It Ain’t Nothing But a Number

A discoloration appeared on the cheek of Senator John McCain–a blemish that was removed during the routine examination conducted by his dermatologist every three months–and immediately the pundits began worrying again about his health, or more to the point his age. Should McCain win the election in November, he would be 72 when he is sworn in, making him the oldest man ever elected president. On the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president, he was a handful of days away from turning 70.

McCain’s age has become a running joke with the latenight comics, and McCain himself even joined in the fun when he appeared on Saturday Night Live to argue America needed to elect a president who was “very, very old.” In point of fact, if you spend any time with McCain at all, you realize that while he is indeed past 70, he certainly doesn’t act like it. The times I’ve seen him in person on the campaign trail, he looks robust and energetic, although sometimes on television he can come across as less than spry. Then again, McCain has never been one to shine on television. At his best, he appears engaged and informed, but never genetically telegenic. The townhall is McCain’s forum of choice, not the television appearance.

Not too long before this presidential cycle began, I spent some time with McCain at his weekend home in Sedona, Arizona. I was interviewing him for a national men’s magazine. We walked the grounds, with him showing me his favorite plants and trees. He barbequed that evening for friends. And after my post-dinner interview, we watched a Phoenix Suns basketball game, before I headed off to my hotel. Watching him up close, it never occurred to me that he was old. He seemed pretty much the same way he did when I first met him in late 1999, during the 2000 presidential cycle: active, on the go, determined to fill his day with as much life as possible.

Here’s something to consider. If we are going to leave racism out of the fall campaign, we should leave out ageism too.


Media Matters

Over the last several days, the presidential campaign may have entered into a new dimension. On Friday, the op-ed editor of The New York Times rejected an essay by Senator John McCain, which the McCain campaign had submitted to the newspaper as a response to an essay by Senator Barack Obama published there a week or so earlier. In suggesting a way for McCain to revise his essay for possible publication, the editor wrote, “It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece.”

The fall-out from the Times‘ refusal to publish McCain’s response to the Obama essay comes at the same time the television networks are providing Obama with elaborate coverage of his trip to the Middle East that is so staged NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has accused Obama of conducting “fake interviews.” Finally, there’s the network coverage of McCain himself. When he arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Monday for campaign appearances–in a state that will be critical in the fall election–he was met by just one reporter and one still photographer.

All of this makes members of the McCain campaign feel that the public may begin finally to question the overall coverage of the presidential race itself. The question may then be asked: Why is Obama receiving such extensive coverage when McCain is being all but ignored? If this happens, the McCain campaign believes there may be a backlash as the public starts to feel that it is being manipulated by the coverage of the two candidates–not informed. “Obama is being packaged and marketed in a well-orchestrated Madison-Avenue-style advertising campaign,” someone close to the McCain campaign told me. “Eventually, the public will realize that what they are being sold is an empty suit.”

Unlike the race in 2000, this time around McCain is in it for the long haul. With the national opinion polls remaining close, the tipping-point issue could be the very way the media is covering the race–and the public’s reaction to it. And if anyone knows about the media, it’s John McCain, since not so long ago it was McCain who was the media’s darling. The same people who are dismissing him now once heaped praise on him–and seemed to mean it. It will be interesting to see if the tactical advantage in the race shifts to McCain simply because of the way he’s being treated by the members of the media he once considered to be his friends.



There has been much discussion about what role Karl Rove will play in the fall campaign. On June 30, James Carville sent out a fund-raising email giving some sense of what that role might be.

“Republicans are placing a big bet on Karl Rove,” Carville wrote as he hit up Democratic contributors for cash. “Freedom’s Watch, the secretive Republican attack group zeroing in on Democratic House candidates, has put its expected $200 million war chest in the hands of Karl Rove. They’re handing him hundreds of millions of dollars to spend attacking our candidates with this year’s biggest ‘Swift Boat’ group…. The story is that Rove has teamed up with Sheldon Adelson–the billionaire casino mogul behind Freedom’s Watch. As a result, Rove will have nearly a quarter of a billion dollar kitty at his disposal. And, he’ll use every red cent to unleash on Democratic candidates a relentless stream of attacks that twist the truth and prey on people’s emotions…. Rove can run through Adelson’s money faster than a hapless tourist dropping his last paycheck at a Vegas roulette wheel.”

So is this true? Are the Republicans setting up Rove with his own personal 527 to use to smear Democratic candidates in the fall? Will that 527 look like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group used to derail the presidential campaign of John Kerry in 2004? If so, will Rove stop with House candidates, or will his ultimate target be Barack Obama?

John McCain’s anger for what happened to him in South Carolina in the 2000 primary–supposedly orchestrated by Rove–is well known. Perhaps this is a way for Rove to participate in the fall election without working for the McCain campaign. The answers should be clear soon enough. In 2004, the smear of Kerry began in August.

March 2023