can probably guess. A seemingly endless supply of anecdotes — of the simmering-to-boil brawler his schoolmates once dubbed “McNasty” angrily poking the chests of senate colleagues, insisting critics be fired, lambasting on one occasion a Young Republican who did not adjust the podium enough to make him look taller on television, and threatening to “destroy” one female pol for not supporting his preferred candidate during an election (for more, read McCain: A Question of Temperament in today’s Washington Post) — emerge every day. But one shouldn’t be surprised if they are tamped down by the disciplined GOP machinery in favor of more flattering portrait: that McCain isn’t a man to take guff from detractors. He is hardheaded and prone to anger — but for what he believes in. He is fiery — just proving he is a real, red-blooded American man with the blaze of his Jacksonian ancestry in the belly (See Michael Barone), not without pride and passion for his position, and his country.
One need to look no further than the 2000 and 2004 general elections to gauge how effective Republicans are at convincing just enough voters that Presidential mettle entails things that we might not seek in our friends, much less our leaders. By being relentlessly on-message, they, along with a pliant mainstream media, convinced the American public that what it really needed was a former fraternity prankster who reveled in his own anti-intellectualism and acted more like Bruce Willis a la Die Hard than one of those stuffy founding fathers. This gem from Peggy Noonan (before she ditched Bush) was part of such yore at the time:
I was asked this week why the president seems so attractive to the heartland, to what used to be called Middle America. A big question. I found my mind going to this word: normal.
Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He’s normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He’s not exotic. But if there’s a fire on the block, he’ll run out and help. He’ll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, “Where’s Sally?” He’s responsible. He’s not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world. And then when the fire comes they say, “I warned Joe about that furnace.” And, “Does Joe have children?” And “I saw a fire once. It spreads like syrup. No, it spreads like explosive syrup. No, it’s formidable and yet fleeting.” When the fire comes they talk. Bush ain’t that guy. Republicans love the guy who ain’t that guy. Americans love the guy who ain’t that guy.
Someone said to me: But how can you call him normal when he came from such privilege? Indeed he did. But there’s nothing lemonade-on-the-porch-overlooking-the-links-at-the-country-club about Mr. Bush. He isn’t smooth. He actually has some of the roughness and the resentments of the self-made man. I think the reason for this is Texas. He grew up in a white T-shirt and jeans playing ball in the street with the other kids in the subdivision. Barbara Bush wasn’t exactly fancy. They lived like everyone else. She spoke to me once with great nostalgia of her early days in Texas, when she and her husband and young George slept in the same bed in an apartment in Midland. A prostitute lived in the complex. Barbara Bush just thought she was popular. Then they lived in a series of suburban houses.
Today, Bush’s approval ratings are beyond bleak, with 81 percent unhappy with the direction of the nation. In the one act that required the utmost responsibility — launching a war of choice in the Middle East — most Americans, including fellow Republicans, say it was mishandled, miscalculated and poorly planned from the start. All said, the American folk are none too happy with Joe Sixpack for President. Who would’ve known?
Thus, the November election is one of “hope” in more ways than Mr. Obama has so loftily pursued: we hope to approach the voting booth with a little more clarity and focus for what really matters, we hope the media will find the guts to countenance silly, myth-making spin and we hope to have learned enough to know that hot-headedness doesn’t always equal passion and “McNasty” isn’t quite a term of endearment.
UPDATE: McCain aide Mark Salter is charging that that “99 percent” of the front page story in the Sunday Washington Post is complete fiction. Jumping in for the spin, Hugh Hewitt blames left-wing media bias for even raising the issue.