A McCain Glossary: Sticky Words and Phrases

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It’s about framing the narrative, stupid.

This fall Republicans will trumpet John McCain’s experience and valor, and Democrats naturally will call into question McCain’s judgment and vigor. Barack Obama will throw a few sharp elbows during debates and on the stump, but the grassroots work of shaping the narrative on McCain will fall to Obama’s running mate and to other surrogates, including canvassers and ordinary voters at the precinct and neighborhood levels.

Below the break is a sampling of words and phrases to consider lobbing in McCain’s direction. Some are obvious. Some have already been used elsewhere. Some are wry. Some are harsh.

Surely McCain’s persona and positions will serve as magnets for such descriptive terms, some of which can be made to stick.

Without further ado, here is a modest first draft of a McCain Glossary. Consider the subtitle to be: Narrative Framing for Dummies.

(Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Raising Kaine.)


An Unhinged McCain in Full Snarl

On McCain’s Napoleonic inclinations and his inability to control his temper:









–bent out of shape

–beside oneself

–blow a fuse

–blow a gasket

–blow his top

–blow his stack













–doing a slow burn




–flipped out

–fly off the handle

–foaming at the mouth


–go bananas

–go berserk

–go ballistic

–go through the roof

–go up the wall

–go off the deep end













–hot under the collar


–incapable of appreciating an opposing view















–pissed off





–seeing red



–short of stature and shorter of temper



–steamed up

–teed off



–throw a fit

–ticked off




–utterly lacking in empathy















Sample narrative frame #1: The crotchety senior Senator from Arizona has a reputation for flying off the handle and going ballistic. Do voters really want to elect as President an easily provoked, short-fused, unreflective hot-head and to place his twitching finger on the nuclear hair trigger? McCain’s personal approach to foreign affairs seems to be: Shoot first, make war forever, and negotiate never.

Sample narrative frame #2: We now know, thanks to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, that the invasion and occupation of Iraq will end up costing America some three trillion dollars. Yet the truculent, blinkered, unadaptable Senator McCain insists that he is willing to keep our troops in Iraq for a hundred years, or even much longer. Never before in history has anyone been able to make a three trillion dollar blunder, refuse to admit it, and then insist on prolonging the self-inflicted mistake and the backbreaking expense for a century.

Sample narrative frame #3: Has the long-serving Senator McCain never heard of the economic concept of opportunity cost? Just do the simple math. Instead of watching the Bush Administration deceptively and needlessly pour three trillion dollars into the sands of Iraq (see Scott McClellan’s just published book: WHAT HAPPENED: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington), each and every American man, woman and child could have had $10,000 to spend and invest. Every average American working family of four–two adults and two children–could have had $40,000. Every American family of four could have afforded a new hybrid car (at about $22,000 each), thereby drastically decreasing our dependence on imported oil. And there still would have been $18,000 per family left for investment in renewable energy (fuel cell technology, wind farms, solar technology, etc.), improving public transportation, updating the communications infrastructure (fiber to every office and home and broadband WiFi everywhere), transitioning to universal health care, and modernizing schools to make Americans more competitive in the global markets of the Twenty-first Century. But John McCain would rather perpetuate the grotesque neoconservative blunder and stay in Iraq for a hundred more years, thereby forcing our economy into a downward, perhaps lengthy and even irreversible, spiral.


A Touching, Intimate McBush Moment


Let’s eat cake and party while Katrina hits New Orleans (White House photo by Paul Morse, August 29, 2005)

On McCain’s antiquated, doctrinaire conservatism in service of corporatist interests and the Bush/Cheney agenda:







–behind the times



























–last century’s











–old hat

–old as the hills




–out of the ark





–played out







–rings shot and engine seals leaking




–stagnant or stagnating


–standing still














–unable to adapt





–willing dupe


–worn out


Sample narrative frame #4: The senior Senator from Arizona wants to continue the broken-down, discredited, worm-eaten economic and tax policies of George W. Bush and his own campaign’s Big Business lobbyists. You may have heard that the venerable Senator McCain’s Republican Party has adopted as its new slogan the marketing theme for the powerful anti-depressant drug Effexor: “The Change You Deserve.” What the Republicans really mean to offer is “The Small Change You Deserve.” American workers get the chump change, while the real money goes in tax cuts and bailouts to the Big Boyz. If a hedge fund manager or subprime mortage manipulator blunders and gets in over his head, he can depend on a bailout from Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve Bank. If an ordinary American worker makes a mistake and gets in over his head, he can count on foreclosure and bankruptcy. The looting aristocrats of great wealth get Republican bailouts, while the working classes get the Republican boot. Corporatist Republicans such as conservative columnist George F. Will argue that labor is just a commodity, the minimum cost of which should be $0, as Will asserted in an astonishing op-ed piece in The Washington Post on January 4, 2007. Do American workers think that they should be treated as mere commodities, as wage slaves willing to accept a minimum wage of $0 without rights or benefits? Ever since the Reagan Administration annihilated the Professional Air Traffic Controllers in 1981, Republican ideologues have waged a generation-long, full-scale assault on organized labor. Isn’t it high time for American workers to mount a counteroffensive?

