McCain's Bush-ectomy

The senator attempts a separation process by admitting that the country is worse off than it was four years ago but, interestingly, not eight years ago.

Published August 5, 2008 6:34PM (EDT)

Which is bigger news, ya think, the fact that the country is worse off than it was four years ago or the fact that John McCain is willing to admit it?

In his newest television ad, called "Broken" and set to start running soon in swing states, McCain admits that America was in better shape four years ago. "The ad ... comes after Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama made a point of including images of McCain with Bush in his last two ads hitting the Republican on his energy policy," writes the Hill's Sam Youngman.

What I find interesting is that McCain pegs the decline only at four years ago. I suspect this is a deliberate choice for a point of departure because McCain was more important than any fellow Republican in helping reelect Bush, and thus to say the country is worse than it was eight years ago would be an indictment of McCain by McCain. And as we all realize, John McCain's judgments are beyond impugning, even if not especially his judgments of his own actions. He is the Almighty and Wise American Hero-Maverick.

There is also this bit of electoral calculation in choosing four years ago over eight years ago as the start date for McCain to perform his convenient Bush-ectomy: McCain does not want 2004 Bush voters -- and especially that slim segment of swing voters who opted for Bush in 2004 but voted for Al Gore in 2000 -- to feel like they ought to regret that vote pairing, even though by 2004 they had ample reason and a full first term to see what a myopic, stubborn, incurious, ideological failure Bush would be in his second term. Doing so creates an electoral form of buyer's remorse and, as Howard Dean learned four years ago when he reminded many Americans (including many Democratic primary voters) they were wrong to trust Bush in the first place on Iraq, nobody likes to be reminded they were wrong about something -- a sentiment the briny McCain, of all people, understands too well because he really hates to be reminded of his many flip-flops and mistakes.

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 John Mccain R-ariz.