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Tilting at Windmills

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May 18, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

HOW OLD IS JOHN McCAIN?....Did you see John McCain's taped appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend? You can check it out here. James Fallows had pretty much the same reaction I did:

What on earth was John McCain thinking, in agreeing to do a SNL spot 35 minutes into the show? The run-into-the-ground "joke" line was, "I am older than anyone can possibly believe. Hardee-har! I am so incredibly old!" Jeesh. He came across as a good sport, but, well, old. Everyone has seen SNL items that could be used as campaign ads. This is the only one I can think of where a candidate intentionally produced something that could be used as an attack ad on himself.

I get it: McCain was trying to defuse the age issue, which he knows is festering away out there. But this didn't defuse it. It just introduced it to a whole new audience. Dumb.

Kevin Drum 11:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (58)

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McCain IS dumb. Dumber than Bush, in my opinion.

Posted by: lark on May 19, 2008 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

It just introduced it to a whole new audience.

OTOH, the audience is that of Saturday Night Live, so as they say no harm, no foul.

Posted by: Kolohe on May 19, 2008 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I thought he was kind of charming. Of course, I'm still not going to vote for him, but I don't think this kind of appearance hurts him.

Posted by: perlana on May 19, 2008 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

That John McCain is a real exaggerator, just like Al Gore. I heard he claimed to have invented Geritol.


Posted by: lone wolf on May 19, 2008 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

I wasn't aware that anyone still watched SNL, it has become so irrelevant politically and simple-minded in humor. SNL has the cutting edge of a butter knife.

You're right, though. A better venue would have been an AARP gathering.

Posted by: Everyman on May 19, 2008 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

It's a problem.

Posted by: absent observer on May 19, 2008 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

I suppose it is a bit like dealing with being bald. You can try to cover it up (toupee, combover), but a lot of the time it isn't fooling anybody, and just projects insecurity. Instead, many bald men (like me) don't try to hide it. We do get short haircuts - longer hair calls attention to the empty spot - but other than that we make our baldness an unembarrassed part of ourselves.

McCain can't defuse his age - it's front and center anytime anyone looks at his wrinkly face. But he can demonstrate that he's not embarrassed or insecure about it, and he can make it part of himself rather than something he pretends isn't there. If his voice is clear and his manner vigorous, he can get past the age issue well enough. (What he can't get past is being Dubya's successor, which would be deadly to a politician half McCain's age who had twice his native charisma.)

Posted by: jimBOB on May 19, 2008 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

It's a really big problem, and will get worse:

Posted by: Michael O'Hare on May 19, 2008 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

Mac was making a joke of it because regardless of what he says or does there are always going to be people just like you all who will never let it go. Who cares how old he is any way he is the best candidate for the job and he has my vote.

Posted by: Vicki Hampton on May 19, 2008 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

To see how old John McCain is, look at things that are younger than John McCain. This is not my website; I just think it's hilarious.


Posted by: crabgrass on May 19, 2008 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK


OTOH, the audience is that of Saturday Night Live, so as they say no harm, no foul.

Not in the internet/youtube age it's not. It will get plenty of play. I agree with Kev: Mr. McCain did joketh too much. And it didn't help that it was not the least bit funny.

Posted by: Fel on May 19, 2008 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe he was trying to channel St. Ronnie in '84 who quipped:

"I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

[or, more likely, remembered someone else's quip on cue]

Posted by: natural cynic on May 19, 2008 at 12:49 AM | PERMALINK

I watch SNL(I tape it and watch the FEW bits and music that are any good).We can make fun of the SNL audience,but it's not made up of Fundies and Young Republicans.I noticed that when McCane(Snark) came on that it was to loud approval and cheers that went on for more than politeness sake.Say what you will about them,but these people were mostly young,smart,hip and liberal New Yorkers. Their reaction set me back.

Posted by: R.L. on May 19, 2008 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe he's hoping SNL will get sick of the subject.

Posted by: B on May 19, 2008 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

I've noticed that sometimes McCain's delivery of his lines is pretty bad. I didn't see the show, but a good delivery can make all the difference in a joke, so maybe that was it- he didn't like the jokes so he had trouble telling them because his heart wasn't in it.

