It’s conventional pundit-wisdom (pardon the oxymoron) that John McCain does not pander. McCain’s supporters contrast the Senator who doesn’t mind ticking off constituencies with Romney, who changed his mind about abortion, Guiliani who has recently found his inner gun-toting redneck, or Huckabee who surely must have done something Faustian to gain the endorsement of the Arkansas Chapter of the National Education Association. McCain has demonstrated his willingness to stick it to Republican Party interest groups, from Iowa Ethanol producers to Border Security voters, to enthusiasts of the Nuclear Option to end judicial filibusters, to Free Speech advocates, to Supply-side tax cutters, to Global Warming skeptics; but does this mean that McCain is no panderer?
The truth is that McCain does his pandering at the WHOLESALE level. He panders to the image-making Media, which rewards him with glowing adulation and the “Maverick” brand. This is an electoral strategy that trades-off some support from attentive voters, in order to win the votes of the uninformed, undecided – well, let’s just say it: the ignorant swath of voters who will reach the last week of October and still not know the substantive differences between the major party candidates for President. These voters are most suceptible to suasion by the Media image of a candidate, and McCain-Feingold restrictions on pre-election TV issue ads assure minimal interference from the previously offended Party interest groups. So, I’ll grant that McCain is willing to rub constituents the wrong way on issues, but he has rarely shown the same indifference to his Media groupies, because pandering to them has earned him an image glossing that money could never buy.
When the contest is McCain against any other Republican the image-makers will be McCain’s best buddy; but once it’s down to McCain against any Democrat, he’ll be John McCain of the Keating Five Scandal, John McCain who can’t get along with others, John McCain who flip-flopped on this, that and the other thing, John McCain who is too old to serve in the most stressful job in the world (and after the break, a special medical update on the increase in Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease among senior citizens, and now a word from our sponsors). So, in the end the joke will be on McCain, and on Republicans, if we choose him as our candidate.