After John McCain's win in New Hampshire, Sarah Fenske puts dibs on a seat on the bandwagon

There was a moment on the campaign trail last fall when I was reminded, suddenly, why John McCain was once the political crush of my life.

The Senator Who Could Actually Be President was campaigning at a New Hampshire high school when a kid in the audience asked an impertinent question. McCain is awfully old, the kid said. Did he worry about dying in office, or getting Alzheimer's, "or some other disease that might affect your judgment?"

McCain answered the question with the ease of a guy who's been in the public eye for decades — with age comes experience, I'm a hard worker, I'll outwork my rivals — and he tacked on a coda. "Thanks for the question, you little jerk," he said, his eyes twinkling.

Can you imagine the straight-as-a-tie-pin Mitt Romney pulling off that one? But McCain can play the lovable rogue like nobody's business, and the audience roared.

Last week, Hillary Clinton had her own little quintessential moment. Her eyes actually got all moist when a sympathetic audience member asked how she managed to look so great and keep her composure in the face of such nasty attacks. Compared with the question McCain got stuck with, this was a total softball. And yet Clinton used the moment to feel sorry for herself.

All sensitive self-pity, she said it was hard, really hard. She did it only because "I've had so many opportunities from this country . . ." — soft sigh — "I just don't want see us fall backwards."

So, if we don't listen to Hillary, civilization collapses?

Blech!

I watched that YouTube clip about a dozen times, and even though it exasperates me, I can see why it proved effective. Clinton is usually so shrill, and self-righteously partisan, that she comes off as a parody of herself, an American Spectator caricature (barely) come to life. Her little sigh of sadness was at least recognizably human, and the pundits who say it helped Clinton to victory in New Hampshire are probably right.

But still. Blech.

Rush Limbaugh has said that men won't vote for Hillary Clinton because she reminds them of their first wives, but I'm sure Clinton has already written off that type of male voter. The bigger problem may be that women my age aren't going to vote for Clinton because she reminds us of our mothers.

Older women might see Clinton sighing and getting misty and think about how she's under attack by a vicious press corps and her male competitors. We twenty- and thirtysomethings instead think about the quaver in our mothers' voices when we tell them we may not make it home for Christmas.

"Well, I understand," she'd say. "It's just that everybody else will be so disappointed, and" — soft sigh — "do you really want to let Grandpa down when he might not live to see another Christmas?"

So, if we don't listen to Mom, the family falls apart?

We're supposed to feel sorry for her, and we do, but we also feel resentment and annoyance and a fervent desire to deal with someone who doesn't play games.

John McCain, anyone?


Last week, I changed my voter registration so that I could vote for John McCain. When I moved to town, I didn't realize that you have to be a registered member of one party or another to vote in the primaries. As of last Monday, my days of Independence are officially over: I'm a Republican.

The decision was a homecoming. I'd been an enthusiastic conservative my entire life. (Undoubtedly, I'm the only columnist in this paper's history who once ran a chapter of the College Republicans.) Long before I ever considered living in his home state, I voted for McCain in the 2000 GOP primary.

But after eight years of Bush, I wasn't sure I was ready to stick with the whole Republican Party thing, much less support my former hero. Not to take my cues from a high school kid, but McCain seemed . . . old. And in the darkest days of the war, I have to admit to feeling sheer irritation every time I heard him defending our involvement. Why did he have to keep pushing for more troops? Never mind that I'd once backed the invasion; when times got hard, I wanted to forget the whole thing.

So this year, I mentally auditioned a half-dozen candidates: Bill Richardson? Barack Obama? Okay, then, how about Fred Thompson? Please, tell me Chuck Hagel is going to throw his hat in the ring! I was surprised as anyone to find myself right back where I started in 2000.

McCain isn't a popular guy in Arizona these days. He may have a good shot at the Republican nomination this fall, but he could actually have a hard time winning this state. And I don't mean just the primary, but the general election. He's angered all the lefties with his unflagging support for the war, and he's angered the increasingly shrill closed-borders faction of the GOP with his amnesty plan for illegal immigrants. He's not the dream candidate of any major constituency.

