Friday, September 26, 2008

McCain: still crazy after all these years

Well, if I said once, I’ve said it a thousand times: once an asshole, always an asshole.

No wonder John McCain "suspended" his presidential campaign Wednesday to focus in a bipartisan manner on a grave national crisis -- he's been pulling the same stunt for nearly a decade now, boosting his poll ratings by pretending not to care about them.

You probably remember his suspension of the Republican National Convention's first day of business in order to raise funds and awareness for the victims of Hurricane Gustav (a move that, besides allowing umpteen convention speakers to praise McCain's selfless patriotism, neatly airbrushed the unpopular sitting president and vice president from the proceedings).

But McCain first used the tactic to spectacular effect way back in March 1999, when -- even though his White House run had been chugging along for five months -- he postponed the "official announcement" of his candidacy so that the nation could focus as one on the week-old war in Kosovo. "It's not appropriate at this time," the somber senator said then, "to launch a political campaign."

How did that play out? As McCain's sympathetic first biographer, Robert Timberg, wrote, "His decision amounted to a masterful political stroke."

This, of course, confirms a couple of things for us. First, it goes to show that this idea that there once lived a good and principled McCain that was replaced somewhere during the last eight years with this cynical, pandering model is nothing but another McMyth. The Arizona Republican was an angry, unstable, self-absorbed, preening asshole the day he landed in Washington, and he is just the same today. Second, the “suspension,” if not abundantly clear already, was never intended to be anything more than a campaign stunt.

But there is something different about this post—the above quote is from a column by Matt Welch, editor of Reason. It is not often that you are going to find me singing the praises of a prominent libertarian. Well, get your cameras ready; I am about to do it some more.

But if McCain's latest "country-first" outburst is a mostly empty symbol in terms of actual campaigning, it's a meaningful one in other ways. By taking what was originally Obama's behind-the-scenes initiative of cobbling together a joint candidate statement on the bailout package and opportunistically turning that into yet another chance to portray his patriotism as shinier than his opponent's, McCain is ripping what little facade remains over his campaign. This is not an election about ideas or policy; it's an election about a Great Man, facing down an interloper.

The upside to running a Great Man campaign against Obama is obvious: The Illinois senator is untested and comparatively unvetted at a time of war. . . .

And, in general, the more of the next few weeks that can be used up stressing vague issues of patriotism and "cleaning up Wall Street," the better McCain's chances of continuing to avoid any talk of the elements of his record that key parts of his GOP coalition despise. . . .

But as many Great Men come to learn, there is a colossal downside built into running a campaign on outsized personal virtue. The line between stoic, honorable service and showy moral vanity is oftentimes difficult to maintain.

And when a candidate confuses his own political ambitions with the fortunes of his country, that's when Great Men turn into self- parodies.

"I have craved distinction in my life," McCain wrote in his 2002 political memoir, "Worth the Fighting For." "I have wanted renown and influence for their own sake. That is, of course, the great temptation of public life. ... I have never been able to conquer it permanently, but I have tried."

Don't say he didn't warn us.

Welch has spent years chronicling the dick circus that McCain calls his career, and I think that perspective has paid off here. I am, myself, a little embarrassed at how much space I have expended on McSame’s shenanigans, rather than the real issues of the day. But McCain and Palin are like that proverbial car wreck—and you can’t help but rubberneck. The difference here is that rather than driving by that wreck, in the case of these characters, the wreck is heading straight at us—so, even if it’s hypnotizing to watch, it’s still probably a good idea to sound the horn.

Interested in more honking? Click on over to capitoilette. . . .

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