Sunday, June 22, 2008

When McCain meets the press

So John McCain is well-known for his frequent, free-wheeling bull sessions with reporters at the back of his campaign bus, not to mention his frequent town-hall meetings and press conferences. Indeed, it greatly distinguishes him from the 1996 Republican presidential candidacy of Bob Dole, as Adam Nagourney correctly points out in today's New York Times. (Dole and his advisers built a wall around the candidate, shielding him from the press):

"Mr. Dole, as a candidate, reined in his humor and kept a protective wall around him, avoiding freewheeling sessions with voters or reporters, in deference to the urging of his campaign advisers. Mr. McCain’s campaign is a rolling caravan of town hall meetings, news conferences, wisecracks and the very kinds of unscripted events that made Mr. Dole’s advisers sweat."

This will be an interesting facet of the campaign this year, then. Will voters respond positively to John McCain's accessibility? Will they like the fact that he appears to be open, speaks off the cuff, enjoys the back-and-forth with reporters (Barack Obama is not nearly as accessible to the press, by the way)? Will that make McCain seem more real? Or will this wind up biting McCain in the posterior? Will he say something stupid in one of these unscripted moments? Will he make a big mistake? In the heat of a campaign, will he continue to be as accessible as he's been?

I don't know. We're in uncharted waters here. One thing is for sure: as conservatives, this openness is fine. There need not be a wall between a candidate, or officialdom in general, and the press. At the same time, conservative principle also demands that process not equal message. It's not enough that a candidate present his message openly; it's also important what that message is. Let's keep that in mind this fall...