Tuesday, April 08, 2008

His Maverickness

Mavericks of the world, unite!

Here is an interesting and (probably unintentionally) revealing feature article on what makes John "100 Years War" McCain, our greatest living saint next to Savior-General Petraeus (peace be upon him), a maverick: McCain full of convictions and contradictions by Nowicki Arizona Republic 04/06/08

To start, I have two observations:

  • St. McCain's "maverick" reputation is based on his alleged willingness to break with his own Republican Party on important issues.
  • The "maverick" label has been plastered on him for at least a decade by his fans in the press, or what Digby calls his "Hanna Montana" fans in our sad excuse for a press corps.
True to normal press practice, the significant role that the press has played in promoting the Straight Talker's "maverick" reputation is simply disappeared in Nowicki's article. What role the press cavorting with the living saint at his "rustic cabin" may play in the press' remarkably friendly behavior toward the Great American is covered in Nowicki's article by stone cold silence.

By the way, I use that last label because Nowicki tells us that the Straight Talker prefers to "maverick": "McCain recently quipped [sic] that he prefers the term 'Great American' to the overworn 'maverick' label." I seem to remember our likely Democratic standard bearer actually using that term to describe him. Will the Maverick return the favor and call the Senator from Illinois a Great American?

I'll give Nowicki credit. He does manage to report in the fourth paragraph that our bold Maverick in 2007 "voted with Bush 95 percent of the time". What a maverick! Voting against Dear Leader's position 5% of the time obviously makes St. McCain practically a heretic in the Republican Party. (Reality check: even in today's authoritarian Republican Party, very few Republican members of Congress vote that consistently with the Bush White House.)

I find it genuinely odd that in an article which falls just short of being a McCain puff piece, Nowicki doesn't mention the Maverick's alleged opposition to the Cheney-Bush torture policy until the fourth-from-last paragraph, and then only in passing. In the last couple of years, that has been issue on which McCain has most obviously prominently postured as a "maverick". Even though he surely knew that the anti-torture bill he supported was outlawing something already big-time illegal under American law. The real problem was that the Cheney-Bush administration was deliberately breaking the law.

Did McCain seriously think this administration would start obeying the law if it were just passed again? even though they are operating under Cheney's Unilateral Executive doctrine that says the President is not bound by the law or even the Constitution in "national security" issues? The Maverick's Hannah Montana fans in the press barely noticed that when Bush signed the bill, he issued one of his famous signing statements saying he fully intended to disregard any provisions he chose to disregard. And the great Maverick said he was fine with Dear Leader's signing statement. Now that really is our Maverick, i.e., his "maverickness" is mostly a PR slogan.

Nowicki opens his story this way:

John McCain has been called a "maverick" Republican for so long that most Americans started taking his independence for granted a long time ago.
I need to find some English textbook and dig out that George Orwell essay that I had to read when I was an undergraduate where Orwell's rants about the use of bad English. The passive voice was one of his main gripes. This is a perfect illustration of why. Because putting a subject in an active sentence would read something like this: The adoring national press and drooling fanboys like Chris Matthews have been calling McCain a "maverick" Republican for so long that most Americans started taking his independence for granted a long time ago.

Well, at least he goes on to provide some excellent examples of how press adoration of our greatest living saint next to Savior-General Petraeus (peace be upon him). Here are the sources he quotes on McCain's maverickness. Or maybe I'm using the wrong term. Nowicki writes, "There is political value in maverickism." "Maverickism" - you learn something new every day. Still, I'm going to stick with "maverickness" for now. At least for this post.

But keeping in mind the political value of that quality however we construct the noun form, check out these sources, in order of their appearance in the article:

  • "Charlie" Black, "a senior McCain campaign adviser" who is also a lobbyist who has said he conducts lobbying business on his cell phone while he's riding on the McCain "Straight Talk Express" campaign bus
  • Dan Schnur, "who was communications director for McCain's 2000 presidential campaign"
  • The bold Maverick and Great American himself
  • Matt Welch, editor-in-chief of the libertarian Reason magazine who has written a book critical of the Straight Talker called McCain: The Myth of a Maverick
  • Former Arizona Senator Dennis DeConcini, who "is now a lobbyist"
  • Scott Celley, "a press aide to McCain from 1987 until 1994"
  • James Pfiffner, a presidential scholar at George Mason University in Virginia and the author of the 2004 book The Character Factor: How We Judge America's Presidents.
  • Rightwing Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl, "a McCain backer"
  • Ralph Nader (Ralph Nader?!?!)
To summarize, the quoted sources are the Maverick himself, a lobbyist and current campaign insider, two former employees of McCain's, a conservative/liberatarian critic, a former Democratic home-state Senator who is now a lobbyist, McCain's current home state fellow Republican Senator, quasi-Republican Ralph Nader, and one Presidential scholar.

And what does this collection of sources conclude? He's a maverick!

