Brooks didn’t go far enough: The press killed the last open campaign

David Brooks wrote a column today about the "education of the McCain" about how John McCain’s campaign has become conventional. The old McCain acted like this:

This sort of behavior has been part of McCain’s long-running rebellion against the stupidity of modern partisanship. In a thousand ways, he has tried to preserve some sense of self-respect in a sea of pandering pomposity. He’s done it through self-mockery, by talking endlessly about his own embarrassing lapses and by keeping up a running patter on the absurdity all around.

The new McCain is:

The man who lampooned the Message of the Week is now relentlessly on message (as observers of his fine performance at Saddleback Church can attest). The man who hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans now attacks Obama daily. It is the only way he can get the networks to pay attention. […]

As the McCain’s campaign has become more conventional, his political prospects have soared. Both he and Obama had visions of upending the system. Maybe in office, one of them will still be able to do that. But at least on the campaign trail, the system is winning.

I, for one, believe that the system is poisonous, and I agree with John Weaver that John McCain is better than the system. But let’s be clear, who has done this. The media has done this. First, as Brooks points out, their love affair with the process itself forced McCain’s hand:

McCain started his general-election campaign in poverty-stricken areas of the South and Midwest. He went through towns where most Republicans fear to tread and said things most wouldn’t say. It didn’t work. The poverty tour got very little coverage on the network news. McCain and his advisers realized the only way they could get TV attention was by talking about the subject that interested reporters most: Barack Obama.

The country could have had a debate about ideas. The media wouldn’t cover it. The country could have had a debate about what was really going on in the country. The media was not interested.

McCain offered the townhall. There could have been authenticity. The American people could have had access to the candidate. Only a couple of people in the media who have real respect for the process like David Broder called on Obama to accept. McCain tried and failed:

McCain started with grand ideas about breaking the mold of modern politics. He and Obama would tour the country together doing joint town meetings. He would pick a postpartisan running mate, like Joe Lieberman. He would make a dramatic promise, like vowing to serve for only one totally nonpolitical term. So far it hasn’t worked. Obama vetoed the town meeting idea. The issue is not closed, but G.O.P. leaders are resisting a cross-party pick like Lieberman.

As a Republican and a fan of John McCain, I am very glad that McCain is learning these lessons. I am, however, sad for our country that an unconventional candidate who really understands how repulsive the process is can’t run that campaign.