Also I guess it's plausible that he wanted to drive the punchline into the ground so people would stop joking about it-- if lame ol' McCain comes on and says about how old he is, it can kind of "take the ball away" from people who are trying to tease and joke about it.

Posted by: Swan on May 19, 2008 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

I had a different take. What bugged me about it was that it was basically a McCain campaign speech with a joke or two thrown in. It's not funny when you start feeling like you're getting a political advertisement.

Now, candidates are going to want sketches that are both funny AND make them look good. Gore's bit on what the world would look like if he were President had a conceit I'm sure he loved: things would be awesome. But it was a sketch, with lots of funny. It was all jokes.

Some of McCain's lines were at his expense, but the delivery was bad (that made him look old) and the punchlines felt like afterthoughts.

It only got going when he started pushing for the primaries to continue. That's funny! Or was a few weeks ago. But like his commercial talking about the "bickering" as the Party is uniting... it feels like they're a little SLOW... All the hits and jokes for yesterday today, which is kind of the them of his whole campaign.

Posted by: Memekiller on May 19, 2008 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that McCain is no Stephen Hawking, but we will not have another President in our lifetime who will approach the stratospheric levels of dumb that W. has achieved.

One of McCain's problems is that he's a very wooden speaker, with no sense of timing and a flat delivery. If he tries, he merely sounds forced, and that's how his SNL appearance came across to me. The material he had to work with was pretty lame, but in the hands of someone more adept at speaking (such as that looney Huckabee) it might have come across better. I don't think that his appearance will suddenly result in a flood of young voters coming over to his side.

Posted by: bluestatedon on May 19, 2008 at 2:02 AM | PERMALINK

In response to the last two comments:

I think McCain is very calculating and very conceited. And some lines, he delivers with zeal and zip (remember the Star Wars / Death Star one?) and others he flubs. Remember when he introduced Ron Parsley? He said "this guy shold be talking, not me." I think that line was written for him (that is to say, someone wants him to promote Parsley). Why do I think that? Well, he delivered the line as if he didn't believe it at all-- as if he was thinking, "Yeah, right! I'm the guy running for president, not this guy." So the line came off sounding weak. He hated the shit, and so he didn't give it a good delivery when he said it. You see that kind of thing often enough when you see the Republican pundits and politicians delivery their most ridiculous lines, but in that instance, it was a product of McCain's ego, him thinking Parsley is nowhere near as good as him.

You don't see his ego a lot overtly, of course, because he cultivates an image of integrity and magnanimity (and by that token, personal modesty + humility).

Posted by: Swan on May 19, 2008 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

Also, as we've seen previously, McCain is sensitive about his age. Remember when he lost his temper at that 12 year old kid who asked him if he was too old to be president? So that gives one reason to think he wouldn't be totally comfortable with doing jokes about his age.

Posted by: Swan on May 19, 2008 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

crabgrass is right. There's gonna be a million website like that one he listed. Here's another one:


Either McCain figures out a way to put all this to his advantage or he's going to become the second coming of Bob Dole.

I've got my doubts about his being able to do that. Yeah, he can laugh at himself, but you can only laugh about how old you are for so long. People don't want to elect a running joke president.

Posted by: Tracy on May 19, 2008 at 2:30 AM | PERMALINK

it's not dumb. It's smart: After June 3rd, the public focus is going to officially switch from Obama vs. Clinton to Obama vs. McCain, and if his age is raised as a "new" issue at any time after that, it's more damaging than if it's raised, mocked and dismissed right now.

But it's even smarter than that. May Sweeps is closing out fast and after that TV viewership drops off the cliff. If he wants to engage in some nationally televised self-mockery on one of the big three networks, there is exactly one game in town and that's SNL which only has a single episode left before reruns. He won't get another shot until September to take control of this issue in a humorous way, and you definitely don't want to raise it that close to the second Tuesday in November.

