Wheels coming off the Straight Talk Express

Sitting in beloved Arlington, Massachusetts, it’s tough to get a feel for national politics.  We are one of the bluest towns in one of the bluest states, so when it feels like everyone is for the Democrat, it comes as a surprise when the results turn out differently.

Four years ago, it seemed as if every other car in town had a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker, and the line at the polls was deep with indignant people who couldn’t wait to rid our beautiful nation of the shrub in the White House.   Eight years ago, Arlington gave Al Gore a bigger plurality (9,494 votes) than Bush’s margin of victory in Florida (537 votes) or New Hampshire (7,211 votes).  Think about it.  If we could have somehow gerrymandered Arlington into New Hampshire, Gore would have been elected president.

That said, it’s hard to ignore evidence of wholesale abandonment of the McCain campaign from the rest of the country.  From Jay Severin to William F. Buckley’s kid, they’re running away from the McCain train wreck.

My first sign of trouble on the McCain horizon came the day Sarah Palin was announced as the GOP VP choice.  The one-two punch of Obama’s speech and McCain’s choice of an unqualified running mate was too much for my Republican parents.  Granted, they are the kind of northeastern moderates who were comfortable in a party of Nelson Rockefeller, Lowell Weicker, or Thomas Kean.  They are for fiscal responsibility, but against the social conservatives who want to infuse religious beliefs into governance.  They were the kind of Republicans who loved the 2000 McCain, and probably voted for him in the 2008 primary.  After that conversation, I sent them two Republicans for Obama bumper stickers.

With less than four weeks to the election, the McCain exodus is booming.  Christopher Buckley, the son of William F. Buckley Jr., wrote a column this week with the message: Sorry, Dad, but I’m voting for Obama.

But that was-sigh-then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?

Then there’s former governor William Milliken (R_Michigan), who is clearly displaying backup lights in the Grand Rapids Press.

GRAND RAPIDS — He endorsed John McCain in the presidential primary, but now former Republican Gov. William Milliken is expressing doubts about his party’s nominee.

“He is not the McCain I endorsed,” said Milliken, reached at his Traverse City home Thursday. “He keeps saying, ‘Who is Barack Obama?’ I would ask the question, ‘Who is John McCain?’ because his campaign has become rather disappointing to me.

“I’m disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign, when he ought to be talking about the issues.”

The article continues:

Milliken stopped short of saying he will vote for Obama, but said he differs with McCain on the Iraq war and his choice of Palin.

“I know John McCain is 72. In my book, that’s quite young,” said Milliken, 86, Michigan’s longest-serving governor. But he added, “What if she were to become president of the United States? The idea, to me, is quite disturbing, if not appalling.

“Increasingly, the party is moving toward rigidity, and I don’t like that. I think Gerald Ford would hold generally the same view I’m holding on the direction of the Republican Party.”

And then again, there’s Jay Severin.  No, he’s not on the Obama bandwagon.  Far from it.  Jay is just saying McCain is a loser, and it’s more fun to vote for Bob Barr. The theme seems to be that Obama is going to win anyway, so the right might as well vote for a real libertarian-conservative as opposed to whatever McCain has become.

Clearly, McCain’s actions of late have eroded his core support.  For everyone who admired the old McCain, this version is too-Bushy, too inauthentic, too nasty, and not presidential enough to earn a vote.  Those are verdicts that are hard to escape, and negatives that are hard to overcome.

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