18 May 2008

McCain and his age

There exist a number of asinine reasons to refuse to vote for a candidate. Race and gender of course top the list. And close behind is age.

No matter. In a race against a fresh-looking Washington newcomer who is 25 years his junior, John McCain will be forced to deal with the specter of his age, much like Barack Obama regrettably will be forced to clear his own hurdle of being a minority.

Sen. McCain's advisers are acutely aware of the fact that the Senior Senator is 71 and, if elected, would be the oldest president in history to be elected to his first term. The age issue becomes considerably more pronounced if, as expected (barring a near-miracle by the Clintons in Denver), Sen. Obama is his opponent. Thus, Team Maverick has two dichotomies to study: President Reagan's campaigns in '80 and '84 -- during which he was videotaped riding horses, hiking and doing work outdoors on his ranch -- and Bob Dole's ill-fated run in '96 -- during which the senator infamously and unceremoniously fell down on stage. Reagan was 69 in 1980, and like Reagan in '84, Dole was 73 in 1996.

Make no mistake: McCain's age will be a factor. How the issue will be framed, however, is largely up to his political team. To Obama's credit (aside from his patronizing references to McCain's five decades in public service), he will not overtly make this an issue. McCain's love affair with the camera, the unbridled access he allows the press, his conversational, straight-forward style on the stump and his dry sense of humor are all great assets to his team's attempt to assuage voters' concerns about his age.

It was in that vein that McCain's team began putting its strategy into action with McCain's appearance on SNL last night. In a very presidential-like address, McCain made several cracks about his age, the best of which was his line that, "I have the courage, the wisdom, the experience and, most importantly, the oldness necessary -- the oldness it takes to protect America, to honor her, love her and tell her about what cute things the cat did."

Unlike Reagan, McCain is limited physically as a result of the brutal treatment he received in the Hanoi Hilton, so his campaign must find a different way to attack the issue. But similar to Reagan, McCain is an incredibly gifted politician and humorist, and his likability and way of making voters feel comfortable will both go along way in assuaging concerns about his age. The SNL performance was the first step of many, in which McCain likely will address it head-on, and with his trademark self-depricating humor. Such would seem to be the most effective way of dismissing voters' concerns, and allowing the campaign to focus elsewhere.

Such as, perhaps, why Congressional Quarterly reported that the Changemaker voted with his party 97% of the time in 2007.

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