Of all the things that terrify me about John McCain and his Presidential campaign, one of the worst is this:
“I may not agree with him on all the issues,” the trope goes. “But I admire his independence. He’s not just a puppet of the Republican party. He’s a real maverick, a straight talker with a good head on his shoulders, who’s willing to buck the system and who cares about the little guy.” (I’m ashamed to say that I bought this line myself, back in 2000 when McCain was running against G.W. Bush. I certainly wasn’t planning to vote for him, but I thought, “If he gets the GOP nomination, we could do worse.”)
But on closer examination — and not even that much closer, really — this turns out to be total bullshit.
John McCain’s “maverick” schtick — the “independent straight- shooter who’ll buck the system and fight for the little guy” schtick — is, IMO, one of the most successful snow jobs in the history of American politics.
And it terrifies me to see how effectively it’s spread. It terrifies me to think that people who would despise McCain’s policies and actions might still vote for the man because they see him as a straight- talking, independent maverick.
So today, I’m going to do my best to grind this snow job into dust.
Would an “independent maverick” say that, âon the transcendent issues of the day, the most important issues of the day, I have been totally in agreement and support ofâ the sitting President and leader of his political party?
Would an “independent maverick” vote with that sitting President — the completely disastrous sitting President — 100% of the time in 2008, and 95% of the time in 2007?
(Quick aside: True, this wasn’t always the case: his alignment with Bush and the Republican party has been somewhat lower in the past. But what does that tell you? That he’s willing to go against the GOP party line… unless he’s running for President? What does that tell you about what kind of President he’ll be?)
Would an “independent maverick” fail to nominate either of his two top choices for Vice- President — and instead nominate a far- right- tip- of- the- right- wing extremist wackaloon with virtually no experience, who thinks dinosaurs and people lived at the same time and believes the war in Iraq is part of God’s plan — because the two guys he really wanted were pro-choice, and the party wouldn’t stand for it?
Would a “straight- talking maverick” speak out against torture, and yet repeatedly support policies that enable it? Especially someone who was a torture survivor himself?
Would a “straight- talking maverick” who’s “bucking the system” speak out against anti-regulation lobbyists who were a primary cause of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac crisis… and yet hire those same lobbyists to be part of his campaign? Including as his actual campaign manager?
Would a “straight- talking maverick” send out invalid absentee ballots to voters likely to support his opponent?
Would a “straight- talking maverick” dodge questions about AIDS prevention and condom distribution in Africa, by claiming that “I’ve never gotten into these issues before”? (Or worse: Would a “straight shooter who fights for the little guy” who’s been in Congress since 1982 genuinely have never thought about the issues of AIDS and international AIDS prevention?)
Would a “straight- talking maverick” try to weasel out of a debate with his intelligent, charismatic, wildly popular, extraordinary public speaker opponent, on the grounds that the economy is in crisis — a crisis that’s been in process for weeks and months, a crisis created by seven years of his party’s failed economic policies which he himself supported — and he has to pull an all-nighter?
Would a “straight- talking maverick” flip-flop, repeatedly, on dozens and dozens of issues, from the drilling moratorium to warrantless wiretapping to abortion and the repeal of Roe V. Wade… repeatedly changing his mind to get it more in line with that of the Republican Party?
And would a “straight- talking maverick” flat out lie? And lie, and lie, and lie and lie and lie?
Lie about his opponent wanting to teach sex ed to kindergartners? Lie about his opponent suggesting that we bomb Pakistan? Lie about his own support from veteran’s organizations? Lie about how many people turned out for his campaign rallies? Lie about his opponent’s tax plan — and do it again, and again, and again and again and again? Lie, even, about what a “tracking lies about politics” fact-checking site did and did not say about his opponent?
I get that all politicians distort and conceal and spin the truth. (Or most of them, anyway.) But there’s a difference — a subtle one, but an important one — between distorting and concealing and spinning… and flat-out, outright, pants- on- fire, lie- like- a dog lying. And the latter is exactly what Mr. Straight Talk has been up to… again and again and again.
And perhaps more to the point: Not all politicians set themselves up as being different from all other politicians. Not all politicians push an image of themselves as straight-talking mavericks who are bucking the political system.
I could have gone on for many more pages. And I’m not even doing a thorough evisceration of his policies. (Partly because the flip-flopping has made it hard to know what the hell they are.) All I’m talking about here is the “maverick” line.
Which has proven to be one of the biggest and best snow jobs in the history of American politics.
And that’s saying something.
You want a straight- talking independent maverick who bucks the system and cares about the little guy? Go rent “Shane.” You want a weaselly, right- wing liar? You want someone who was always a pretty hard-core conservative and whose narrative arc of his Presidential campaign has been one of consistent capitulation to his party — the party responsible for this country’s worst economic and foreign policy disasters in decades? You want someone so desperate to become President that he’ll abandon whatever principles he once might have had in order to make it happen? Then by all means, vote for John McCain.