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McCain Casts Himself as President Americans Are Waiting For

By Alec MacGillis
If there was any doubt what ground John McCain would be seeking to fight the general election on -- and who he thinks he will be running against -- it was further put to rest today, as he launched his first general election television ad. The 60-second commercial, airing for now only in New Mexico, is imbued with the McCainiac themes of honor and determination, linking McCain's heroism during the Vietnam War with the candidate's exhortation of Americans to "stay strong" and "never surrender," a clear evocation of McCain's call to persevere in Iraq that nonetheless does not mention that war directly.

As the ad plays images from McCain's heroic biography, a narrator with a suitable basso profundo intones: "What must a president believe about us? About America? That she is worth protecting? That liberty is priceless? Our people, honorable? Our future, prosperous, remarkable and free? And, what must we believe about that president? What does he think? Where has he been? Has he walked the walk?"

The ad offers further confirmation that McCain has traveled a long way since his 2000 campaign, when he resisted his advisers' urging to play up his remarkable biography. After his primary campaign hit bottom last spring and early summer, McCain began accentuating his heroism much more than he had eight years prior, even letting his advisers put together a lengthy video about his Vietnam experience to play for audiences at his town hall meetings.

The ad also suggests that McCain has concluded he will be running against Barack Obama, echoing as it does with its "walk the walk" rhetoric McCain's commentary on the trail that Obama is a greenhorn with "eloquent but empty" rhetoric. A question like "Where has he been?" would appear to be geared directly toward a young rookie senator who only four years ago was serving in the Illinois legislature.

Generating the most attention, though, is the ad's final tag line: "John McCain: The American president Americans have been waiting for." The line appears to be an allusion, of the acerbic McCainian sort, to Obama's much-quoted line that "we are the ones we have been waiting for." Beyond that, though, the debate is already flaring online: What exactly does the ad mean by "American president"? What other kind of president would American voters be selecting? Is it a harmless and predictable patriotic modifier, or is McCain seeking to tap into doubts about a candidate who has an exotic African name, spent much of his youth living in a Muslim country halfway around the world and attended a church run by a pastor known for his occasional anti-American rhetoric?

So far, McCain has made clear that he will not tolerate certain types of insinuations about Obama, such as having his supporters openly harping on Obama's middle name of Hussein. But the ad suggests that more subtle red, white and blue contrasts will be a big part of the McCain arsenal.

By Washington Post editors  |  March 28, 2008; 4:26 PM ET
Categories:  Ad Watch  
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"Posted by: tulone
I would be if 4,000 had been killed in the last 5 years.

I guess you wouldn't have had the stomach to fight WWII then."

It's funny that you pick an honorable war like WWII to compare this conflict with. When I think anyone in their right mind would have chosen a different war for a more apt comparison. And I'll give you a hint, it starts with a V. For victory.

Posted by: tulone | March 31, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

re John McCain, he should be retired in Fla. and enjoying his pension. Remember Tim Conway doing his little old man thing on the Carol Burnette show in the 70s? I would love to see SNL get him to do a John McCain skit, it would be hilarious. And oh so true.

Posted by: drpowell | March 29, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse


Next time Chimpy leaves the White House for where-ever;


Give the new sets to McRomney! :-)

Cancel the Checks written to the Fed's Benanke and Paulson, send them Pink Slips as replacements! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 29, 2008 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Really, truthfully, what has Obama done in his 2-year career in Congress? He has one of the worst attendance records in the body. Aside from serving more than 5 years in Vietnam, McCain has been a member of Congress for 26 years...hello? Obama has near zero national experience, has ties to shady lobbyists, which he denies, and hangs out with hate-mongers like Reverend Wright, whom he calls his "uncle."

Posted by: ttj1 | March 29, 2008 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I wish Bush and McCain would wear different color suits as I keep getting these two dilusional monkeys mixed up. But I guess it doesn't matter as McCain is just another George Waterboard Bush!

