14 June 2008

John McCain vs. YouTube

Republican candidate John McCain is facing an uphill struggle to win the Presidential election November. Concerns about his age (he would be 72 when entering office if he won the election - the oldest first term President in history), an unpopular Republican brand and a tarnished President he does not quite know how to handle. But perhaps the biggest problem being faced by Senator McCain is himself, or more specifically - his mouth.

Before McCain can even hope to convince the country to not reject his imperialist designs, he needs to stop harming himself with careless statements. Since he returned from the political wilderness last year and reentered the media spotlight in December 2007, John McCain has been accumulating sound bites that will undoubtedly harm his candidacy in the months ahead.

The most famous clips are his "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" and his talking about staying in Iraq for 100 years. And he has since added a third statement to the impressive list. Asked when he thought troops could start coming home from Iraq, McCain responded that the question was "not that important."

Now this is a little more complicated than a Clinton 'misspeak', as Senator McCain is not fundamentally saying anything that he disagrees with. He is against withdrawing from Iraq because of what he considers a risk of chaos and because leaving troops in the country to maintain a network of permanent bases is part of his design. The "100 years" quote and now the "not that important" statement were both attempts to express this argument: Once Iraq is pacified, troops can stay in Iraq as long as we want them to and they will not be in harm's way - as they do in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

McCain did go on to explain that what is important is the casualty level, and not the troop level.

The real issue is that McCain keeps scoring own goals with his delivery in framing the issue. Whatever the context, whatever his true meaning and however much Democrats might be distorting McCain's meaning when they imply that he wants the combat phase to last 100 years, the Republican nominee should never utter such statements. Just as the "100 years" quote, McCain declaring that the date of withdrawal is "not important" provides an incredible sound bite for Democrats to use.

And what is more crucial is that these comments are complicating and distorted further by McCains tendency to commit real foreign policy gaffes, like his repeated confusion between Shiites and Sunni.

In the era in which a YouTube clip can destroy a mighty frontrunner's candidacy, John McCain might not realise how damaging one sound bite can be. But you can bet that the Democrats will be lining up to remind him.


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