In the absence of a winter Olympics this year, the greatest skating story this season has been the solo exhibition of Senator John McCain, who has glided across the ice of this 2008 Election Year unjudged, unaccosted, and unchallenged. It’s his good fortune that, first, his primary competition was against the likes of the multiplicitious Mitt Romney, the somnolent Fred Thompson, the one-n0te bully Rudolph Giuliani, the not-insurgent-enough Ron Paul, and the likable but inconsequential Mike Huckabee.
He’s also benefited handsomely from the fact that his two potential Democratic rivals continue to tear one another apart as they try and win the right to square off against the senior Senator from Arizona this fall. Hillary and Barack are going to continue to beat one another with shovels and anything sharper and heavier they can roll out for at least the next eight weeks, unless Hillary’s delegates defect in disgust to Obama or Hillary somehow discovers a conscience and decides she doesn’t want to sully and tear the party asunder any more than she has already. Either of those possibilities is as likely as Al Gore parlaying his Oscar and Nobel Prize into a late middle-age porn career.
It also doesn’t hurt that McCain’s is a great and harrowing American story and that most of us with our Christmas shopping horror stories or spending 45 minutes of our lunch at DMV or our breakup that was so bad it was “like torture” and that being awakened after six hours by our neighbor’s lawnmower constitutes “sleep deprivation” should just hang our heads and shut up when we’re reminded what he went through during his five years in the Hanoi Hilton.
Still, he has made it through this election completely unmolested, and there is something very, very wrong with that. John McCain has sold his soul to be nominated for President and continues to hack off parts of his integrity and sell them to the bidder with the fattest voting blocs under their belt, like he’s an aging butcher finally taking the cleaver to his prize steer and pocketing the biggest payday of his life before he hangs up his apron and heads for Boca.
John McCain is betting the store on what would probably be a one-term Presidency, and so far the press is letting him have it, rather than letting have it–for cashing in on his principles, for cozying up to people he’s traditionally regarded as repugnant and intolerant, and, not the least of which, for publicly embracing–figuratively and, most distastefully, literally–a President who took a cudgel to his good name and that of his daughter in South Carolina eight years ago.
This is his last hurrah in the public eye and he’s gotten a second chance at the brass ring that he’s been after for at least the last ten years. He’s been a likable public figure and always good for a memorable quote. Too bad he’s become Mitt Romney in flipping his positions like pancakes and embracing evangelical figures who make Jeremiah Sheppard look like Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way. In hate card poker, a gays-cause-hurricanes, Catholic-Church-is-a-Great-Whore, and all-Muslims-want-to-murder-Christians-and-Jews hand trumps a government-deals-drugs-to-kill-the-black-man and 9-11-is-the-world’s-revenge-against-America’s-sins pair. And between Rod Parsley and John Hagee, McCain is up two hands to Obama’s one. But nary a peep in the media, outside of a few in the media wondering why there is nary a peep in the greater media.
Then there is his so-called foreign policy expertise. He had to be corrected at least once by Joseph Lieberman that Shiite Iran was not in fact training Sunni al-Qaeda and sending them back to Iraq, which seems as probable as mailmen training dogs to attack other mailmen and dogs. On MSNBC yesterday, coverage of his speech that peace and stability were returning to Iraq and the Green Zone was interrupted by news that all hell was breaking loose in the Green Zone. This is all coming after his comment about a deeply unpopular American war that America might need to be there 100 years or more. That’s hitting the right note when 67% of Americans claim they’re opposed to our presence in Iraq.
Nothing has stuck to him so far. McCain has a way with people that the media find irresistible. He’s a nice guy with some of the best one liners in the business. In 1988, when George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle to be his running mate, McCain provoked the enmity of future Bush press secretary Torie Clarke when he said of Quayle that he would help attract the women’s vote–a remark Clark found sexist. “Torie,” McCain said. “I know three things about Dan Quayle: He’s dumber than shit, he’s a scratch golfer, and he’s good looking. I went with his strengths.”
McCain succeeded former GOP Presidential standard bearer Barry Goldwater in McCain’s current Arizona U.S. Senate seat. In a moment around the time McCain was in ascendance and Goldwater was preparing to retire, the mentor said to his protege, “You know, John, if I’d beaten LBJ’s ass back in ’64, you never would have spent all that time in that Vietnamese prison camp.” McCain replied, “I know, Senator. It would have been a Chinese prison camp.”
And it was fun to watch him slap the despicable Mitt Romney around the stage like Romney tried to steal the wrong kid’s lunch money.
By all accounts, he made his comeback when he stopped being The Candidate, after he was left for dead last summer, and started being John McCain again. That’s all over now, and he’s The Candidate again–stiff, pandering, and with none of the what-the-hell-I’ve-got-nothing-to-lose attitude that he wore last summer and fall when his campaign was broke, and he was booking commercial flights and carrying his own bags. But no one’s gotten around to calling him on it yet.
I’ve always liked McCain and I hoped since 1998 he’d run for President, but he lost me eight ways from Sunday when he didn’t knee George Bush in the groin at the 2000 Convention and then let himself get caught in that shameful and disturbing hug in 2004. I would challenge any Republican who loathes gays because they find the thought of two grown men canoodling offensive to tell me how the Bush-McCain embrace isn’t far more unsettling than their worst gay images could ever be.
In fairness to the media, who wants to watch Wladimir Klitschko shadow boxing when Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz are busy beating the hell out of one another inside the cage? But a boxer loses his legs when he’s not hitting and getting hit, and we’ll see how McCain reacts when–and if–he starts taking some of the same hits that Hillary and Obama have been taking from the press and doling out to one another every day.