One of the false signals that left-leaning, hawkish Republicans like McCain get from the media establishment is that they should be looking to perform certain “sensitive” acts, and particularly if those acts acts indicate that they’re ‘reaching out.’ In McCain’s case his reaching leftward has cut it predictably with some groups. Such gestures have brought him the instant approval of the neoconservative and liberal media, and therefore, as my son suggests, I may be showing the signs of age by not regarding these gestures as favorably as did Karl Rove and Dick Morris. My own view is of course quite different. When McCain tells Southerners to take down their hateful Confederate battle flags or starts groveling before a black crowd in Memphis, who would never vote for him in a thousand years, and asks forgiveness for not having voted for the MLK national holiday, it is questionable whether he is picking up a single vote anywhere. Neocons and liberals, who loathe the Confederacy and who wish to turn MLK into a national deity, may wildly applaud McCain for sticking his nose into matters where it doesn’t belong.
But he may be losing far more votes than he is likely to gain. Those who are likely to vote for McCain, which as Pat Buchanan observes are not the members of the NAACP or most of those who belong to La Raza, may enjoy the sight of Confederate battle flags fluttering in the breeze, or at the very least be turned off (as I was) by an opportunistic Arizona politician barging into a Southern state and badmouthing a longstanding, regional symbol. As for the lament about not jumping on board the MLK deification festivities at the very outset, McCain’s posturing is sending a signal about how he might act as president. Would McCain treat the assembled black politicians he was courting in Memphis and elsewhere by debasing himself in the same way as president, e.g., by endorsing black quotas, a position he may have picked up as part of his military experience? Note that in McCain’s case his leftist symbolic acts and rhetorical gestures fit in with an already established image of him as a ‘non-conservative’ presidential candidate. His proverbial hawkishness, which FOX news has made into an acid test of his conservative purity, is not selling well as a substitute for other more conventional, right-of-center positions, e.g., on immigration and racial quotas. Given this situation, one would expect that McCain’s clumsy reaching-out gestures would not be likely to reassure the GOP’s base that he belongs there. It might also be part of the explanation for why he is doing so miserably in polls taken in his own party.