John McCain has long been known if not as a moderate, at least as a maverick – a man with a remarkable life’s story who stands against corruption and spin and bucks his party on campaign finance reform, torture, how to run the Iraq War, the religious right, tax cuts, the environment, immigration, and even the Swift Boat vets. I remember hearing Joe Biden on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross a few years back. When asked how he would feel about running against John McCain, he said that it would be a race America couldn’t lose. If the 2000 John McCain had shown up, Biden’s analysis would have been correct. I myself donated to McCain’s 2008 primary campaign, figuring that a McCain-Obama race would be one of the most positive, substantive general elections in history. Iraq had me planning on voting for Obama, but I was still looking forward to a campaign that would raise the level of discourse in this country.
Sadly, the John McCain of 1990 and 2000 and even 2004 is nowhere to be seen. Instead of the statesman, scrappy underdog, and happy warrior we had all come to know, we’ve been given an unrecognizable, bitter, jealous old man. A look at his recent behavior:
- The McCain campaign says that Obama played the race card yesterday, but what Obama actually said was, “What they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He’s risky. That’s essentially the argument they’re making.” All this quote does is point out that race exists, and that there are folks out there who take that into account when they vote, two very true statements. A friend suggested to me that Obama was implying the GOP is the “they” advancing this attack line, but that’s not what McCain said, and even if it were, Obama’s been saying such things since the primary, when his opponents were Democrats. Senator McCain, are you suggesting that race is off limits as a topic, and that Obama isn’t allowed to mention that he’s black even in passing? What, then, would you call his March speech – blind hate?
- McCain says that, “Sen. Obama has indicated that… he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.” This implies, of course, that Obama doesn’t really believe what he says about Iraq and the surge – in other words, McCain isn’t just calling him wrong, he’s calling him a liar. That’s an awfully bold statement to make, and to say such things without any evidence to back it up is dishonest, disingenuous, and immoral. McCain, of course, doesn’t have anything to back them up, unless (as I have come to believe) he’s given up his statesman ways and become an ideologue so blinded by his own positions that he considers his views to be facts rather than positions, believing that anyone who disagrees with is either stupid or lying. Obama clearly isn’t stupid, which leaves McCain with only one option to believe. But if this sort of arrogant reflection really is where McCain stands, does he then also believe that the increasingly pro-surge yet still anti-war public is either stupid or lying about its position?
- McCain says, in a new TV ad, that gas prices are high because the freshman senator from Illinois doesn’t support offshore drilling. Yet according to the Department of Energy, new offshore drilling wouldn’t have a significant impact on gas prices for until the year 2030. You know, Senator McCain, your own party’s leader could open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and you yourself as the standard bearer could tamp down the rhetoric on Iran and join Senator John Warner (R-VA) in pushing for a lower speed limit…
- McCain says that the press is in love with Obama. His implication is that the press shouldn’t cover a historic candidate or newsworthy campaign more than it does an average campaign, and that positive coverage is a bad thing – yet he didn’t seem to have a problem with that kind of coverage back in 2000 when he called the press his base, or even earlier this year when he was raking in the press’ primary endorsements. Yes, this is a double standard, but I think there’s more to it than that. Do I sense… jealousy, perhaps?
- McCain says that Obama’s crowds are too intense and too big, and that Obama doesn’t have substance to back up the rhetoric. How then, Senator McCain, do you explain the fact that Obama is a former Constitutional Law professor who has more policy papers than you? And would you be upset if that many voters were chanting YOUR name? I attended a New Hampshire primary rally of yours back in January, and I don’t remember you getting angry when your staff led the crowd in chants of “Mac is back.” So here we have another double standard, but could it also be more jealousy?
For the first weeks of the campaign, I felt bad supporting an opponent of the great John McCain. Sure, I was put off by a few of Mac’s statements, but that’s politics for you. As a voter, you just have to roll with it, and my admiration for the tough Navy flyer continued. But with this week’s flap over Obama “playing the race card,” I have finally come to realize, perhaps a bit late, that this isn’t just a campaign shell hiding the McCain we all know. It’s a new McCain, one growing increasingly distraught as he watches his presidential chances fading away into oblivion, one who responds bitterly rather than strongly. It may not be permanent, but it’s not going away until he puts presidential politics behind him once and for all. McCain realized his mistakes in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and I imagine that he will realize his mistakes here one day as well, but by then it will be too little, too late for the rest of us.
I wasn’t expecting this, and I am very disappointed. I miss the real John McCain, the man who wrote all those books about honor and courage, and reflected those values in his political life. I was already going to vote for Obama, but I wasn’t going to feel good about it. Yet just as Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics moved me from her favorable to her unfavorable column, every day that passes by, my vote becomes a little bit more of a vote against John McCain, without becoming any less of a vote for Obama.