Dissing McCain

The "Dr. No" comment suggests a candidate who is either disoriented, dispirited or just plain disconnected.

Published July 29, 2008 1:36PM (EDT)

So John McCain Monday had the gall to criticize Barack Obama's energy policy, which is funny enough -- not to mention inaccurate -- on its merits. This from the Republican Party that brought America the $4 gallon of gas and the War for Freedom That Oil Revenues Will Pay For. (Pay no mind to the man behind the curtain whose administration just announced a half-trillion-dollar deficit for the coming fiscal year.)

But what's most disconcerting about McCain's little riff complaining about Obama's "opposition" to offshore drilling was how he blew the set up for the punch line about the Democrat being the "Dr. No" of energy policy. As the television ad version of this talking point makes clear (return to link in the previous paragraph), McCain's remarks, as scripted, were almost certainly supposed to include a series of suggested energy solutions either followed by "… but Obama says no" or, alternatively, preceded by "Obama says no to …" That way, when McCain reaches the part where he compares Obama to a 1950s-era villain, the punch line makes sense and at least elicits a chuckle -- and maybe points for cleverness. Absent the proper windup, listeners end up confused, turning their heads like dogs who just heard a distant, high-frequency whistle.

These moments reveal a candidate simply not firing on all, and sometimes not even half, of his cylinders. I hesitate to say McCain is disoriented, because that implies he has lost his basic mental faculties, and it is too easy to turn such an observation into an insinuation that he is too old (although his Sunni-Shiite and other confusions of late do not inspire much confidence). Maybe McCain is too dispirited to really give the campaign his full effort.

But the more I think about it, "disconnected" seems the most apt word. On almost a daily basis, the Arizonan looks like he is not plugged into his own campaign. After seven-plus years of a president who seemed oblivious to much of what was going on around him, the last thing the country needs is another semi-aware president.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.