Friday, April 18, 2008

On Leadership

versus Style.

I know a lot of folks are disbelieving the polls showing McCain even with or ahead of either Hillary or Obama, but I'll take a step over the edge and suggest that if anything, they understate McCain's election standing right now. If the election were held today, I suspect he would win handily, though for the sake of the children, let alone humanity in general, he absolutely should not.

And if things keep going the way they are going, he's going to win in November, too.

One of the reasons that he is doing as well as he is, despite his numerous handicaps, is the media love affair with their Warrior Princess. And I use that term advisedly. He is as fragile as a glass figurine, as haughty as a débutante, he is explosive if he isn't loved up all the time, and he is as exotic as a hot house flower in his constant "maverickism."

The media treats him as the Incumbent Princess, no less, one who is merely standing for "election" out of some silly sense of public duty, but who already holds the title. Neither Hillary nor Obama can compete on the Princess's territory. Sorry.

Another reason that McCain's pathway to the Palace seems to be getting smoother rather than rougher is that little matter of Leadership.

Now, of course McCain was a naval officer, a pilot (don't get me started) and his father and grandfather were admirals, so a certain, how shall we say, official "bearing" comes naturally to him. (Though if you saw him on The View coyly seated in the middle of those shrieking harpies, and imagined him in a Scarlett O'Hara gown saying "Oh, fiddle-dee-dee!" you'd have a somewhat different idea of his "bearing." But I digress.)

As an officer it is natural for him to take the lead in any number of endeavors, which he has done, and at least in some cases has done so admirably. In the Senate he is well-known and highly regarded for his leadership role. He has brought together coalitions, got them to sign on to measures and processes they might not have if he didn't ask them, he's gotten reforms passed, he's been all over the place, generally leading some faction or other or pressing some idea of what is "best."

He's had this reputation for years and years. People know him, and know him well, as a Leader. Whether his reputation is as deserved as he might like to think is for another discussion. We are talking about perception here.

Neither Barack nor Hillary can match his leadership in the Senate or anywhere else. Both have the potential to be leaders, perhaps outstanding leaders, but so far, neither has demonstrated it in the Senate where they have a platform, and where they could -- if they wanted to -- take a leadership role. Yes, it is actually possible for a Senator who is not in the Leadership to assume a leadership role on issues they believe in. McCain has done it many times. Barack and Hillary haven't.

That was part of John Kerry's problem with the voters. He'd been in the Senate forever, but what had he done? What issues had he led on? What programs, what legislation, what reforms had he set in motion and shepherded through the process of enactment?


And McCain is perhaps the only Republican candidate who can be guaranteed to peel off a significant number of Democrats in the general election -- at least as things stand now. He's got a whole deck of cards to appeal to disaffected Democrats.

And the way the two Democratic candidates have been playing the primaries, essentially doing their best to alienate the other's constituents and partisans, driving them out of the electorate altogether or over to McCain, is breathtaking in its epic failure mode. This can't be happening. But it is.


So. McCain starts off with a remarkable set of advantages, which the Democrats in their eagerness to demonize the other and the other's supporters merely reinforce.

And because McCain has been recognized by the public as a leader in the Senate for years, his "suitability" for the Presidency is already secure in most people's minds. They don't even question it, the way they might with regard to Obama or Clinton.

But Bob Dole had all those advantages, too. And he never made it to the White House, so there is hope yet.

I just wish the two Democratic candidates were better leaders on the issues, or had led at all, in the Senate.

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