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“The Straight Talk Express” and “No Malarkey,” a comparison

During his campaigns for president, John McCain famously traveled on a bus he called The Straight Talk Express. Joe Biden, hoping to energize his Iowa campaign, has been traveling around the state in a bus he calls No Malarkey.

McCain’s bus was aptly named. If anything, McCain talked too straight on it. During my one stint on the Straight Talk Express, he conceded that he wasn’t strong in the area of economic knowledge, and said he would seek a running mate with this expertise.

These observations came back to haunt McCain when he selected Sarah Palin for the ticket, and the economy crashed.

The point, though, is that McCain was remarkably candid on that bus. He offered his opinion of Hillary Clinton (favorable) and Mitt Romney (not). No topic was off-limit and no answer was off the record.

McCain was also remarkably even-tempered on the bus. I pushed back several times against some of his views, including on the enhanced interrogation of terrorists. McCain took it well, though I confess to have being relieved when the bus pulled into Durham, New Hampshire while we were arguing.

How does this compare to Joe Biden’s behavior on the Malarkey Express? I can’t say for sure. Biden hasn’t invited me on board.

However, the Washington Post reports:

On Monday, as Biden’s caravan traveled from a stop in northern Iowa to the airport, where he was jetting off for an evening of fundraising in New York before resuming the tour, he invited a group of reporters onto the bus for an unusually expansive conversation. At times, the exchange felt more like an airing of grievances, with Biden waving off staff members who noted he was going over the 30-minute agreed-upon time limit.

From this account, we can immediately identify three differences between The Straight Talk Express and its No Malarkey counterpart.

First, McCain regularly had reporters on board with him (though, as a blogger, I required an invitation from his campaign staff). It sounds like Biden’s Monday session with reporters on the bus was unusual.

Second, with McCain there was no agreed-upon time limit. McCain spent hours answering questions and chewing the fat. As David Brooks said before we boarded, if you don’t have 1,000 questions prepared, you’re going to run out.

Third, Biden used his session with reporters to whine about how his campaign is being covered. There was no whining on the Straight Talk Express.

Biden’s campaign stops also differ from the ones we made with McCain. The Arizona Senator was a gentleman at every stop. It’s true that he didn’t receive hostile questions. However, during this time period, McCain held frequent conference calls with conservative media members. At times, he was challenged on these calls. He never lost his cool.

Biden, by contrast, lost it earlier this week. He called his questioner “fat” and challenged him to an IQ test, among other ludicrous contests.

It’s true that Biden is feeling the pressure of having fallen behind in Iowa polling. But when I traveled with McCain in early November of 2007, he was running no better than second in New Hampshire, a state he had won eight years earlier, and no better than third in national polling. He had more reason to feel pressure than Biden does now.

Before he died, John McCain was seen by many in Washington as a temperamental and at times vindictive man. Biden has the image of great guy.

McCain could be temperamental and vindictive. However, that was only one side of him.

I don’t doubt that Biden can be a great guy when things are going his way. But this past week in Iowa, we saw his temperamental and downright nasty side. There are those in Washington, D.C. who will tell you that this is the side of Biden they have seen when he is challenged.

I’m pretty sure this is not malarkey.