Sample narrative frame #5: We need to remember that Senator McCain’s main constitutents run corporate America: Big Guns, Big Oil, and Big Pharma–today’s G.O.P. Oh, and don’t forget the Big Banks, including foreign banks like UBS Investment Bank of Switzerland, a major player in the subprime mortgage meltdown. McCain has indentured himself to Washington lobbyists, who fund and run his campaign. Indeed, McCain’s chief economic adviser, Phil Gramm, is a vice chairman of UBS and until April was a Washington lobbyist for UBS. You don’t hear the wealthiest one-tenth of one percent complain about their finances, do you? Hedge fund managers and subprime mortgage packagers are not allowed to fail. Only ordinary American families are expected to suffer the consequences of economic meltdown. After all, the corporatists regard labor just as a commodity.

Sample narrative frame #6: Senator McCain’s ideologically hidebound approach to economics is beyond discredited and obsolete, it is practically prehistoric. McCain, for all his pretense of moderation, is a hard core, war-and-oil-profiteer-cheerin’ corporatist conservative. He is a Neoconderthal, a neoconservative with practically Neanderthal beliefs. And the only tools that he seems to know how to wield are a Paleolithic club for rivals foreign and domestic and yet more tax cuts and bailouts for the already super wealthy. Instead of running for President, perhaps it would make more sense for McCain to join Geico’s advertising campaign, for his economic policies are so outdated and simplistic that even a caveman could recite them.


McCain Adjusts his Wattle before Mounting the Stump (AP)

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A Listless John McCain on the Stump (AFP, April 1, 2008)

On McCain’s, er, experience:


–advanced in years


–burned out




–cognitive decline



–declining years

–declining faculties
















–golden ager




–a half bubble off plumb


–hurtling down the descending edge of the razor blade of life





–long in the tooth, if any are left

–losing his bearings

–losing it



–a marble or two short of a bag

–missing a couple of cards from the deck




–of a certain age

–older than dirt (McCain’s own self-deprecating phrase)

–older than the rocks that made the dirt



–over the hill


–past it

–past factory warranty

–past pension age


–retirement age and then some


–rigor mortis of the imagination




–senior moments (McCain Moment)



–slowing down
















–winter of life





–zombie-like delivery

Sample narrative frame #7: With due respect for Senator McCain’s more than fifty years of service, the worldview that McCain acquired over a half century ago does not necessarily apply to the problems that we now face in the Twenty-first Century. Obsolete Twentieth Century tools cannot fix Twenty-first Century problems. Times have changed, and the willfully stubborn Senator McCain seems to be oblivious to the new realities. He seems to suffer from rigor mortis of the imagination.

Sample narrative frame #8: Even as an experienced golden ager, the grizzled Senator McCain is still a tactical fighter pilot by training and inclination. He reacts to events with the unconsidered, instinctive reflexes of a pilot rather than with the reflective, informed strategic vision of an admiral–the rank achieved both by his father and his grandfather, but not by him. And the senior Arizona Senator’s reflexes are no longer what they used to be, as one can perhaps judge from his sluggish, droning monotonal reading of speeches and from his often ill-considered or incoherent answers to questions. The septuagenarian Senator McCain seems to be inflexible in dealing with unfamiliar situations and often seems confused and overwhelmed when trying to process new, unexpected information, which he simply tends to filter out, ignore, or misconstrue. No wonder he is prone to frequent verbal gaffes and misstatements.

Sample narrative frame #9: Remember that back in 1958 the inattentive young cadet John McCain ranked 894th out of 899 in his graduating class at the Naval Academy, i.e., in the bottom one percent. No one suggests that McCain is stupid, but he is arguably incurious and intellectually lazy, and his understanding of the world seems limited, fossilized, and frozen in time. To elect him would be to elect a hybrid of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney: a two-headed creature combining Dick Cheney’s cordiality and respect for the law and Constitution with George Bush’s intellectual curiosity and talent for judging character. We have already seen in the past eight years how well that has worked with the co-presidency of Bush and Cheney. And both Bush and Cheney are arguably far sharper mentally than McCain has become in the midst of his natural and unavoidable cognitive decline at this stage in his life.

Excessively Harsh, You Say?

Politics ain’t tiddlywinks, unless one insists on playing the role of the ineffectual Warren Christopher in the HBO movie Recount. And keep in mind the gathering roar that the Mighty Wurlitzer and the Republican Swift Boat machine will unleash against Barack Obama and his eventual running mate. The fundamentalist party of latter-day Republicans will use every imaginable dog whistle to whip up the worst demons of human nature by seeking to manipulate primal fear, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia against the Obama ticket. Willie Horton, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, “Harold, call me,” endless clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, irrelevant gay-bashing innuendo, calculated emotional appeals to foes of contraception and abortion, jingoist flag pin attacks, and over-the-top charges of effete “elitism” will serve as the templates for the even more hideous diversions and distractions to come this fall.

Obama will seek out the high road to pursue his vision of building a grand new moderate/progressive Democratic coalition and of laying the groundwork to work across the aisle with reasonable, reality-based Republicans to solve the country’s mounting problems, but his running mate, his surrogates, and the rest of us in the trenches will need to raise legitimate doubts about John McCain’s suitability–both personal and political–to occupy the Oval Office. McCain, through his persona, his checkered career, and his supine embracing of the Bush/Cheney neoconservative agenda, has provided ample material to merit some of the descriptive terms listed in this brief glossary.

Maybe a few of these words and phrases will stick and help to frame the narrative on John McCain.


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  1. Democrats can get to the narrative battlefield the fustest with the mostest.

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