I found this a fascinating observation, particularly in light of the frequency with which the punditocracy echoes the Republican line that Democrats are "flip-floppers". Novicki writes, "a maverick is sometimes hard to define and, in politics, the free spirits are often the most inconsistent". The Maverick is not a flip-flopper when he drastically changes his position on something, he's a "free spirit".

The text of the article gives the following examples of maverickicity on the Great American's part:

In 2001, he was one of only two Republicans to vote against Bush's signature tax-relief program. The other was then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., one of the Senate's most unabashedly liberal GOP members. But today, McCain supports making the tax cuts permanent because letting them lapse is tantamount to a tax increase.
He was against the tax cuts - at a time when his vote would make no difference in the actual outcome - before he was for them.

He is eager to work with Capitol Hill Democrats on topics such as immigration and climate change but has a history of clashing heatedly with Senate colleagues in both parties.
I'm not sure grumpiness and bad temper really qualify as maverickness. Yes, he's made noises about addressing global climate change. But his strategy seems pretty vague. And on immigration, it's true that he opposed other conservative Republicans to support Bush's version of immigration reform. But St. McCain he says he wouldn't vote for his own bill. He was for his own bill before he was against it. Now, maybe he deserves a maverick point for that. And, by the way, everyone is "eager to work with" members of the other party - to support one's own legislation.

He delivered in February 2000 a blistering critique of religious conservative leadership, which included blasting Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as "agents of intolerance." Yet in 2006, he delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University.
Now, he's completely embraced the Christianist agendy, including supporting creationism in the public schools. He has some of the most rabid Christianist radical clerics, like John Hagee and Ron Parsley, backing him and his aggressive military policies.

The Maverick himself highlighted "earmarking and pork-barrel spending" as one area where he often disagrees with fellow Republicans. I'm not especially familiar with his record in that regard. Again, my question would be whether he's been really to seriously make an issue out of these things, or whether he picked instances of this as a safe matter on which to stand out without actually endangering fellow Republicans' pork supply. In any case, "earmarking" is one of the issues his fellow Republicans are emphasizing against the Democrats now, in a laughably hypocritical way, since such "earmarks" exploded under Republican dominance in Congress and has been scaled back in a major way by the majority-Democratic Congress over the last year or so.

Another set piece in the case for McCain's maverickness is his sponsorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform, which was unpopular among the Republicans. But despite that, the reform's initial effect was more restrictive on the Democrats, because they had relied more heavily on the "soft money" expenditures that was a major target of McCain-Feingold. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold has a better claim to the "maverick" title on that one that McCain does. Also, during his current Presidential campaign, McCain played some games with the campaign finance laws that must have made Karl Rove and Abu Gonzales proud.

Nowicki goes back to the 1980s to find more examples of maverickicity. St. McCain opposed St. Reagan's sending troops to Lebanon in 1983. This opposition was rooted in an entirely conventional conservative dogma that the US should engage the military only in massive conventional combat operations. It was a more conservative position in 1983 than St. Reagan was taking.

This is my favorite in the article:

McCain's opposition to the 1988 catastrophic health-insurance law and subsequent attempt to reform it was widely reported at the time but little remembered now. McCain sensed that Arizona seniors thought the new federal program was a disaster. But when McCain brought up the problems, Senate leaders "mocked" him, Celley recalled. ...

Eventually, senior outrage over a surtax in the plan mounted nationwide. The Senate voted 99-0 in October 1989 to adopt a McCain reform plan before ultimately repealing the entire program a month later.
The Straight Talker joins in on one of those very rare unanimous votes in the Senate. And this shows ... he's a maverick!

McCain's very unpopular position on keeping the Iraq War going indefinitely is a big deviation from the public's position, as Professor Pfiffer notes:

He continued to call for victory in Iraq, even at a time when it appeared to imperil his chances to secure the GOP nomination. McCain repeatedly said he'd rather lose a political campaign than a war and still might as public skepticism about U.S. involvement in Iraq remains high.

"It helps on the character part, but it hurts on the policy part," Pfiffner said.
Nowicki describes this as an instance "of McCain's trademark style" that doesn't "reflect shrewd political calculation".

Now, all of that may be true. But the Straight Talker's alleged maverickness is based on his supposed willingness to deviate from Republican positions. He's straight-line Republican on this one, though more belligerent in tone than some.

Finally, here's proof that one can squeeze blood out of the proverbial turnip (metaphorically at least). Check out this example of the Maverick's maverickicity:

Likewise, there's little upside to McCain's comments downplaying his own economic expertise other than to suggest he is someone who can comfortably discuss his flaws in public - at least away from the heat of a presidential campaign. Those remarks came back to haunt him as the economy rose to prominence in this year's race.
He's clueless about what needs to be done on major economic problems. And that shows ... he's a maverick!

Yet's that's our bold Maverick, "heretical and independent and bold", as alleged liberal Mark Shields was gushing a couple of weeks ago. He voted with a unanimous Senate majority 20 years ago! He's useless on major economic problems! Yes, that man if bold and independent and heretical all over the place, isn't he?


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