Dear Senator McCain:
When it comes to what to say as well as how to say it in a debate,
speech, or even an argument over a microphone, your political hero
was the consummate master. Therefore, it’s not fair to ask you to
become Ronald Reagan.
However, after your performance Friday, it is fair (and imperative)
to urge you to become a lot more like Reagan, a task that shouldn’t
be in the least daunting to a former fighter pilot who has faced up
to challenges that make a presidential debate look like a pillow
To help you imitate the amiable former president who always had his
game face on in a verbal battle, here are some suggestions regarding
what you needed to say last week with gusto and conviction — if not
your hero’s unparalleled style.
Having received the first question, which inquired about the Wall
Street bailout, your opponent didn’t honestly discuss the issue. As
expected, he politicized it by turning his fire solely on
Incredibly, your response didn’t include something like this:
"Yes, the government must do everything it can to craft a rescue
plan that prevents economic catastrophe and protects the American
taxpayer. As you know, I have committed myself to that task. And may
I say I am proud of my fellow Republicans who are working as hard as
they can to limit liability to America’s honest, hard-working
However, I am sorry to see my opponent, a self-professed agent of
change, stoop to crass, unproductive, business-as-usual politics
regarding this important problem by placing blame for it exclusively
on one side of the political aisle.
As he well knows, congressional Democrats are up to their necks in
the mortgage mess. In fact, some of them, who happen to be among the
very top beneficiaries of political contributions from Fannie Mae
and Freddie Mac, are now lead negotiators involved in structuring a
rescue of financial institutions — unless, of course, I’m wrong that
Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Chris Dodd are Democrats,
Fannie and Freddie Democrats at that.
Now, all of us know about the tangled web a person weaves when he
practices to deceive. With that thought in mind, I put these
questions to a person who has based his entire campaign upon the
idea of change:
Will he explain to the American people why to head up his vice
presidential search committee, he chose former Fannie Mae Chairman
James Johnson, a man who resigned from his campaign post after
charges came out he had received preferential mortgage terms from a
mortgage institution awash in bad mortgages?
Will he say that his campaign has never had any contact whatsoever
with Franklin Raines, regarding, of all things, mortgage and housing
issues — any contact whatsoever with the Franklin Raines who earned
90 million dollars destroying Fannie Mae?
Will he call the Washington Post reporter who quoted Mr. Raines as
admitting such contacts a liar? And will he say he believes Mr.
Raines, who now denies the conversation with the reporter?”
Senator McCain, I know you and your team can improve upon the
content of the suggestions made above and settle upon the most
effective manner of delivery. But think of it. No sooner had the
battle begun last Friday than your opponent foolishly flew right in
front of your jet fighter. Can you imagine the impact you would have
made with voters if you had shot him down with the substance and at
least some of your hero’s style?
There’s not time to analyze the entire debate, Senator, so I’ll make
suggestions regarding just one other exchange, one that called for a
crucially important technique of political debate on which, frankly,
far too many Republican politicians deserve a "D” at best.
Recall that your opponent spoke first on the subject of Russia’s
invasion of Georgia, responding with the usual obligatory statements
about that act of aggression.
You reacted correctly by immediately pointing out he didn’t see
things quite the same in his first statement regarding the invasion,
when he called upon both sides to "show restraint.”
However, you spoke in a low, indistinct voice that most likely
caused many to miss what you said. You also failed to give your
important point force by providing the strong introduction it
deserves. Moreover, you failed to mention that only after days of
fumbling from one statement to another did he come to his current
Therefore, you failed to cash in on a perfect opportunity to define
your opponent as a weak, unsure, morally uncertain "typical liberal”
without ever mentioning that term.
Moreover — and crucially — you didn’t follow up with the most
important technique of political debate: Using concrete images,
examples, and anecdotes that evoke both thoughts and emotions in
Here’s how you might have done that not just to emphasize your
opponent’s "Georgia fumble” but to take advantage of a "teachable
moment,” in this case, one that prompts voters to move from the
issue at hand to a larger notion — the twisted, Pollyannish, "ACLU”
behavior of liberals in general.
"Georgia needs to show restraint? Well . . .there you go again with
a false moral equivalency that reminds me of behavior exhibited by
too many politicians, judges, and so-called experts.
For example, upon hearing an intruder in her home, a woman reaches
for the firearm she keeps for protection and subsequently fires at
the intruder as he flees through her yard.
What’s the reaction we hear all too often from liberals? Both the
woman and the intruder need to ‘show restraint’ — the woman,
especially. . . because as the intruder ran away from her home, he
posed ‘no threat’ to her.
That kind of thinking, my fellow Americans, is not only morally
wrong and unspeakably insulting; it is enormously dangerous —
whether it applies to the woman of my example or a nation’s
aggression against an innocent neighbor.”
Senator, no matter his slickness with words, it is virtually certain
that had your opponent tried to explain why your generalization
about liberals is "wrong” and your example "inappropriate,” he would
have succeeded only in sending his plane into a tailspin.
To sum this up, Senator McCain, I’ll mention your hero again and
give you a piece of advice whose soundness can’t be disputed:
Ronald Reagan knew that whether they’re talking about taxes, jobs,
energy, gun rights, or judicial activism, Republican politicians
can’t simply say things such as, "I believe in the Second Amendment”
or "I’m against judges who legislate from the bench” but must speak
in language powerfully of and for the people, language that speaks
to the mind and the heart.
Therefore, stand on Reagan’s shoulders, Senator; and you will debate
in a way that causes voters to exclaim, "McCain did a helluva job! A
helluva job! Reminded me of the Gipper . . .the Gipper, God bless