The Unspoken Question

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Posted for Amy Sullivan

It’s three nights into the Democratic Convention and a pattern is emerging. A number of speakers have made reference to their personal friendship with John McCain, carefully noting how much they admire him, before going on to criticize him. And that’s effective to a point–”more in sorrow than in anger” plays differently than straight-on attacks.

But Democrats might find it would be more effective if they explained why they’re so disappointed with their friend John McCain. How did this great guy they admire so much became a candidate whose positions appall them? It wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t like he had a personality transplant. And the answer would seem to fit perfectly into a powerful Democratic narrative. John McCain changed because that’s what he had to do to win the Republican nomination. That’s what the reigning conservative ideology and interests demanded of him.

You can imagine a version of this that still allows them to keep the tone of friendship: this conservative politics is so damaging, it even swallowed up our good buddy, John. Or something. Whatever it is, Democrats may need to find a more direct way of describing McCain’s transformation (flip-flops, if you will). Their current version leaves open the possibility that this good, decent man could revert to his old self–and that’s not something Democrats want undecided voters to believe.