McCain’s Hillary Problem

There’s good and bad that came out of John Heilemann’s column in this week’s issue of New York magazine. Before you can assess Heilemann’s argument with any sense of logic, you have to get past how crassly he makes his case.

Heilemann calls McCain’s past and present campaigns (arguably, rightfully so) “spastic-goat rodeos.” He refers to the Senate as a “imagination-deadening, soul-destroying hellhole.” (OK, so he might be right about that one, too.) And, who can forget his lingering description of McCain at the end of the piece as “a man who seems intent on cross-dressing as the former First Lady.” The rhetoric he uses is less than respectful of America’s flawed-but-better-than-every-alternative political process and the people thick-skinned enough to endure it. Heilemann, if nothing else, sounds like a jaded denizen–and I’m fairly confident the man doesn’t even live in Washington, D.C.

But once you get past that–as those of us in D.C. often have to do–there’s reason to hear him out. He begins his comparison of the operations of McCain and Clinton, respectively:

“In the former, like the latter, you have an outfit with no clear lines of authority, rife with elephantine egos and feuding factions that have been at each others’ throats for years, none with the slightest compunction about bearing their animositities (albeit anonymously) in the press.”

And that’s just the third paragraph. (Terrific alliteration in that last line, right?) Heilemann gives Republicans cause to celebrate the comparison of McCain and Hillary yet.

“There are reasons to worry that Clintonianism, taken to its logical (and gruesome) extreme, may serve McCain better than it did the real McCoy.”

Heilemann says this is a reason to worry–but he should clarify that this is a reason for Democrats to worry, not for everyone. He, like many writers, seems to assume that any reasonable person reading his column must be a like-minded Democrat. Not so. (Although, any reasonable person would probably find his use of “the real McCoy” pretty hilarious.)

Where Heilemann really misses the mark though is in the perception that, like Hillary, McCain “will say and do anything to win,” calling this “even more damaging to him [McCain], given his image as a principled straight-talker.” I think he’s wrong to assert that this is where Clinton was ultimately doomed, first of all, because, if nothing else, I see Hillary as someone who sticks to her guns.

Heilemann also encountered a bit of unfortunate timing here, as he likely wrote this piece last week or early this week–before more and more news came piling in that presented Obama as the flip-flopper, the one who’s pandering more every day. McCain, in this race, is the ol’ faithful choice. Many of the conservatives I know who were disappointed that McCain became the GOP candidate have all found solace in thinking, “At least you know where he stands…” or, “At least you know he is operating with strong guiding principles…” (Many have said the same about Bush as his approval ratings have tanked and the government has become so utterly obese.)

Folks concerned about who “will say and do anything to win” need to take a second look at Obama’s record and his recent rhetoric on the road. McCain’s “Hillary problem,” then, may not be a problem at all.


This has been cross-posted at

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