Since the DEMS refuse to IMPEACH FELLOW CRIMINALS LIKE BUSH, can we IMPEACH McCain now? It would save a whole lot of money and lives!

Posted by: fixitj | March 29, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Do not include me in your "we".

Posted by: JakeD | March 29, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Funny, I think of McCain as nothing but the same old president we've been dying to get rid of. So we can start earning our place in the world community again, and repaying the money we borrowed from China to destroy Iraq.

Posted by: queenskid | March 29, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

If he uses Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" in his next ad, is that a dig at Obama / pastor??

Posted by: JakeD | March 29, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Is "an American President Americans have been waiting for" a dig at Obama's allegiance to the United States?

You bet it is. Good going McCain!

Posted by: dyend | March 29, 2008 10:14 AM | Report abuse

For some perspective on this "American President" phrase, I suggest you look to the race to fill Claude Pepper's seat in Florida in 1988 -- the seat eventually won by Congresswoman Illeana Ros Lehtinen. In the Democratic primary, a guy named Gerald Richman ran on the slogan that the seat was and "American Seat." He was running againt a Cuban-American and many took the phrase as a racial slur. I believe the Miami Herald weighed in criticizing the slogan. There's nothing new under the sun.

Posted by: glebel | March 29, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I would think liberal minded voters would love McCain. He would seek advice on how to lead the US from other countries; he would lead us into taxed slavery with a variation of the Kyoto treaty; amnesty for illegals; tax cuts gone; anti corporate America; on and on. The only glitch is the war on terror that he says he will continue to be strong on. The dirty little secret is whoever the next president is will have to continue the war for some time. Who wants to be credited with surrender during their term?

Rush is right. we are soooooooo screwed.

Posted by: littledoc | March 29, 2008 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Saintpeterii-The Socialist Supporter does not like the Mittster.

LOL! :-D

Golly Gee! Who'd of Thunk That? :-)

Sorry, to sink you Boat there Pal! But the Executives are sending your Wet-Behind-The Ears Junior Senator/Racist packing back to the Senate! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 29, 2008 12:00 AM | Report abuse

his commercial was on the same level as a burger ad. John McCain is the Baconator! Republicans are going to get real negative, because they're going to have a real tough time propping up McCain as an inspirational figure. I can't wait until Americans can compare the difference in energy directly between the candidates in the general. I mean, can you imagine a Obama/McCain Debate? McCain and the Republicans have lost touch with average Americans, and risk permanent marginalization. Plus, he just doesn't look he wants to lead. Digging out of this mess will require a little more enthusiasm. But...John McCain features two slabs of beef with three tasty strips of bacon on top. Who are you going to vote for?

Posted by: bartonizer | March 28, 2008 11:36 PM | Report abuse

HIllary should come out with her new ad showing her dodging sniper fire in Bosnia, then waking from her delusional dream by a 3 am phone call.

Posted by: vflex | March 28, 2008 11:18 PM | Report abuse

HIllary should come out with her new ad showing her dodging sniper fire in Bosnia, then waking from her delusional dream bu a 3 am phone call.

Posted by: vflex | March 28, 2008 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Thank you John McCain for serving our country, but as a conservative Republican you DO NOT have my vote. Another presidential candidate that has served in the military and knows what is going on is Republican Congressman Ron Paul and he HAS my vote.

Posted by: paulawarren1 | March 28, 2008 11:14 PM | Report abuse

The only way I'll vote for McCain is if he keeps telling the republicans to F off, like he does so eloquently in the Senate.

Posted by: vflex | March 28, 2008 11:12 PM | Report abuse

"Posted by: tribute1
HONOR includes honor to your wife, who you don't leave because she no longer suits you physically or financially, Mr. McCain. Your vow was "in sickness and in health". Many have taken it seriously, why not you?"

So, considering the USA's divorce rate, over half the people living in this country have no honor?

