Tuesday, 02 September, 2008
Paul Collins offers his theory on why McCain can't stop saying "my friends."
John McCain's insistent recourse to "my friends" is easily the most mystifying verbal tic of any politician since Bob Dole's out-of-body presidential campaign of 1996, which featured Dole's not entirely reassuring promise that "Bob Dole is not some sort of fringe candidate." Like Dole's use of the dissociative third person-or illeism, a propensity also shared by Elmo and the Incredible Hulk-this year's obsessive invocations to friendship invite scrutiny.
He presents a nice background of presidential use of the phrase. For example, in FDR's acceptance speech, he used "my friends" 11 times.
McCain falls neatly into line: Roughly every generation since FDR, a candidate resurrects "my friends." But while used in its first few decades by good or great orators, it's notable that in the last half-century it's been exclusively resorted to by the worst orators in our presidential races.
What happened to change the phrase's status in our language after Eisenhower's 1956 speech? I have my own unprovable pet theory: It's because the following year saw The Music Man debut on Broadway. Ever since, the phrase has been irrevocably associated with old-timey con men in straw boaters: "My friends, you got trouble right here in River City!"
When McCain invokes "my friends," he's making an appeal to the old days-the really old days.