And that's exactly why he's my guy.

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2 comments
helentroy4
helentroy4

Sara, I've enjoyed a number of the articles you've written since arriving at the New Times. But it's obvious you haven't lived in Arizona long enough to see through the man. Take some time and read (if it's still a collected series) your own newspaper's coverage of McCain 'back in the day' of his wife's drug thefts and drug problems, how an innocent man was used to try to cover her forged rx's, etc. etc. etc.

You may come away with a much different opinion. The New Times has done an excellent job over the years bringing the 'real' McCain to the masses.

Wendy
Wendy

Not my own comment, but I think it is timely

MCCAIN: NO MORE MR. STRAIGHT TALK?Wed Jan 16, 6:28 PM ET

Did Mitt Romney just derail John McCain's Straight Talk Express? Not all the Democrats' and independents' votes in Michigan were enough to canonize John McCain, who barreled through Dearborn and Detroit congratulating himself for nobly ignoring voters' real concerns. In Michigan, Mitt "fight for every job" Romney trounced John "I cannot tell a lie" McCain.

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Romney's victory in Michigan was surprisingly broad: He beat McCain among both men and women, older and younger voters, Catholics and Protestants, people with incomes above and below $50,000, college graduates and those with just a high school degree. Romney even bested both McCain and Huckabee among white evangelicals.

What kind of Michigan voters preferred McCain? Voters in the GOP primary who don't like President Bush, who oppose the war in Iraq and who report that they have no religion at all. Oh, and those who say they are not, in fact, Republicans.

Will the Straight Talk Express power back up and chug through South Carolina? If the Michigan contest was partly a test of the brand's power, the South Carolina campaign may derail its essential credibility.

The Annenberg Foundation's nonpartisan FactCheck.org just delivered a powerful rebuke to the basic honesty of a McCain mailer used in South Carolina (and defended by Sen. McCain after reporters called it to his attention).

In particular, FactCheck.org called McCain's assertion that Mitt Romney "provided" taxpayer-funded abortions "simply false."

"Romney never pushed for taxpayer funding for abortions. The state law he signed provided greatly expanded state-subsidized health insurance for low-income residents," Factcheck.org explained. An independent body -- the Commonwealth Connector -- not Romney, decided that abortions would be covered (a move required by two Massachusetts state supreme court rulings).

McCain also had the chutzpah to charge Romney with failing to verbally support Bush tax cuts that McCain himself actually voted against .

FactCheck.org concluded that on the whole John McCain's portrayal of Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts was "so distorted as to discredit McCain's claim to be the candidate of 'straight talk.'"

St. McCain -- distorting the record and misleading the public? If you listen to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, that may not be as surprising as the branders want you to believe. In an unprecedentedly frank evaluation of a former GOP colleague. Sen. Santorum, who hasn't endorsed a candidate, said McCain is "very, very dangerous for Republicans" on domestic issues.

"The bottom line is that I served 12 years with him, six years in the United States Senate," he told WABC radio talk show host Mark Levin. "And almost at every turn on domestic policy, John McCain was not only against us, but leading the charge on the other side."

Sen. McCain apparently had a nasty habit of leaving one impression in public on social issues like abortion and marriage, and another behind closed Senate doors, according to Santorum:

"That discussion is held in private, where you're jostling and jockeying to get your legislation into the queue so that you can have your time on the floor to get something done. And I can tell you, when social-conservative issues were ever raised -- whether it was marriage or abortion or a whole host of other issues -- there were always the moderates who said: 'No, no, no, we can't. They're divisive, divisive, divisive.' And more often than not, John McCain was ... with them."

"That's wrong," Santorum added. "And that gives me an insight into what he would really be like if he were president of the United States."

The next night on the Mark Levin show, another even more respected and distinguished conservative voice, Judge Robert Bork, called McCain a "liberal."

Johnny, we hardly knew ye.

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