I used to think John McCain was the maverick that he advertised himself to be. He bucked the system, believed in campaign finance reform and reached across the aisle to folks on the left side of the Democratic Party, such as Sen. Russ Feingold. He wanted to be president, and way back in 2000 he rode through New Hampshire saying things that candidate George Bush would never say. His was an upstart campaign, and plenty of the “liberal” press loved to follow him because he was willing to say what traditional candidates were not going to say for fear of alienating their base.
He began the 2008 campaign with some real momentum before he became so enamored with the idea of becoming president that he lost his soul. Hiring the brilliant and talented Mark Zandi to be his economic adviser was a great move. Zandi thought out of the box. I was at a conference with all of the major candidates’ economic advisers, and Zandi was far and away the most competent in the group. Zandi joined the McCain team as a registered Democrat. Recently he received a ton of ink because he advocated a larger stimulus program and crunched the numbers to show that money spent on food stamps actually had a stimulating effect on the economy. John McCain, who has made clear that he is “not a maverick,” dismissed the advice of his former adviser, Mark Zandi, by saying that he had a “lot of former advisers.”
On the Internet now are the clips of John McCain saying that he is a maverick, despite his recent protestations that he never was one. It is symptomatic of how is brain is working, or more specifically, not working. On Saturday, as he made speeches on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the START treaty, one press person I sat beside asked, “Does he have any brain cells left?”
How is John McCain’s brain functioning?
There have always been many John McCains. He was opposed to women entering any combat roles in 1991, even flying refueling or U-2 aircraft, but later he praised women in the armed services. When he was running for president in 2000, he was smooth, warm and funny.
Reporters would spend hours with him on his bus, “The Straight Talk Express.” McCain had reputation amongst reporters to tell it like to was, unhampered and unfiltered by press flacks. One reporter told me by the time he fired up the “Straight Talk Express” to attend the Republican Convention in 2000, the “Straight Talk Express” had become the “Double Talk Express.” McCain had been done in by “Bush for President” sympathizers who had undermined his campaign by talking about his black adopted daughter and his wife’s prescription drug problem. He decided to go mainstream.
Now in the wake of losing the presidential race to Barack Obama, he is taking his revenge in the form of being an angry and nasty loser who has arguments conjured up in the last century. His speeches on the floor of the Senate on Saturday show a person who is out of touch. He rose to speak for 10 minutes before the cloture vote on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He sounded divisive, trying to divide the country into rural and patriotic against the Ivy League East Coast citizens whom he intimated had no interest or desire to serve the country. McCain forgot his Arizona conservative predecessor senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who said, “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military. You just have to be able to shoot straight.”
Later on Saturday, during the START Treaty debate, McCain went after the language in the treaty saying that the treaty preamble was somehow outdated and would hand the Russians a political tool that they have sought for “so long to bind our future actions.” Most of the senators immersed in the treaty language thought that this preamble wording had no tangible effect on it. John McCain knows that if there is a change to the language, the treaty would need to go back to renegotiation. It clearly did not matter to McCain that Republican Secretaries of State Kissinger, Baker, Powell and Rice support the START treaty. In his mind, it would hand his former presidential opponent a win. John McCain isn’t going to let anyone win now that he lost the White House.
America has moved past John McCain. Most people recognize it, except John McCain.