Turnaround is fair play. You can't have it both ways, Mr.McCain.
“It is code; there is no question it is,” Ed Rollins, a Republican strategist who helped lead President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection campaign, said when age surfaced as an issue. “They are trying to raise doubts.”
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough repeatedly argued on his show last week that the Obama campaign was portraying McCain as a “doddering, old, confused fool. He needs to go to Miami Beach and play checkers.”
To Democrats, however, Republicans are imagining slights and smears where there are none as part of an attempt to silence any discussion of McCain’s vigor.
“They are definitely trying to just put a lid on the kind of language we use,” said Democratic consultant Jonathan Prince.
[...]The issue is no small matter for McCain. Polls in recent months found voters more likely to take into consideration his age than Obama’s race, which explains why the McCain campaign has turned into ersatz word police, calling foul on even the slightest hint of a reference to the Republican’s age.
His supporters certainly use the age card:
Former presidential candidate Bob Dole, 85, has cut off communication with John McCain, 71, so that McCain cannot be accused of taking advice from someone older than himself.McCain has been joking about his age for years; using it as a political weapon:
“I feel like I can’t even talk to McCain because it’ll be an issue,” Dole told The Examiner in an interview. “You know how the press would be. They’ll say this is a guy who lost because of his age and now he’s out there trying to tell McCain what to do."
“They’re already playing the age card,” the Republican added. “So what do you do? You have a friend running, but you can’t communicate.”
[...]Still, Dole acknowledged there are parallels between himself and McCain.
“We had the same age thing,” he said. “It’s sort of the same thing I went through. I’m a different generation than Bill Clinton, and McCain’s a different generation than Barack Obama.
“And we weren’t articulate enough for the media,” he added. “Let’s face it. I wasn’t the speaker that Clinton was and McCain’s not the speaker that Obama is. But are we going to elect a speech or we going to elect a president?”
Back on November 30, 2006, future Republican presidential nominee John McCain joked, "I'm older than dirt." A year and a half later, DNC research director Mike Gehrke was reprimanded for agreeing with him.
[...]When asked by Reader's Digest in February 2007 "how are you going to answer the question when people say, 'I just think he's too old?'" McCain trotted out his old reliable response:"I think I would say that I'm older than dirt. That I have more scars than Frankenstein. That I've learned a few things along the way. Anyone who has accompanied me in the two months before the last election, or while I was hiking in the Grand Canyon or doing many of the things that I do regularly, can attest to the fact that I'm capable of keeping a very rigorous schedule."The next month, USA Today featured McCain offering the same "older than dirt" rim shot. Then during a December 2007 MTV/MySpace event broadcast live, McCain stumbled and bumbled his way through the joke to a very forgiving youth audience:"I'm older than Frankenstein. I gotta few scars. I'm older than dirt and I've got more scars than Frankenstein...Screwed up that line."
And let's not forget that Reagan used age effectively when running against Walter Mondale:
Back in 1984, then 73-year old Ronald Reagan dispensed with the age question by standing it on its head. During a debate with Walter Mondale, Reagan joked, "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." But having already made himself the subject of the punchline, self-proclaimed Reagan foot soldier John McCain has guaranteed the issue of his age (50% of those surveyed in a 2007 Pew poll said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate in his 70's) won't go away.
How is this not using the age card:
McCain, 72, has said publicly that he's "older than dirt." He deadpanned on "Saturday Night Live" that he's "very, very, very old." He's even turned the tables on the Democrats' presumptive nominee -- 47-year-old Barack Obama -- by saying that "for a young man with very little experience, he's done very well."
This from Huffington in May:
John McCain said that Barack Obama is the candidate from Hamas.
Barack Obama said the comment was a sign that McCain is "losing his bearings as he pursues the nomination."
Which is more straightforward: That McCain was saying terrorists like Obama, or that Obama was saying that McCain is old?
So why is it that the McCain campaign has managed to frame the spat about Obama's remark?
To say that the race has caused McCain to lose his bearing is to be charitable. The Arizona senator talks about running a positive campaign (as does his wife, but of course she's not the candidate); he used to talk about wack-job preachers being agents of intolerance; he used to respect campaign finance law; I could go on. So the McCain who says his opponent is the terrorism candidate, cozies up to the Hagees and Parsleys of the world, and spins in and out of the public campaign finance system is either a straight-shooter who has lost his bearings or a calculating pol doing whatever he has to to win.
But again: How is it that the Obama campaign has let the debate become about whether he transgressed rather than whether McCain did. (Possible answer: The focus currently keeps the age issue in voters' minds.) I fear the campaign may be losing its bearings.
Also losing their bearings: The media and the candidates for focusing on this stuff at all.
UPDATE: As I do too often, I wrote this without precision. To be clear -- I think it's obvious that Obama was talking about McCain having flipped, flipped and flipped again from the straight-shooter to the typical pol. Trapper John over at Daily Kos lays out a good case for why the McCain campaign is trying to paint it as age-ism. I still am not sure why the Obama campaign has let the McCain camp define the debate.