As much as possible in his pathologically incoherent campaign, McCain has hit upon a central theme of sorts: He's a fighter. He'll fight for you. He knows what fear is--"a thief in the night that robs your strength." He knows what hopelessness is--"an enemy who defeats your will." And he's here to remind us that he is tough enough to defeat all that. "I felt those things once before. I will never let them in again."
It's not a bad approach, as characterological arguments for a candidacy go. It plays into McCain's hero status. It tries to exploit Obama's perceived flaw as too cool and composed. And it harkens back to Hillary's fighting-for-the-little-guy primary message, which won her a lot of traction late in the game.
But I'm wondering if in this, as in so many things, McCain's timing is off. During the primaries, voters were plenty angry--especially Dems. The economy was weak, the Iraq war (surge successes notwithstanding) had no end in sight, and evidence of the Bushies' incompetence and underhandedness were everywhere. Hillary, who always looks a little angry, could deliver the I'll-battle-the-bastards-for-you message with great conviction, and many folks responded favorably.
A few months on, there are, if anything, even more reasons to be angry. (I personally opted not to open my retirement-account statement this month out of fear that it would prompt an aneurysm.) But beyond anger, people are now scared shitless. In recent weeks we have watched the global financial markets come damn close to melting down. People are tossing around references to the Great Depression and musing about the end of free-market capitalism. All of which is great news for the makers of Prozac and Tagamet--but sucks big time for the rest of us.
When people are brassed off, they want a fighter. When they're terrified, they want a soothing, reassuring, calm, in-control leader. Obama may not have more experience than McCain dealing with or thinking about the economic troubles giving us night sweats. But he projects an aura of steadiness and authority. By contrast, McCain, who has always had a bit of belligerent twitchiness to him, only looks more volatile and unsettling by emphasizing his fierce, feisty combativeness. Indeed, the more the senator vows to fight for us, the more he reminds me of Scrappy Doo, running around yelping, "Let me at 'em! Let me at 'em!"
This might speak to folks like Crazy Wisconsin Guy. But my bet is it lacks the broad-based appeal needed for McCain to save his bacon.