Posted by: MikeJ9116 | March 28, 2008 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Sen. McCain is a credit to himself for serving his country. Whether the Vietnam conflict had anything to do with protecting Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness inside the 50 states is highly questionable. Nevertheless, he answered his country's call (actually the call of President LBJ, Congress, and the military/industrial complex) to visit foreign countries and to kill the inhabitants. He was taken prisoner and tortured by opposing forces. He behaved honorably, survived, returned home, and was elected to Congress. He's got the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on that score. However, he persists in calling himself a Republican. The Republican brand has been completely and permanently devalued by Bush/Cheney. I could never again vote Republican. So, this candidate can count on me voting against him.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | March 28, 2008 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Interesting note by jetsfoto - usual democratic operative bashing McCain. The latest trick is equating McCain = Bush, as if a McCain presidency would just be a continuance of Bush and Cheney. Apparently, you need to wiki McCain, and pay attention to what happened in SC in 2000...McCain does not like Bush. And McCain is his own man. The only candidate who's looking for a third term in the white house is named Clinton.

Posted by: j091695as | March 28, 2008 10:52 PM | Report abuse

That's it? That's all the McCain campaign can come up with? I've seen more drama in a Macy's Day After Thanksgiving Sale advert.

Posted by: Nurse_Tabby | March 28, 2008 10:47 PM | Report abuse

HONOR includes honor to your wife, who you don't leave because she no longer suits you physically or financially, Mr. McCain. Your vow was "in sickness and in health". Many have taken it seriously, why not you?

Posted by: tribute1 | March 28, 2008 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Senator McCain really projects the leadership and honor of the American Presidency.

His patriotism and dedication to duty as a Naval Officer, who suffered as a prisioner of war is nothing short of heroic.

I for one, would be very proud to have him as our President.

Posted by: chicago77 | March 28, 2008 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Senator McCain really projects the leadership and honor of the American Presidency.

His patriotism and dedication to duty as a Naval Officer, who suffered as a prisioner of war is nothing short of heroic.

I for one, would be very proud to have him as our President.

Posted by: chicago77 | March 28, 2008 10:39 PM | Report abuse

You tell it, Tess!

Posted by: bbires | March 28, 2008 10:31 PM | Report abuse

John McCain is no Republican period. I am appauld that any true conservative would have casted a vote for him. What were you people thinking? Honestly? I have been a true Conservative Republican for years, and I was, and still am in shock that anyone that is a true Republican would even considered him for President. I believe that dumbed-down American political education you all have received from the major networks have rotted your brains. We currently have two Republican candidates in the race. Why would you even considered a warmongering, uneducated about economics, and our monetary system as the one you want to represent the Republican party, shame on you. I guess America will get what it deserves, more taxes, more government, more war, open borders, more illegals, and more crap. As an ex-military soldier, and a true conservative, my vote will only be for Ron Paul, and I hope you all will reconsider come September at the convention, and on November 2008, and give your support to the true conservative Republican, RON PAUL.

Posted by: tess101 | March 28, 2008 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Look out, Grandpa Munster! You are enjoying a brief respite from the scrutiny of the media, but they will be back, and they will be looking at your lobbying for Airbus over Boeing, your bogus claims as an environmental-friendly candidate, your confusion about the economy, your inability to tell a Sunni from a Shiite, your support of a war that's headed down the toilet once again, and all of the ways that you are about as much of a maverick as Ronald McDonald.

Posted by: bbires | March 28, 2008 10:27 PM | Report abuse

"Posted by: paulnolan97
Boring. I cant buy gas or food for my family with "honor" or "determination". It also won't pay for social security or health care bills. And its not going to help people find jobs."

Have you been following the unemployment rates the past several years? It is about as low as it can get. If you want to see unemployment rates skyrocket let Obama double the capital gains tax and let the Bush tax cuts expire. Then just wait and see who he considers "wealthy" and needs to be taxed even more. Obama does nothing but use the same old class warfare tactics of a typical liberal. His liberal views, lack of experience and patriotism will be his undoing this fall. This is the first salvo in the Republican effort to hight Obama's flaws. They can do it in a subtle manner for now because Hillary is doing their work for them.

