June 23rd, 2008
04:13 PM ET

McSame? McMaybe…McMaybe Not.

Tom Foreman BIO
AC360° Correspondent

When I was a high school freshman my friend Jeff Livergood was running for student council and he asked me to be his campaign manager. I had no interest in student government, but loved the idea of a good contest, and he was a pal, so I signed on. I’m sure he must have regretted it. In the week’s leading up to voting day I made maybe two, or three posters at most. I didn’t hand out buttons or stickers. My entire role in our campaign’s “get out the vote” effort consisted of responding to the often asked question: “Hey, aren’t you Jeff’s campaign manager?” “Oh, uh, yeah. Vote for him, ok?”

But even if Jeff was considering pushing me out in favor of a more aggressive team leader, I was at ease. I knew then, just as surely as I know now, that elections are not decided on issues, experience, qualifications, or campaign machinery. All those things matter, to be sure, but in the end what matters most is a general sense among voters about whether this candidate is the kind of candidate they like. That’s it.

It’s true of presidential races, too. That’s why Democrats are working so hard to point out the political similarities between George Bush and John McCain, and to minimize the differences. The Dems know that President Bush is highly unpopular right now and if they can convince enough voters that McCain is just like him, it will be a done deal: McCain will be slaughtered at the polls this fall, and Barack Obama’s beaming smile and message of hope will roar into the White House.

So how McSame is McCain to Bush? If you ask Republicans, chances are, you’ll be told “not much.” They’ll point to McCain’s sharp attacks on how the White House waged the war in Iraq for those first four years. They’ll talk about how McCain readily says he thinks the economy is in a recession, while George Bush continues to say that’s just not so. McCain is much more harsh in his criticism of the White House for runaway spending and pork barrel projects. They’ll talk about how McCain has taken his own path to talk about the need for a solution to global warming, movement toward energy independence, and ending torture, or anything that seems like it.

But ask Democrats about the McSameness factor, and they’ll produce their own list. McCain supported and continues to support the war. He wants to keep the Bush tax cuts. He favors free trade, and market based solutions to problems like affordable health care, retirement, and savings. He opposes abortion rights and same sex marriage. He generally favors the same sort of education reforms as Bush, and his energy policy is awfully similar. Both want a strong border and immigration reform.

Both lists can be made longer because there are plenty more differences and similarities between the two, depending on who is looking and what he/she is looking for.

And that last bit is really all that matters. Those who want to see John McCain as substantially like George Bush can find plenty of evidence to support that belief. And those who think the two men are substantially different in ways that really matter, can also find facts upon which to build that case.

They are both Republicans, so if party identity means anything, they should have a fair amount in common.

To return to my high school election: I waited until the final day, when we had to make speeches for our candidates, and I rolled out a rollicking satire of every great political speech since antiquity, complete with a recorded men’s chorus singing America the Beautiful while I waved a pair of tiny flags and exhorted the student body to elected Jeff or suffer the consequences of the country’s imminent ruin. It was funny, they stamped and cheered, I said not one thing about his qualifications or ideas, and he won in a landslide.

Politics is not about qualifications. It’s about who you like. So I repeat: If John McCain, despite of or because of his record, comes off looking like George Bush, that perception could be deadly. And he could suffer the McSame fate of every candidate who does not take seriously enough the power of image.

Filed under: John McCain • Raw Politics • Tom Foreman
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Nigel R. Noel

    Why is it that Obama just a black man? Why can't he be white? Or mixed as he is. Why is that everything someone else say or do he gets all the bad credit for what someone else say or do. Now you know that there will have to be some change in what he does because the rules keep changes. Like Basketball young black men can't come out of highschool & play Pro. But young white girls at the age of 14 can turn Pro on tennis, young white men they can play golf & hocky. So if anyone invent anything under the age of 18 it can not be used until they get out of College. All I'm saying rules and obstacles will be thrown in just to put him down & try to keep him down. Like what i'm writing it might not never be heard. But this is still true.

