Will The Real John McCain Please Stand Up

Aquarian Weekly 5/28/08 REALITY CHECK


Now that the Democratic Party’s sixteen-month hissy fit winds to a merciful close, the electorate will be forced to ask the absentee Republican candidate for his credentials. Trouble is they are not of the usual tried-and-true variety. The charming confusion that is John Sidney McCain III’s political biography is anything but ordinary. And as I write this, it continues to stew, creating a daily definition that begs the obvious question: Who the hell is John McCain really?

John McCainNo one with a lick of sense can argue that the Arizona senator and presumptive GOP presidential nominee tiptoes across the thinnest of campaign tightropes. He is a Republican in a political season that rates the very term with extreme prejudice. For six of the last eight years his party has been at the helm of some trying times, a good portion of them circumstantial, others self-inflicted. He has also been a major part of this ride, in some cases leading the vocal charge for an unprecedented domestic and international litany of train wrecks, which fairly brands him with the blame. Still other times he was battling the status quo with contrarian bills and harsh criticism of its leaders, which equally brands him a political traitor.

For good or ill, McCain must combine these peculiarly fascinating and perhaps instructively unique dualities and find a way to traverse his way through the most difficult of strides: Distance himself from the currently doomed Washington atmosphere and rally the very troops who stand accused of screwing everything up.

This is not an easy balancing act for a congressman, much less a presidential candidate. It is why McCain appears at times like a stalwart maverick and others like he is a blithering idiot, the latter popping up more frequently since the Democrats have all-but decided on his opponent.

When he excoriates rivals for views he himself espoused a few years earlier, whether it is on the Iraq occupation or tax cuts or negotiating with foreign nations not jiving with the American world plan, McCain looks like a pandering hack. When he’s making bold statements about changing the tone of previous elections that appeared petty and vicious by staying above the fray, but then when things get juicy, as in the turbulent weeks following the now-infamous Reverend Wright fiasco, he jumps to question a candidate’s integrity, he looks desperately silly.

This is a shame; because part of the McCain appeal is that he is anything but a pandering hack or desperately silly. His record, for the most part, shows he has stood by principle even when it looked like political suicide, as in his repeated public mockery of the bungled Iraq war policies devised by the obviously mad Donald Rumsfeld, whom he berated vehemently in public for close to two years. Later, when he was wallowing in primary purgatory, flat broke and without a hint of legitimate press coverage, his defense of the dubious troop surge in Iraq seemed like the final nail in his campaign’s coffin.

McCain has gambled where few politicians of this age have gambled, heading up questionably deduced crusades outside the mainstream and across the ideological aisle with like-minded legislators who believed that campaign finances were becoming counter-productive to the electoral process, the executive branch of government should be given the override veto power to curtail federal spending, a bating of the powerful tobacco lobby was long overdo, a reduction of greenhouse gases by big business was paramount, and the monitoring of the senate’s filibuster stranglehold in judicial nominee process was a much-needed self policing of congress.

This is a man who at once rattled the sabers of military might while railing against the use of torture in any manner. He questioned the long-range wisdom of the original Bush tax cuts and worked with the much-despised ultra-liberal lion, Ted Kennedy on immigration reform. When he was torn to pieces during his 2000 presidential campaign by a burgeoning Texas smear-machine, he dusted himself off and during the general election hugged the soon-to-be president like a long-lost brother. Four years later, however, he would deride the same army of political hit men and his party’s privately funded muckrakers in a staunch defense of fellow Viet Nam vet John Kerry.

It is a difficult and thorny trek laden with social, political and philosophical minefields. At some point the 71 year-old senator of 26 years will have to figure out which McCain is best suited for the trip, and when he decides who that is, then the public can vote on it.

McCain is also two sides of the personality coin: An über-serious war veteran of imprisonment and torture, who has dubbed himself “the worst nightmare” for America’s enemies, who often displays a playfully self-effacing sense of humor. He speaks like a hawkish macho man to the NRA and meets with lunatic Christian cult preachers, then pivots to jive with liberal joke-factories like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live. He winks at the Right Wing of his constituencies with talk of conservative judges, but derides any notion of crazy amendments to ban gay marriage.

During the final weeks of his successful Lazarus-like rising from primary oblivion, he battled every conservative talk show host imaginable – many still refusing to back his candidacy – a vocal pogrom that may ride into November now that a Clinton is no longer a threat. In succeeding despite not sucking up to performing party robots, he has disproved the myopic notion that a Republican must pander to the ultra-right of the party to lead it. Hell, McCain even called the evil leftist press corps his base in 2000 and still enjoys their company on his Straight-Talk Express.

But there have been signs of change on that front lately, specifically when the media pounced on the ever-fading president as he stared down the lowest approval ratings since Nixon in a speech to Israeli hardliners wherein he compared anyone who even considers diplomatic relations with foreign nations he’s deemed “terrorists” as an act of appeasement akin to disgraced British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain. McCain echoed these mawkish sentiments, continuing to recall Hamas leader, Ahmed Yousuf’s “endorsement” of a Barack Obama presidency as a de facto threat to national security.

Rightly accused of the worst kind of political chicanery, using an official speech on foreign soil as a sitting president to influence an American election, McCain was unceremoniously tethered to Bush’s usual verbal goofiness and ham-fisted public relations; not a place he wants or needs to be for any hope of victory.

So John McCain struggles to hover aloft from “business as usual”, once a champion of Independents, the maverick’s maverick, and gather the rancorous base of his wounded party, while also forced to upset the Change Agent, Hope Movement of Barack Obama, who has systematically stomped on the heretofore immutable laws of Democratic Party politics by ignoring the socialist-minded working class special interest lobby to create his own uncharted path to the White House.

It is a difficult and thorny trek laden with social, political and philosophical minefields. At some point the 71 year-old senator of 26 years will have to figure out which McCain is best suited for the trip, and when he decides who that is, then the public can vote on it.


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