The only way this could be regarded as a dumb move is if you accept there is a real possibility McCain's age won't be raised as an issue, and that's just wishful thinking. Every other weakness of McCain's candidacy has a decent chance of being forgiven and ignored by the press, but his age is already being discussed, it's really the only criticism that cable news has been willing to raise so far. Plus, this "whole new audience" is exactly the audience they're trying to reach. The thingsyoungerthanmccain.com website is already quickly grabbing the attention of the young, net-savvy audience McCain is targeting with this SNL bit. His people know that there's no stopping this train, so they might as well be in the conductor's seat as much as possible.

It's the right play tactically, but unfortunately he and his team didn't execute well on game night, and that was the part that was dumb. He delivered his lines timidly, and that's probably because he knew they weren't particularly well-written for the most part. They got to inbound the ball, but it sure wasn't a clean pass.

(I might be watching too much basketball lately)

Posted by: Mark Kawakami on May 19, 2008 at 3:34 AM | PERMALINK

How old is McCain? To old to run for President, there should be an age limit that says these old coots are to old to run. A vote for McCain is another vote for four more years of the Bush strategy which has not worked out very well for the U.S. citizens.

Posted by: Al on May 19, 2008 at 7:32 AM | PERMALINK

Mostly kids watch, or only dumb adults. No harm done - in fact, yuckin' it up might have helped.

How old is mclame - check out these marvelous epitome of technology - he is older than this machine!

Posted by: on May 19, 2008 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone else note that our VICKI that proclaims to support mclame works for one of the SPYING TELECOMS!

Do you think she's trollin' on the job or just trying to show that on her own time, she can kiss some @ss?

Posted by: on May 19, 2008 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

"Sock it to ME?"

Posted by: Steve Paradis on May 19, 2008 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

Just recycle the Bob Dole jokes from 1996. McCain is even older.

Posted by: bakho on May 19, 2008 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

His age wouldn't be an issue if he weren't so damn feeble. He gives seniority a bad name.

Posted by: dennisS on May 19, 2008 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

How old is McCain? To old to run for President, there should be an age limit that says these old coots are to old to run. A vote for McCain is another vote for four more years of the Bush strategy which has not worked out very well for the U.S. citizens.

Posted by: Al on May 19, 2008 at 7:32 AM

I'm no McCain fan by any means, but people who misspell "too" as "to" (and do it twice!) shouldn't be allowed to post (he said sarcastically)...and I didn't even take into account the place in the paragraph where he used a comma instead of a semi-colon.

Posted by: Vincent on May 19, 2008 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Anti-pork-barrel guy ONLY loves Big Money Lobbyist????

Of course it follows with the new front page news on the Washington Post over McCain having to fire all his lobbyiest staff while fighting other keeping other lobbyist on his staff???

SO there is certainly MUCH more to this jaw dropping stupid SNL sketch than age. It really does look like McCain has lost his "bearings", no, it's his "marbles" because McCain is trashing all the little ways to help communities while feeding BIG CORPORATE influence peddling.

This JUST like Bush and his only constituency, his unbid contract buddies. And, as we can plainly see, McBush the II won't be any different either. Charles Keating and Ken Lay are the ONLY people that have ANY meaning to Republicans.

Posted by: Me-again on May 19, 2008 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

I thought McCain did a great job!

Posted by: JoeCHI on May 19, 2008 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

CNN has a poll asking if Huckabee be McCain's VP.

Geez, in the Huck VP scenario, McCain's age may appeal to the religious right "Look I'll die soon, so a vote for me is a vote for the Huck"

Posted by: CSTAR on May 19, 2008 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, this post is wrong. McCain's thing was surprising, funny, and a very good idea for him to do. I laughed, and I'm a tough sell.

Posted by: Seth on May 19, 2008 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Very odd, as this functioned as a reductio ad absurdium of his campaign talking points. He very effectively made the point that not all earmarks are bad.

Posted by: My Alter Ego on May 19, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Is SNL still on? Talk about old....

Posted by: jen flowers on May 19, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

How many senior,flip-flopping, i can't recall, moments did mccain have in 35-minutes? cleve

Posted by: cleve on May 19, 2008 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that the skit is discussed on this blog and a whole bunch more means it's not just the younguns seeing this. As for SNL being irrelevant, I don't recall a time when every political SNL skit got so much attention.
SNL has ALWAYS been spotty. If you identify a golden age of SNL it probably says more about your age than the content of the show.

