PAY ATTENTION TO ME! ME!!!
Earlier this week, John Dickerson of Slate told us about John McCain's next attempt to grab headlines:
...at the end of the month [McCain will travel] to venues where Republicans don't usually campaign. McCain is planning to speak in inner cities, heavily African-American sections of the South, and poor sections of Appalachia. Most of his stops will be in areas where voters have traditionally supported Democrats.
Today, blogging for The Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes tells us why he thinks this is risky. Is it because the policies McCain favors actually aren't in the best interests of such groups? No. Is it because McCain hasn't done much campaigning before such groups? Yes, but that's not what's bugging Hayes. Here's why Hayes thinks it could be a bad idea:
It's risky for another reason, too. Although McCain has quietly sought to mend fences with some conservatives who did not support him in the primaries, he has done little of substance to ease their concerns. The risk is not that these conservatives oppose reaching out to voters (and non-voters) who don't normally vote Republicans. They don't. It's that in a campaign with limited time and limited resources, McCain is choosing to spend time with people unlikely to vote for him rather than, say, giving a speech on the importance of missile defense or stopping in at a successful charter school or visiting a pro-adoption crisis pregnancy center. The risk is that such a tour could reinforce the perception among conservatives that McCain cares much less about winning their approval than he does about the approval of his opponents and the news media.
HEY! WHAT ABOUT ME? WHAT ABOUT MY NEEDS?
What Hayes is suggesting is just silly. Crisis pregnancy centers? Missile defense? George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan didn't even campaign on these issues. But this is what upsets right-wingers about John McCain -- not his positions on the issues (he's on their side a hell of a lot more than, say, Rudy Giuliani, whom they like a lot better, and even their beloved Joe Lieberman is still a domestic-issues moderate), but the fact that he doesn't show them enough respect. He doesn't kiss the right-wing ring. How dare he waste limited campaigning time not talking to us? McCain is suspect, so, unlike W. and the Gipper, he needs to go the extra mile.
This is really the core emotional wound of the right, the hole in the right-wing soul: These people feel disrespected; attention must be paid, dammit. They have one criterion for voting, and one only: Do you want to make us feel good and make Democrats, that motley crew of latte-swillers and throwback New Dealers and non-whites, feel bad?
McCain is betting that he can ignore the tantrums of these coddled babies and they'll vote for him anyway. We'll see if he's right.
Here's Dickerson on why McCain is doing this:
...the McCain tour is not aimed at winning a host of black votes. Nor is it primarily about the next obvious play: showing independents that he cares about minorities and the underprivileged, a traditional bank shot candidates take in order to make themselves appealing to moderate voters. The tour, which will include lots of freewheeling town halls, is more like performance art, an attempt to show off authenticity and the unfiltered McCain. "People can come in and do what they want," says McCain's top adviser, Mark Salter. "They can praise, chastise, and argue with him. This isn't just his style. It's a part of his message."
McCain's strategists are mapping the tour -- and his campaign -- on the theory that even if voters disagree with McCain, they come away with a favorable gut-level sense of his character when they get to see him up close....
I think there's one more aspect to this. I think McCain's people may be hoping that he faces real hostility from people (union workers, nonwhites) the campaign (and the GOP noise machine) can portray as uncouth -- and in that way, maybe he is trying to tap right-wingers' pleasure centers.
Think back to the opening chapter of The Bonfire of the Vanities, in which a white New York mayor (read: Ed Koch) catches flak at a community meeting in an African-American neighborhood, his nemesis being Reverend Bacon (read: Al Sharpton). In a city that was very racially polarized, the real Ed Koch loved for white New York to see him being heckled that way. And he won three terms as mayor.