Mark Leibovich’s cover piece in today’s New York Times proves one thing we all knew about John McCain even before he became the presumptive Republican nominee for President: he sucks at public speaking. So worried are his handlers –who are, by the way, new handlers as of this past week due to a shake-up–that they’re trying desperately to make him more camera-friendly. (Or just people-friendly!) They won’t officially confirm that, but they have to be troubled by his less-than-sparkling speaking performances of late. Leibovich describes at length an ambitious new economic proposal of McCain’s, the “Lexington” plan.
Maybe there was something of substance there. Except that in a few separate instances, McCain couldn’t actually pronounce the word “Lexington” in a way that would inspire confidence to, well, wonder what it is he was talking about. He has, as the article suggests, taken a “belt-and-suspenders” approach to dealing with the teleprompter. At his otherwise carefully-choreographed campaign stops, there are usually three screens: one on the left, one on the right, and one in the center. And he still flubs up some of the words. (”Lexigdon“)
These are formal speeches, mind you. Moreover, when he isn’t stumbling over words, he is flashing the creepy, ill-timed smiles, made worse when he is standing behind a lectern that rises just below his head. Or that unfortunate green screen we saw behind him during the speech he gave on June 3 in New Orleans, on the day Obama went over the delegate count. You actually see him turn and read the left screen, then the right one, and then the priceless squints and stunned looks when he struggled to find where he was.
There is hope. Because when there is no script or officious handler, McCain can actually be the regular, sometimes cranky or sardonic guy that some people appreciate. He has the occasional SNL, Letterman, “Daily Show” or “Colbert Report” appearances to show for this. I say we unshackle McCain, liberate him from the Mark McKinnons, Dan Schnurs, Mary Matalins or other stuffy operatives and let him get up on any stage he wants and let it all hang out. Remember he has to compete with one of the great orators out there in this election.
He needs to pull something out of his hat –and it has to be big. Let’s hope we can look forward to creative methods of expression, like this clever video mash-up of McCain that’s making the rounds. Here, McCain teams up with that other pop culture mastodon of the moment, Madonna, and her 1990 video, “Vogue”. To which I say to the honorable senator: don’t just stand there, let’s get to it. Strike a pose. There’s nothing to it.