    June 24, 2008 at 2:50 am |
  2. Donald

    Sandra do have a point McCain did make that comment but, because he's a older white man who dare questions his love for this country. I served in the Navy and still very proud to say so. I am an American that is black. Who love this country and I still would go and fight in any war that we have including in Africa I'm American first black second. I resent the fact that we have to prove we love this country McCain served and did what he was told he no better than any other soldier or salior that was a prisoner of war or died for this great country of our. We have young men and I'm proud to say women serving this country who have done a great job and deserved the best the government can give them regardless if they serve 2 years or 20. We need to focus on what best for this country and stop the kids game.

    June 24, 2008 at 12:38 am |
  3. Wendy

    Not only is McCain the same as Bush, he is worse. He tries to distance himself from the President but sneaks around to private functions with him to raise money. "Straight talk Express", I think not. He can't seem to stop changing his mind about where he stands on the issues, guess is depends who he is trying to impress on any given day. Bush is good enough to help him raise much needed funds( of course no reporters or cameras allowed) but must be shunned in all other circumstances. I can just imagine the 2 of them laughing in private about how well he thinks he's scamming the voters. Scary.

    June 23, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  4. sandra F. in Florida

    Anderson why hasn't anyone at cnn news reported on John McCain not being proud of his country or shall i say didn't fall in love with his country until he got shot down in viet nam, every one jumped all over Michelle Obama for her comments and she is not the one running for President of these United States Of America, but McCain is. could it be that cnn has endorsed McCain for president and don't want to expose him for who he really is and don't want the world to know that you endorsed him?

    June 23, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  5. jess from Canada

    I cannot believe you posted a MEDICAL opinion about John McCain from Annette (CA) who claimed to be a qualified professional. I could claim to be a MD & give a totally different opinion.

    June 23, 2008 at 10:24 pm |
  6. Gary

    Larry: According to Obama, his favorite President was Lincoln.

    June 23, 2008 at 9:46 pm |
  7. Gary

    Tom Foreman is suppose to be a journalist. He is clearly biased in his reporting. This is a violation of the public trust. When I took a journalism class in college many years ago the Professor was very clear about journalistic ethics.

    June 23, 2008 at 9:44 pm |
  8. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Hi Tom,
    I think it's a mistake to compare any human being to another. If you have to be judged by a former person's job performance, many people would be in for a rude awakening. I just want to hear how McCain will deal with the problems facing us, period. Let President Bush speak for himself, and McCain speak his own words.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    June 23, 2008 at 9:41 pm |
  9. ANGIE

    why has mccain agreed with all the bush policies and also opposed all the things bush has and also agreed with all of bush vetos seems the same to me but i think mccain is a little not much but worse than bush

    June 23, 2008 at 9:35 pm |
  10. Annie Kate

    McCain is not the same as Bush – McCain tries to be honest with the voters. Bush doesn't know what the word means.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 23, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  11. seah ohio

    The Democrats would like you to think McCain is the same as Bush.
    He is not.

    McCain is honest of the two candidates left. He is more sincere. He cares about America, and the people.

    He has done his job and worked hard as a Senator. More than anyone can ever say about Obama.

    Out of the two Candidates McCain is the better candidate and would make the better President.

    June 23, 2008 at 8:55 pm |
  12. Annette (CA)

    I look at McCain through a nurses eyes. I really worry about him and sometimes I pity him. His time has passed as a President sadly. McCain should have been the nominee in 2000 at that time he was a maverick. I worry about his left eye being on the same side of his surgical site, I worry when I see him in the direct sunlight, and I really feel he has PTSD. There is a place for all our Presidential hopefuls.they are all valuable, lets put them in perspective roles. McCain belongs in the Pentagon.

    June 23, 2008 at 8:27 pm |
  13. Larry

    Surprised the dems aren't comparing McCain to Lincoln, who caused the loss of more American lives than any other president.


    June 23, 2008 at 4:33 pm |
  14. Cindy

    I don't think that McCain has the same stance on issues as Bush at all. He is more towards the middle and the liberal side while Bush is very conservative.

    As far as that goes what about Obama? He is running as the man of "change" yet every supposed new idea he comes out with is a throw back to some old Democrat way! So who is the same here!? HMMM...

    There can be instances on both sides as to who is like Bush or the old way. So why harp on it? McCain can dish it out just like Obama and his crew will try to. They will just cancel each other out and waste our time on what could have been used to talk about the real issues.


    June 23, 2008 at 4:24 pm |