The McCain mutiny
In Election 2000, John McCain talked directly to the people, not to special interests, party hacks and moneyed contributors. It was enough that he was un-scripted and unpredictable…
…Flash-forward to 2008 and McCain seems to have aged into an angry ghost from a Dickens novel.
My brief flirtation with John McCain
By Max Talley
In our speeded-up, information-overloaded 21st Century, names as recent as Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld seem to be tied to a dark ancient era we’d prefer to forget. But let’s go way back to the year 2000 when George W. Bush and John McCain fought for the Republican nomination. On the Democratic side, Al Gore trounced Bill Bradley by being just slightly less annoying, slightly more animated in debates as dull as those between a math teacher and a science teacher.
At the time, the most interesting candidate by far was John McCain. Here was a guy who said what he felt, was off-the-cuff, actually funny and outspoken to the degree that a team of advisors trailed after him to deny or explain whatever he’d just shot off his mouth about. While other candidates traveled in guarded, isolated bunker-mobiles, he was on the “straight-talk express,” giving reporters unparalleled access to his philosophy.
Remember that the Al Gore of 2000 was a very different creature than the Nobel Prize-winning, global-warming, anti-war Renaissance man of today. In short, he was a pedantic politician who lectured like a lisping college professor who knew everything and needed to talk down to you.
So in that terrain, with the waxen, charisma-challenged Gore, and the dumb-ass son of a president, George W., clearly over his head but riding a flying carpet of major Republican money, McCain was the outsider, the maverick. Many Independents and Democrats (like me) considered supporting him. No, we hadn’t investigated his ultra-conservative history. It was enough that he talked directly to the people, not to special interests, party hacks and moneyed contributors. It was enough that he was un-scripted and unpredictable.
When McCain beat Bush in the New Hampshire primary by 19 points, the shit hit the fan. If you back a rat like Karl Rove into a corner, things are destined to get ugly. And they did. As soon as the candidates moved to South Carolina, voters got inundated with robo-calls saying that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child with an Asian woman, that his stories of war torture were exaggerated. Insane rumors spread and distorted through the South until he was basically considered a brain-washed Manchurian Candidate, a Trojan Horse bearing a liberal platform that might include inter-racial dating quotas, mandatory gay marriage for heterosexuals and abortion-on-demand for all, not to mention the banning of the Confederate flag!
McCain was utterly crushed; his campaign fell apart soon after that.
It took him months to forgive Bush for that smearing, but for the Rove squad, the smear was just a warm-up before the Florida travesty later in December. Gore didn’t help himself by picking Joe Lieberman for VP, a man who added nothing to the ticket. Worse, Gore wouldn’t let Bill Clinton campaign for him, fearing moral fall-out from proximity to President Blow-Job. Then, in the debates, Gore refused to slam W. on his many glaring weaknesses. Yes, the 2000 election was stolen by Bush, but it was stolen from a candidate who worked pretty damn hard to give it away. You add Ralph Nader into the mix, and the countless moderates, liberals and Greens who said, “There’s no difference between Bush and Gore” (How do you feel about that profound wisdom now?), and you have an American populace that helped screw itself.
My fling with McCain was over before he was trounced, and I supported, well, voted for Gore, but the McCain of 2000 would have been a much better president than Bush.
Flash-forward to 2008 and McCain seems to have aged into an angry ghost from a Dickens novel. At 71, he looks a decade older than his age. He shuffles along, hunched and sunken into himself with a pained smile that resembles a sneer. He squints and leans forward when questioned, his hearing aid malfunctioning. There is no warmth or humor when he says “my friends” anymore. It rings out like a warning, a veiled threat. Yes, McCain is a war hero and we honor his service and sacrifice, but Americans didn’t elect General MacArthur or Patton president, for good reasons. It didn’t give John Kerry a free pass, and it won’t for McCain.
Only now, the Manchurian Candidate urban legends seem less absurd. You’ve seen the photos of his full-frontal embrace with Bush in the 2004 campaign, and George giving him a kiss like Michael Corleone — or Judas. That wasn’t the McCain of 2000. He’d been body-snatched, rendered a pod-person! Now he wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary, until we achieve “total victory.” Those words are similar to MacArthur’s on the Korean War — just before he was relieved of command by President Truman. The only McCain position I still believed in was his consistent stance against torture. He recently voted against a bill that would outlaw waterboarding and re-align America with the provisions of the Geneva Convention.
Watching this grudge-bearing shell of a man become the Republican candidate has given many Democrats confidence that the 46-year-old Barack Obama, running on a message of hope and change, will decimate McCain in November’s general election. (Hillary? Well....)
There is no reason to worry about the man himself. He has spurred a McCain Mutiny among conservatives who despise him and among the independents and liberals who have wised-up since 2000.
However, there is good reason to dread the Republican fear and smear machine that is already assembling around McCain to further mutate him. That is the nightmare any Democratic candidate faces. It’s the same machine with bottomless funds that pushed W. (and Nixon) through twice. The machine that “Swift-Boated” John Kerry, that scares off minority voters through “caging” tactics, the machine that extends all the way up to the Supreme Court. The machine that took a wrecking ball to McCain in 2000, but will now re-build him in exchange for the last independent vestiges of his soul. This machine does not represent average hard-working Republicans. It is a servant of the richest 2 percent of the populace, the biggest oil companies, defense contractors, media owners and the rabid evangelical wing determined to alter the Constitution toward their own myopic moralistic vision. George W. Bush? John McCain? A sack of manure? This fear and smear machine is undiscriminating. It is a launch mechanism with a lot of thrust. Who their guided missile is, is irrelevant. §
In the interest of fairness, after this one-sided attack, Max Talley will take on the spineless Democratic majority in Congress in a future commentary. Elected in 2006, they have served as passive bystanders watching the slow-motion car crash of the current administration. Isn’t it time for the weak, ineffectual Senate leader Harry Reid to step down?