Posted by: Jack H. on May 19, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

McCain should point out that Konrad Adenauer was chancellor of Germany until he was 87.

Posted by: Lee on May 19, 2008 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

It's a really big problem, and will get worse:

Posted by: Michael O'Hare on May 19, 2008 at 12:22 AM

I don't know, this almost seems ridiculous.

If you didn't have an environment you couldn't have a self; if your audience really is a blank slate you can't make art ... An easy extension of these ideas is that Democrats need respectable, responsible resistance from conservatives to be good Democrats, just as tennis and poker players are no good facing potzers and fish. Another is that Obama needs to beat a contender, not a pushover, to be a good president.

A robust opposition is good, but for a completely different reason than this, so the whole thing falls apart. The benefit of a robust opposition has nothing to do with some abstract principle of poker players complementing other poker players, it's because the party in power is less likely to be corrupt when there's someone outside ready and waiting to turn it to their advantage. So then, why does Obama need to beat a contender to be a good president, as long as there's opposition while he's in office? Which there certainly will be, probably from both sides, as you say yourself. Even if 90 percent of Republican Congressmen are caught in flagrante delicto with Larry Craig between now and November, there would still be more than enough opposition to cause serious problems. The oil industry is massive, the insurance industry and the military industrial complex are all massive and like the status quo just fine, and every single elected politician believes in god and jingoism or at least pays lip service to them. Those don't magically go away when Democrats get a working majority.

And for that matter, what makes you think McCain won't be a contender? The media still loves him, his worldview may be less popular today than it was five years ago but it's still more popular than it seems in liberal blog comment threads, and partisanship is still powerful. All it would take is an October surprise or catching Obama with the metaphorical dead girl or live boy to give him a fighting chance. On November 8, if Obama has won with a Reaganesque margin, then I'll consider the possibility that your fears might be justified. Until then, it's only slightly more realistic than "Red Dawn."

To summarize me: complaining about too much of a good thing for the Democratic Party in the current presidential campaign is overconfident at best, and concern trolling more likely.

Posted by: Cyrus on May 19, 2008 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

It is ironic that a 71 year old man is applying to be president in a country where downsizing and mergers put 50 year olds permanently out of work due to no one wanting them because of their age.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on May 19, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Probably trying to pander to Asian immigrants who revere age and wisdom.

Posted by: Luther on May 19, 2008 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

TRULY AMUSING was the reaction of the "ever in love with the sound of his own brilliant voice" LIONEL (Good friend of Mark Greene) remarking on how well McCain delivered his little "bit"...so much better timing than Hillary...well, that shouldn't have surprised us given the inane ramblings of this vocabulary spewing talk hack...I'm beginning to agree (shudder) with the rightwingnuts who have predicted for years that LEFT RADIO can't survive and given the very few people who deliver it well (Thom Hartman, Bill Press, Ron Reagan, Rachel Maddow (sometimes), and most profoundly and entertainingly (in the past) Al Franken)and the creepy regulars like (Schultz, Lionel, Randi Rhodes, Alex Bennett, Samuels and their ilk) it's no wonder it isn't finding it's legitimate place on the airwaves. YEGODS!

Posted by: Dancer on May 19, 2008 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

When I went to apply for Social Security (5 years ago) the clerk at the sign-in desk said:
"The person applying has to be present."

I explained that I WAS the person applying and then he asked to see my driver's licence to prove I was 65.

Now, how many people get "carded" when they are in their 60's

Posted by: nainam on May 19, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Americans like people who can laugh at themselves. McCain showed a fair degree of comic timing and I think helped counter the cranky old man image. An unusually brave move for a pol, too, for which he gets points. I say on balance, a win for McCain.

Could a sketch with Obama playing off racist stereotypes be done without offending lots of people, and would it be helpful for him in confronting the resistance that's simmering in some minds out there?

Posted by: mattt on May 19, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Jack h.: ...a golden age of SNL...

The Golden Age of SNL is 19.