Posted by: MikeJ9116 | March 28, 2008 10:11 PM | Report abuse

It's funny to hear McCain's critics call his exploits boring. That statement says more about the author than they could imagine.

Yes, McCain is boring to flash-in-the-pan zealots of Obama.

But to many of those boring folks in the middle of America, McCain is exactly the person they have bonded with, especially when compared to a radical socialist such as Obama.

Posted by: dyend | March 28, 2008 9:57 PM | Report abuse

America cant aford another bushman as president with our economy in the huge mess its in.Somebody pleazeee tell the old man -ITS THE ECONOMY STUPID!

Posted by: smorrow | March 28, 2008 9:57 PM | Report abuse

You're also missing an interesting shift in Obama's new ads now airing in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He's clearly targeting economically distressed regular folks.

Posted by: roadkillrefugee | March 28, 2008 9:56 PM | Report abuse

The ad plays to the core GOP base and fails to reach out to moderates and independents, which is what McCain should be doing now. It is also heavy handed, like Giuliani's old ads.
In the end, he misfired.

Posted by: roadkillrefugee | March 28, 2008 9:53 PM | Report abuse

If the other two hopefuls hadn't such serious deficiencies, the Magoo commercial would have been better as an announcement of his retirement. Anyone for Batman & Robin staying on (and on..) next year?

Posted by: filoporquequilo | March 28, 2008 9:51 PM | Report abuse

"Posted by: caddycts
I guess some people don't mind that he lied about his ancestors owning slaves. Oh yeah he'll make a great president alright."

Is this the best you've got? This comment is about as irrelevant as I have seen regarding McCain. You must be going nuts over Hillary's Bosnia lies and Obama's lies about not knowing his pastor is a racist for the past twenty years.

Posted by: MikeJ9116 | March 28, 2008 9:50 PM | Report abuse

His next biographical ad: how he cheated on his wife after he got back from Vietnam. With current wife Malibu Cindy.

Posted by: DemoDevil | March 28, 2008 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Don't get me wrong, for years I have admired McCain for his independent thinking and his willingness to stand on principle as opposed to towing the party line to show loyalty, and did pay a price for that independent streak. But these days I hardly recognize the man. He has pandered so much to garner the support of the base of his party and in the process has come so into line with Bush's policies that I wonder seriously if he does take the white house will he remember what it is to be McCain.

Posted by: tydicea | March 28, 2008 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Boring. I cant buy gas or food for my family with "honor" or "determination". It also won't pay for social security or health care bills. And its not going to help people find jobs.

Posted by: paulnolan97 | March 28, 2008 9:43 PM | Report abuse

"Posted by: tulone
I would be if 4,000 had been killed in the last 5 years."

I guess you wouldn't have had the stomach to fight WWII then.

Posted by: MikeJ9116 | March 28, 2008 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Interesting how the average advertisement
must have more than just grains of Truth, hwaile a campaign ad can be a mere facsimile of the Truth. Senator John McCain is just that a Facsimile of Democracy and Freedom, the same scratched record played again and agfain by an illegaly appointed President George W. Bush and his VP Dick Cheney, Terrorist#'s
1 & 2, respectively, who's names should be on the Terrorist Watch List.

Posted by: jetsfoto | March 28, 2008 9:31 PM | Report abuse

A vote for McCain is a vote for the vice president. McCain won't last through his first term if he survives the onslaught of questions about Keating and ties to special interests.

Posted by: camera_eye_1 | March 28, 2008 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Is that commercial for real? When I first saw it, I thought it was a satire.

Posted by: blob42 | March 28, 2008 8:23 PM | Report abuse

I guess some people don't mind that he lied about his ancestors owning slaves. Oh yeah he'll make a great president alright. > Politics2000 Feb. 15, 2000

Posted by: caddycts | March 28, 2008 8:05 PM | Report abuse


How about Mike Bloomberg or Bill Gates as VP?

