Here’s a less twee note than yesterday’s entry: At the GOP convention, Fred Thompson glumly intoned the tale of McCain living in a small box into which his captors stuck him in Viet Nam, pressing the idea home as if inviting us to “think inside the box.”
Around the same time, as it happens, I saw a compilation of TV comedy routines at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio), and one politically interesting bit was an early-90s Dennis Miller routine, showing a hint of where his thinking was headed even before he became a libertarian and then a hawkish libertarian. He talked about the then-recent vice presidential debates in which independent Ross Perot’s running mate, Admiral James Bond Stockdale (his real name), was widely perceived as a laughingstock for leading with the drifty-sounding question “Who am I? Why am I here?” and later being caught with his hearing aid off.
Miller noted, rapidfire, that laughable Stockdale was the most-decorated military man in American history, taught philosophy, and needed a hearing aid in that ear precisely because he’d heroically endured torture in Viet Nam, not so unlike McCain. But, finished Miller, despite Stockdale’s many accomplishments, he had still committed the ultimate sin of our era: He did badly on TV.
And indeed, that was the night that my boss at the time decided to give up and stop wearing his Perot for President button.
Now, Perot is a protectionist loon, and I don’t much regret the fact that he didn’t win — but given his strong emphasis on deficit reduction, paying off the federal debt, and generally putting our house in basic economic order rather than hunting for ever more petty things to regulate (and fear, and fight about), not to mention his fondness for explaining fiscal crises in simple terms with charts and pointers (including his alligator-foot “voodoo stick”), you have to wonder whether he and his tortured running mate might not have helped nudge us toward focusing on the basic fiscal issues that now appear to matter most.
Here’s hoping someone prominent will soon decide to base a compelling campaign on these sorts of things — or that the public becomes sufficiently dissatisfied to seek out the Bob Barrs when they come along and judge them by slightly more important criteria than telepresence.
But if people are going to judge superficially, I would suggest McCain consider making his remaining TV spots look like the ads for A Quantum of Solace, which will be running heavily around the election, and that he start appearing in a tux at all times and emphasizing his past as a ladies’ man, gun user, and target of international intrigue. Perhaps a public eager to see Bond will reward McCain for being a partial substitute. He might even consider changing his name to James Bond McCain.