He’s the guy who was running for president before all the national attention shifted to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Now, Senator John McCain seems to be only an afterthought, at best, or an anachronism, at worst. He has got to get back into the game, otherwise he will never be in contention.
Forget that he leads in the polls. That means nothing. His lead is only the consequence of the division among Democrats. Supporters of Hillary are quite incapable of uttering the “O” word to a pollster and Obama backers won’t admit that they’d ever back Hillary. But once the they settle on a nominee — provided there is no super delegate larceny involved — Democrats will be Democrats and McCain’s lead will vanish. He has got to use this period, when he is not under attack, to flesh out his image and begin his campaign.
To do that, he can’t wait on the sidelines and only put out carefully controlled stories — like his biographical tour which he has just begun. He has to wade into the midst of current controversy, carve out his message, demonstrate his relevance, and make the headlines he needs to become a center of attention and interest.
What should be his message? Populism. Many will urge that he fortify his base. But with Republican Party identification at an all time low, there isn’t enough base out there to win. He needs to attract swing voters. Not by going to the left of the Democrats, but by transcending their liberalism by attacking the forces of privilege their party is bent on protecting.
Here are a few choice targets:
• McCain should go after those who have caused the subprime crisis and demand justice. He should press for recapture of the fees and commissions they made by making loans they knew were no good. He should demand that their licenses be ended, their institutions closed, and their ill gotten gains confiscated.
• He should attack credit card companies for their abuse of consumers through usurious interest rates, high penalty fees imposed at the drop of a hat, and interchange fees that add to the cost of everything we buy.
• McCain should take up the case against Congressional perks, building on his efforts to curtail earmarks, cracking down on Congressional ethics, and taking aim at the day to day practices (as opposed to the speeches) of his two fellow senators who are running for office.
• He should go after regulators who don’t regulate, beginning with those who let unsafe toys into the U.S. He should condemn the FAA for its weaknesses. He should go after the Fed and other regulators for their laxity in the face of the emerging credit crisis.
• McCain should blast China for its abuse of Tibet. While governments are cowed into silence, McCain should speak out for human liberty and against the repressive tactics of Beijing even as China wants us to celebrate their Olympic games.
Strong, vigorous, populist advocacy can bring the spotlight back to McCain, draw attention to the integrity and strength which has always made him a unique public figure.
As he sought the GOP nomination, this muckraking McCain had to be bottled up inside a national security conservative façade. But no matter how deeply McCain believes in national security, it is his populism that has earned him the plaudits that got him to where he is today.
It’s time for the bleached out McCain to exit and for the hearty, embattled, opponent of falsity and privilege to take center stage. And, to show the Democrats how to do it.