It's tempting to speculate that by design or accident, McCain's self-description is an analogy for his latest political transformation from the "maverick" who flirted (or at a minimum, whose staff flirted) with becoming John Kerry's running-mate in 2004 to today's reinvented conservative. He's rebelled against his heritage, but now, in the crucible of this campaign, McCain is falling back on the fundamentals of family, faith, party, ideology, and yes, maybe even a hereditary strain of military jingoism, and is determined, as prodigals often are, to live up to the heritage to a fault. This must be immensely reassuring to the conservatives who have for so long mistrusted him. And it's an appeal that is also seductive for the many Americans who constantly struggle to reconcile libertarian impulses with the tug of traditions, even bad traditions.No argument there. This kind of approach might or might not have benefited John Kerry, but John McCain's base is likely to eat it up. On the other hand, I think Matt Yglesias goes too far here:
What I'll say on behalf of this strategy is that it's the best way I can think of to try to take advantage of older people's potential discomfort with the idea of a woman or a black man in the White House that doesn't involve exploiting racism or sexism in a discreditable way. McCain's putting together an identity politics counter-narrative steeped in nostalgia; it didn't work against a white southerner running on a very cautious agenda, but 2008 is going to see the Democrats nominating an unorthodox candidate running on a more liberal agenda.There's no way to know what's deep inside the man's heart, or the hearts of his followers, but really, there's pretty much no identity McCain could project that wouldn't automatically also project the fact that he's white and male. There's no way around that, and when Kerry ran on much the same warrior-hero image as McCain nobody complained that he was engaging in identity politics that appealed to latent sexism and racism.
Needless to say, if McCain really does do something that seems to appeal to "discomfort with the idea of a woman or a black man in the White House," then we should take him to task for it. But, really, he hasn't, and it's counterproductive for liberals to give the appearance that we're forever on the lookout for ways to find subtle signs of racism or sexism under every rock. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. McCain is in love with war and the military, and that's that.