January 7, 2008


McCain's Promise
: It is cruel to compare the senator to most of his Republican competitors. (Dorothy Rabinowitz, January 7, 2008, Opinion Journal)

In the midst of all the gloomy prognostications that John McCain was as good as gone, one encountered person after unexpected person--people, that is, who don't vote Republican--who announced themselves McCain enthusiasts. They are an old story, these Americans who discovered Mr. McCain in 2000, but it is a story with new meaning today.

All those New York editors sitting in publishing houses, those teachers and publicists and medical professionals, remained solid McCainites. Whatever their political views, whatever shift in their opinions, they seemed, those I knew, to have lost none of their feeling for this candidate. For all his politically incorrect positions--his support of the war, and George Bush--or perhaps because of them, this core army of his admirers remains as certain as they ever were, if not more, that he's the man to lead the nation.

In the primary campaign of 2000, people stood for hours in the freezing cold. In upstate towns they waited for Mr. McCain, home-made signs in their hands, their messages so brief, so charged with the emotions of the men and women holding them--"AMERICAN HERO"--it took your breath away to see it. The transportation for the candidate and reporters traveling with him had been named, only half-mischievously, the Straight Talk Express.

Now, these hard years later, the meaning of that name takes on larger dimensions, and the straight talk in question--about the war, about his support for the president, his stand on immigration, all so costly to him, and so unhesitatingly given--has also been the making of him. It is this, first of all, that people recognize in him.

Almost as in the old days, he's begun to get plenty of respect from the media. Though the word "old" keeps showing up in regular, not always innocent and invariably hammy tributes--as when his name is attached to terms like "the old warrior" or simply "old soldier." There's indeed something suitable in the word as regards Mr. McCain, but it is nothing having to do with his age.

That ingrained pride of his that forbids pandering for political gain--that would be shamed by lying about his deeply held views--is what is old about him. Old in the sense that honor of this kind is sufficiently rare, now, that it's a subject of wonderment to people when they find it in someone, as they have in John McCain.

The rarity of such standards--the lack of consciousness, even, among political contenders, that limitless pandering might actually be wrong, and say something damning about the character and judgment of the candidate--has never seemed more evident than in the current primary race. Who can forget Mitt Romney listening in seeming amazement, a few weeks ago, as Tim Russert pressed him to explain certain extraordinary (if politically convenient) turnabout stands he'd taken on gay marriage, the right to life and other hot social issues?

A model of self-assurance, Mr. Romney expressed his astonishment at the questions, at the idea that a man couldn't develop new positions. And what kind of a leader, he wanted to know, would he be if he never changed his mind about anything, etc., etc. What one remembered most about this scene, which had all the makings of one of Hollywood's cruder Washington satires, was Mr. Romney's easy aplomb--the air of a man who, it was quite conceivable, had come to believe in the fantastic rationales he'd offered up for all the flip-flopping.

Mr. McCain's views on immigration and perhaps a number of other issues may never win the approval of some of his strongest supporters. But to those who have watched him these many years, that can't in the end matter. They know who he is.

There's a singular lack of maturity (see under "libertarian") to not being able to tolerate a candidate who differs with you on a couple issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 7, 2008 3:39 PM

"There's a singular lack of maturity (see under "libertarian") to not being able to tolerate a candidate who differs with you on a couple issues."

That's preposterous, OJ.

It's funny and everything, but c'mon.

Posted by: Benny at January 7, 2008 4:52 PM

Is it a flip or a flop for McCain (via his closest aides, like Rick Davis) to have set up committees and pseudo-527s that evade his campaign finance bill?

Is it a flip or a flop for McCain to have cozy connections to the telecom industry, to the point that he roars at the NYT not to print stories about lobby money flowing his way?

Is it a flip or a flop for McCain to vote against tax cuts, and then endorse them later?

Posted by: ratbert at January 7, 2008 5:38 PM

I'm willing to believe that these McCain Democrats would vote for him over Hillary, but I find it hard to believe that they would vote for him over Obama.

Posted by: Ibid at January 7, 2008 5:45 PM

The really funny bit is the claim that McCain doesn't pander. "Will Pander For Camera Time" could be his motto.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 7, 2008 7:38 PM

What we have here is a failure to communicate. When OJ uses the word libertarian, I think of people like Murray Rothbard (yeah he was nutty, but he was still a cultural conservative), Milton Friedman, Von Hayek, Von Mises. I think OJ is thinking of homosexual drug addicts.

Other than that we sometimes get on the same page.

Posted by: h-man at January 8, 2008 4:08 AM

It's funny how nostalgic some people get for a few short weeks on the campaign trail.

Bill Clinton spent an entire two terms governing that way. A lot of Democrats still pine for April to June 4 of 1968.

I'm sure there are people who yearn for the George Wallace of spring 1972. And the Teddy of early 1980. Or Pat Robertson of 1988. There are probably even people who long for Jimmy of early 1976.

But governance ain't like Blanche DuBois. And neither is history.

Rabinowitz should know better. McCain has his sore spots, just like any other politician. However, he has spent the past 20 years trying to convince the nation (i.e., the press) he doesn't. He may not be as egregious as some of the others, but his spots are there.

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 8, 2008 8:43 AM