McCain fighting the label 'old and confused'

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Thomas Nast's political caricatures in the early 1870s so bedeviled New York City's corrupt Boss Tweed that he once bellowed: "Stop them damn pictures! I don't care what the papers write about me. My constituents can't read. But, damn it, they can see pictures."

Not only can most of us read these days, almost everyone has a TV set. And our late-night comedians provide the exaggerated portraits — fair or not — of our political leaders.

Jimmy Carter? Inept bean counter. Ronald Reagan? Genial dope. George H.W. Bush? Clueless wimp. Bill Clinton? Randy redneck. George W. Bush? Clueless incompetent.

John McCain's caricature is being set: old man. He wisely goes along with the joke — why deny the obvious? — and tries to turn it into a plus. After all, "old" means experienced, especially when compared with a 46-year-old upstart.

But McCain must fight against those who'd add another word to the shorthand: "confused." For a Republican on the verge of turning 72 and campaigning to be commander in chief, being tagged as a confused old man could be an electoral disaster.

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