A few months ago, there was quite a stir over whether Reagan employed a divisive Southern strategy in 1980, starting his campaign with a speech suppor
March 31, 2008

A few months ago, there was quite a stir over whether Reagan employed a divisive Southern strategy in 1980, starting his campaign with a speech supporting states’ rights in Philadelphia, Miss. — the same town where three civil rights workers had been murdered. With that in mind, I was a little surprised to see that John McCain was kicking off a major campaign tour yesterday in Meridian, Miss., not far from Reagan’s kick-off point.

Another instance of the GOP’s Southern Strategy? It’s possible, but a closer look suggests McCain picked the Mississippi town for family-history reasons.

Sen. John McCain kicked off his “biographical tour” Monday morning, seeking to connect key moments in his life to his policy agenda. The first stop was Meridian, Miss., home to McCain Field, a naval air station named for his grandfather and namesake, John Sidney McCain, who was a four-star admiral. Mississippi is also the ancestral home of the McCain family, though as the son of a naval officer, the future senator moved frequently and had no real childhood home.

To say that McCain was laying it on thick would be an understatement. His campaign is billing this as a “biographical tour,” but if yesterday was any indication, McCain is actually making this a “look-who-I’m-related-to tour.”

He seems to be the first candidate in recent memory to make family history highly relevant to his campaign. In yesterday’s speech, McCain noted, “Many McCains left here as young men to pursue careers in what has long been our family’s chosen profession — the United States armed forces … We trace my family’s martial heritage back to the Revolution. A distant ancestor served on General Washington’s staff, and it seems my ancestors fought in most wars in our nation’s history. All were soldiers — both Henry and Bill McCain were West Pointers — until my grandfather broke family tradition and entered the Naval Academy in 1902. He was succeeded there by my father, then me and then my son.”

And, in case anyone missed all of these subtleties, the McCain campaign released a new web video about the senator’s family history, with an emphasis on those who became military leaders.

Restrained it is not.

I’m not quite sure what to make of all of this. Voters may very well take into consideration McCain’s military service in the 1960s when deciding who to support, but it’s hard to imagine anyone factoring in McCain’s lineage — the senator has every reason to be proud of his family history, but it’s not quite as relevant to the country as, say, McCain’s healthcare plan.

Ed Kilgore had a very sharp post on this, noting that he couldn’t recall “any major speech by a president or presidential candidate that was devoted so thoroughly to the subject of the speaker’s own family background — not just the immediate family … but the Family Heritage.”

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