I have to confess, I don't think the Democrats have got hold of John McCain yet, in terms of structuring a message to beat him in the presidential contest. The narrative they are running on seems to be that McCain is Bush mark II (hence the third term and McSame slogans). In some ways, this makes sense. Obama has run as the change candidate thus far and has been very successful, so he looks a good bet if he can brand his general election opponent as the continuity candidate. It will also not cause much harm to remind everyone that his opponent is a member of the same party as the incumbent, very unpopular president. But I still don't really buy it. McCain isn't the same as Bush. He's frequently opposed the administration and has a long track record of bipartisanship in the senate (most famously on campaign finance reform). Whatever one thinks of his politics, it really is quite hard to imagine the worst excesses of the Bush administration taking place under McCain. So I just feel - and have for a while - that the Democrats aren't going down the best line on this one.
But... and it's potentially a big but... there is one thing that I think might turn out to be highly influential in the coming election, and may make the Democrats narrative much more powerful, at least if it takes hold in the popular imagination. A number of historic examples indicate how a single image can define a candidate. Rather than anything he has done in his time as a senator, maybe McCain will be defined by this picture, already quite prominent in the blogosphere.
So what's wrong here? It isn't so much the fact that Bush and McCain are embracing, but the body language of the two men. Bush looks regal, almost dismissive of his would-be successer. McCain, on the other hand seems to be pulling Bush closer, desperate to embace him. There is an odd role reversal thing going onto, with McCain, the older man, almost childlike in the way he is holding Bush. This image has everything the Democrats want to get across: Bush's arrogance and McCain's subservience. It will be interesting to see if this photo keeps reappearing over the course of the campaign.
This picture reminded me of something, and it took me a long time to figure out what. And then I remembered. A photograph that did a great deal to undermine the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War (for the full story of this photo, see here).
An excellent comment by Mark below makes an important point - the McCain photo looks very bad because of McCain's inability to raise his arms. This is due to his treatment during the time he spent as a POW in Vietnam. I wonder if that will offer him some protection from this image? Although, to be fair, it is still appearing all over the pro-Democratic web very frequently.