(H/T to whoever once said the golden age of Science Fiction is 12.)

Posted by: thersites on May 19, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

It was an incredibly unfunny bit delivered by a horrible actor. I don't think it will hurt McCain much (I mean, who watches SNL any more?), but it certainly won't help.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 19, 2008 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure all 4700 members of SNL's viewing audience will be appalled to learn that George W McCain is old.

Posted by: Jim Pharo on May 19, 2008 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Only a moron would think the bit hurts McCain. It in no way answers or delegitimizes the age/health issue, but facing up to it with humor can't possibly hurt him.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on May 19, 2008 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Heady ("That's Hedley!") Lamarr wins the thread. Indeed, it is a strange world we live in.

Posted by: Piper on May 19, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Well, everyone knows it's cool to be on SNL and raises your profile and hipness quotient. Look at the boost Obama got after playing himself a few months ago! McCain (like Gore) has been host before (both did great) and Mc just wanted to get some more buzz. But maybe it wasn't the best stuff. Maybe McShrub is trying to deflect from the latest resignation of his hi-level staff for lobbying conflicts etc.

Posted by: nb on May 19, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

I saw it and was astonished. McCain's people are idiots for putting him on the air to be ridiculed like that.

I'm hoping Obama doesn't appear on SNL again. It's simply not an appropriate venue for serious political candidates, and ditto The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

Candidates can demonstrate their sense of humor when a baby spits up on them at a rally. Only clowns go on TV expressedly for the purpose of getting laughs.

Posted by: Mark Gisleson on May 19, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, this was fantastically stupid.

I haven't really given much thought to McCain's age, largely because I am giving most of my thought to McCain's Wild Ass Theories of Governance, but hey ... if you keep reminding me and drilling it into my head, maybe I will not vote for him based on age as well.

Posted by: BombIranForChrist on May 19, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

CNN has a poll asking if Huckabee be McCain's VP.

Geez, in the Huck VP scenario, McCain's age may appeal to the religious right "Look I'll die soon, so a vote for me is a vote for the Huck"

Posted by: CSTAR on May 19, 2008 at 9:45 AM

Typical simplistic news organization thinking when it comes to polls like these, or ones promoting Edwards or Clinton as potential Obama running mates. Chances are neither nominee is going to select a former presidential campaign rival for VP, which generally happens more often than not. Unfortunately, such names (e.g., James Webb), while smart from a party perspective, don't tend to be the ones with the instant recognition that elicits instant responses.

Posted by: Vincent on May 19, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

His CIA nickname is "Old Spice"

Posted by: mkultra on May 19, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

One thing I've noticed this campaign cycle is that SNL has not once mocked John McCain. They've got people portraying Obama and Hillary and pointing their foibles and making them look ridiculous. That's all well and good. But who is portraying McCain? I must have missed that.

And then, instead of having a cast member make fun of McCain, they let him come on and deliver his own jokes and campaign points. I'm not saying that the SNL cast is in the bag for McCain or anything like that, but he's their buddy and they think he's cool so they're going easy on him.

Posted by: Rob Mac on May 19, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Cleve SNL writers.

Posted by: degustibus on May 19, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

when I see sen. mccain I see someone who grow up during the same time frame I did. I see the last generation that grow up all white and took full advantage of it, in school , service and when he frist ran for the senate. I see a man who spoke ill of dr. king, voted against his holiday and waited thirty years before addmitting it. If black americans look close at john mccian they would run for theirs lives

Posted by: Merl McRoy on May 19, 2008 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

I turned 65 last fall. I am active and pretty healthy. But believe me, when you start getting older you are older! I could in no way handle the kinds of stressful jobs that I had ten years ago. I still work part time, doing analytical work at home, but even there I find that I have to check my work more closely, with more errors that I used to have.

I just cringe at the thought of the 3 a.m. phone call coming into the White House. Honestly, politics aside, the idea of a seventy something having to make a quick and dangerous decision on the fly, after being woken up, just scares me.

Posted by: JWC on May 19, 2008 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

I can't figure out why SNL would do this, SNL is full of hardcore Clintonistas...

Posted by: MNPundit on May 20, 2008 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK



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