The Straight Talk Express — Back on Track?

Yesterday the ghost of Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign stopped by for a visit at the 2008 candidate's speech to the Memphis Economic Club. He sounded the theme of reform that brought McCain national prominence, as he criticized the Republicans who ran the Congress for spending too much and took a slap at the administration for failing  the victims of Hurricane Katrina. "My goodness, when disaster strikes, the government isn't even ready to deliver drinking water to dehydrated babies or rescue the aged and infirm trapped in a hospital wth no electricity," he said.

Could it be that McCain has finally realized this routine of playing dead will lead, unsurprisingly, to certain death? With a lousy fundraising record, little cash on hand, a dive in the polls and the albatross of Iraq now the centerpiece of his campaign, it's easy to see why so many '08 observers have written McCain off. I am not placing any bets on McCain, and I think it looks like a mighty difficult, nearly impossible, road ahead to the nomination. But I remain a member of the lonely crowd that hasn't counted McCain out yet.

Sure, there are many factors beyond McCain's control that have to cut his way to bring salvation, but there are also things he can to do make improvements. On the war, McCain should prod President Bush to pressure the Iraqis on the political front, because without those magic "benchmarks" there is no reason for a surge. McCain needs to try to show voters he is a better leader than Bush on Iraq, even if it requires running from Bush. Also, while McCain has liabilities as a conservative, his competitors share this problem and have more conversions and apostasies to overcome with primary voters than they know how to count. Plus the other contenders aren't Straight Tallkers; McCain is the only one who can be both a conservative and a reformer. Without his reform message, McCain is likely to languish at the bottom of the pack. But with it, there could still be hope for him.