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Back on topic: is it really that significant or "travel[ing] a long way" that John SIDNEY McCain would want to play up his remarkable biography? As I recall John FORBES Kerry saluting and "reporting for duty" during his acceptance speech, why wouldn't McCain do the same?

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 7:01 PM | Report abuse

depending on what happens in the democratic primary, McCain may well be the president america is waiting for, but mitt romney is so very defiantly not the vice president america is waiting for. it is foolish for the republicans to expect that McCain will be acceptable to those democrats disheartened by their own primary if even the remote possibility of romney is attached to the deal. as an example, i have supported senator obama throughout his campaign, a white college educated male and i prefer McCain to hillary, but not if he runs with mitt romney. this is so for many reasons having to do with everything from the mess mitt made in Mass to advance his personal ambitions to the confused state of his mind where he fails to see the difference between a entrepreneurial capitalist and a hostile take over perpetrator.

Posted by: saintpeterii | March 28, 2008 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Truman killed more Japanese civilians than Bush has killed Iraqi civilians -- sorry if you really misunderstood me -- although the USS Newport News tried last year ; )

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Wow JakeD, I didn't know Bush had killed many Japanese.

And I think you're being a little ridiculous if you're actually comparing a post-war peace time military base with an active combat zone. But keep looking at the world through those rose-colored glasses, it looks like it's working for you.

Posted by: tulone | March 28, 2008 6:42 PM | Report abuse

That doesn't really answer my question. Also, don't forget that Truman killed more Japanese civilians in TWO DAYS than Bush has his entire two terms.

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I would be if 4,000 had been killed in the last 5 years.

Posted by: tulone | March 28, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse


Are you similarly upset about American troops stationed in Japan since 1945?

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse



Posted by: tulone | March 28, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

"What the McCain campaign understands is that the president is the living, breathing, walking symbol of the American Republic. As such, he must be seen as the ultimate American patriot."

What will be Obama's greatest pitfall against McCain in the general election?


Posted by: jeffboste | March 28, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Of course McCain is going run as a Vietnam War Hero with that "serve with honor" stuff and "experienced" national security punchline.

McCaIN Can't afford to reveal the more controverisal side of his candidacy that would appeal more to some independent and conservative democrats because he would lose the conservative Republican base.

Sorry McCain you have fallen to into the realm of closer following Bush policies combined with you age is not a risk worth taking.

Posted by: ajtiger92 | March 28, 2008 6:05 PM | Report abuse

As an aside, North Carolina's primary is closed to Republicans, but unaffiliated voters, which account for 12% of the Democratic electorate, can cast ballots for either party. The "deadline" to register as unaffiliated for the Democratic primary is April 25, 2008 (although there seems to be a procedure for One-Stop Registration / Absentee Balloting after that as well):

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Oh Pahlease!

President McCain has little to fear from the Senators!

They are BOTH heading for the Way-side due to the fact Al Gore is about to step in and steal all their Thunder.

THEN, Al is going to need a whole lot more than his size and a Nobel Peace Prize to secure the Executive Seat.

See, his Peace Prize is no match for the COMBINATION of a Military Guy during Conflicts, and a Venture Capitalist/ Business/Legal genius with a Tanking Economy as his Veep!

Al-a-Gorey, is just going to wind up Allegorical! Introducing; Big Gay Al, in "Loser II". The man who thought he won-Again! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 28, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I was wondering if Hans Zimmer provided the music for the ad?

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Out of WHAT context? Did he give it before the 2004 Republican National Convention as well? As Americans are forgetting the lesson of 9/11, I think it's MUCH more relevant today.

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I have no idea why the McCain campaign keeps using that one speech. It really doesn't make much sense out of context, other than to show the man has a pulse (which clearly he does after 15 months of campaigning).

Posted by: BABucher | March 28, 2008 5:12 PM | Report abuse

For those of you who can't get YouTube:

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Oh please!!! You read THAT much into a single TV ad?

Posted by: JakeD | March 28, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

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