Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Miami Herald: Meet the new John McCain -- and the new Bob Dole

The following is from the Miami Herald:

Meet the new John McCain -- and the new Bob Dole
It's official: Chuck Hagel is the new John McCain, getting the glowing treatment from glam publications such as GQ. And John McCain is the new Bob Dole -- and we know what kind of press Dole got. Perhaps I should explain.

Once upon a time -- say, five years ago -- the liberal media were infatuated with McCain. Yes, the Republican senator from Arizona was a hard-line conservative on most matters, but he was sufficiently unorthodox on a few issues (campaign finance, global warming, tax cuts) to be newsworthy. In addition, McCain was enough of a George W. Bush basher to keep reporters interested in what he might say next.

But the Mainstream Media's affection for the senator has come to an end, for two reasons: First, McCain, now seeking to inherit the Bush political legacy -- at least until he nails down the 2008 Republican presidential nomination -- is now posing as Bush's best buddy, and the media aren't going to buddy up to that. Second, the Iraq War. The media, and most of the country, have reached a negative judgment on the war, and so the McCain campaign plank ''If you like Bush's foreign policy, you'll love my foreign policy'' is understandably playing poorly in Manhattan and Los Angeles.

So say goodbye to the media's portrayal of ''St. John'' McCain, the flinty, brave maverick. And say hello, instead, to a new ''Bob Dole-ized'' McCain. Like the Kansas Republican, who, as a 70-something, was portrayed during the 1996 presidential campaign mostly as a cranky and ranting old man, the 70-year-old Arizonan is being portrayed that way now.

Republicans eager to hold the White House in 2008 might factor that media reality into their nomination calculations. McCain might have ''earned'' the GOP nod in `08 through deference to the incumbent president, but the electorate as a whole might see such loyalty in a hostile light.
But of course, just as the media take away, the media also give. And the recipient of media blessings these days is Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska. As a Republican critical of the Bush policy in Iraq, Hagel is infinitely more valuable to the anti-war cause than a mere Democrat. After all, nobody is surprised anymore when a Democrat opposes the war, but it's notable when a Republican breaks ranks with his own party's president -- especially when he uses such punchy language, referring to the Iraq surge as the ``most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.''

Such hot talk has earned Hagel a place of honor in the pages of GQ magazine's January issue, under the headline ''The Angry One.'' And the object of much of Hagel's anger, of course -- to the media's obvious delight -- is Bush and his neoconservative coterie.

So the liberal-media beat goes on, especially in the wake of Hagel's vote -- played prominently on all the broadcast news channels last week -- alongside the Democrats on an anti-surge resolution.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann declared last Friday night that Hagel's position on the war was ''breathtaking,'' then heaped more praise on the Cornhusker: ''He sounds like me on civil liberties,'' Olbermann pronounced admiringly.

That's the media sweet spot that McCain once occupied -- till the pressies soured on him.
So what does it mean for the future of national politics if Hagel is the new McCain? Two conclusions:

• First, the Nebraskan is now viewed with deep suspicion among many rank-and-file Republicans -- the folks who control the GOP nomination process.

• Second, as his stock goes down among Republicans, it goes up among independents. Even liberals might conclude that it will take a certified war hero -- Hagel won two Purple Hearts in Vietnam -- to make a credible exit from Iraq.

All of which means there's a chance for Hagel to follow in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt in 1912: He could bolt the GOP and run a credible independent bid for the White House. He might even win.

©2007 Newsday

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