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The Myth of a Maverick
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10.31.07

Crooked talker adds two more flip-flops

filed under: Crooked Talk + Foreign Policy + Immigration + Media hate | | link

Watch from 3:01 to 2:44 in this video. The part where John McCain says, in a March interview with ABC's Terry Moran (about how he's on the comeback trail!), that: "If you look at my positions on literally every issue, I haven't changed. I'm no different from what I was. And that's a tiny bit frustrating to me that this portrayal, well, he's pandered to this or done that."

Now, read this article. Excerpt:

Sen. John McCain has quietly been piling up flip-flops, including ditching his long-held support for the Law of the Sea convention and telling bloggers he now opposes the DREAM Act to legalize illegal alien students. [...]

"I would probably vote against it in its present form," he told bloggers last week during a conference call. [...]

Mr. McCain's support for the sea treaty stretched back to the 1990s, when he signed a letter with three other senators urging its passage, and continued through 2003, when he was scheduled to testify on its behalf before a Senate committee.

But after the rest of the Republican presidential field took a stand against the treaty this month, Mr. McCain had little choice but to change, conservatives said. [...]

A McCain campaign operative said the senator rethought his position on the treaty over the past year, and concluded it contains threats to sovereignty.

The operative, speaking on the condition of anonymity, couldn't say why those threats weren't apparent before, though in his conference call Mr. McCain told the bloggers he is worried about global warming and the international race to claim the Arctic.

Mr. McCain — who has been a supporter and even a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — also said during the conference call that he would have opposed it on the Senate floor last week if he had stuck around for the vote.

Chapter 11 of the book is called "The Crooked Talk Express."

10.23.07

Politico: "McCain takes 12-step approach to politics"

filed under: 12-step + Foreign Policy + Goldwater + Reviews | | link

Over at Politico, Jeremy Lott writes up the book and asks me a few questions. Excerpt:

The 12-step interpretation of McCain may seem like a stretch, but Welch offers circumstantial evidence to make it entirely plausible. McCain often uses buzzwords that are familiar to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step program members, including warning people against “selfishness” and the real, telling clanker, “egotism.”

In his books and speeches, McCain is a “serial pre-emptive confessor of his sins,” said Welch. Aggressive public confession is the beginning of all 12-step movements. (As in “Hi, my name is John McCain, and I’m running for president.”)

McCain has “learned the value of saying, ‘Oh, I’m a bad person, I’ve made mistakes, I’m flawed.’ It’s part of his charm, and it’s done wonders for his career,” Welch said.

The Arizona senator had to learn that trick somewhere. Both McCain’s late father and his second wife, Cindy, were frequenters of 12-step programs — AA and Narcotics Anonymous, respectively.

This should be troubling, said Welch, because McCain’s new 12-step rhetoric coincided with changes in his views of foreign and domestic policy.

McCain had been a cautious realist on foreign policy whose military service and status as a Vietnam prisoner of war lent him real heft. His default positions on economic and social issues were in keeping with his family’s Republicanism and Arizona’s conservatism.

The new 12-step McCain became an advocate of invading countries for looking at us funny. He supported going into Iraq during the 2000 primaries, was the chief advocate for the troop surge in Iraq and is itching for a fight with Iran.

10.17.07

Robert Draper Does McCain (and Especially Salter); Elitism Undetected

filed under: Elitism + Iraq + Media hate + Media love | | link

Robert Draper, author of the new Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, and also of one of my favorite journalism books (Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History), spent a year off and on tailing the John McCain camp, especially attached-at-the-hip co-author Mark Salter, and writes about it for GQ.

It's a good and interesting piece, though it plays into the well-worn conceit that the real McCain is the rough-hewn, straight-talking maverick, and not some kind of front-running fancy-lad. Consider the opening set-piece, which begins at a chi-chi DC fundraiser at the Corcoran Gallery of Art back when McCain was riding high in December 2006:

Coat-check girls welcomed the 800 guests at the entrance to the dramatically dimmed beaux arts venue; inside, waiters ladled out dainties and proffered trays of carefully chosen wines. The dapper, white-haired senator from Arizona himself held court at the west end of the hall [...]

Of course, that maverick ethos was nowhere in evidence that night, a fact of which Salter was well aware. "It's difficult," he'd said earlier, ruminating on the unlikely notion of John McCain as the establishment's candidate.

Why, you'd almost think that McCain was a total stranger to having dainties ladled in his presence. In fact, he enjoyed his first Beltway salons more than six decades ago. As I write in the book:

The myth that John McCain is a "man of the people," a natural-born genius at retail politics, is so all-pervasive that one feels like an atheist at Jesus Camp suggesting otherwise. [...]

From the beginning of his political career, McCain has never won an election without out-spending his opponent, usually by massive amounts. He has engaged in intensive door-to-door politicking just twice (Phoenix in 1982, New Hampshire in 1999–2000). And he has lived the bulk of his life inside the very Beltway he's so fond of campaigning against. With the notable exception of the soldiers he's served with and the staffers he's employed, McCain has favored the company of corporate bigwigs, powerful politicians and nationally known journalists since before he ever ran for office.

Ask Arizonans whether their senior senator is a "man of the people" and those who have an opinion will laugh. "He's just above it all; he doesn't have time to mess with peons," said Lyle Tuttle, chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee. [...]

John McCain knew before puberty that he came from a special family, and he was groomed from age 10 for elite leadership. His grandfather was in those famous surrender pictures from the deck of the USS Missouri at the end of World War II, and when he died days later it made the front page of the New York Times. His father, a well-regarded submarine commander during the war, became the Navy's first chief of information and then the branch's liaison officer to Congress. "My parents kept a house on Capitol Hill," McCain wrote in Faith of My Fathers, "where they entertained leading political and military figures. My mother's charm proved as effective with politicians as it was with naval officers. The political relationships my parents forged during this period contributed significantly to my father's future success."

There's more interesting stuff in the Draper article; read on after the jump.

[read more]

10.15.07

"A Comprehensive Dissection"

filed under: Reviews | | link

A newish mini-review, from Atlantic blogger Matthew Yglesias:

At any rate, in the event that a McCain surge does materialize, the antidote is Matt Welch's new book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, a comprehensive dissection of the man who for a long time held the title of America's most overrated politician and who still in many circles is viewed as something of a sympathetic, tragic figure.

In the book, Matt builds upon some earlier writing of his on McCain through the revolutionary (given the subject matter) method of actually examining McCain record and views than the more traditional approach of wishful thinking and ideological projection. In essence, it's the story of a man who succeeded in turning his own life around through embracing hard-line American nationalism and then decided to adopt this as a governing philosophy before becoming a media darling in a way that left him simultaneously overexposed and underanalyzed.

10.14.07

Pardon my dust

filed under: Miscellany | | link

We're ironing out the kinks here, on this the day before Publication, and we should have a humming little site up and running on all cylinders by, oh, the end of Oct. 15!

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Other Books About McCain
John McCain: An American Odyssey, by Robert Timberg

Man of the People: The Life of John McCain, by Paul Alexander

John McCain: An Essay in Military and Political History, by John Karaagac

Citizen McCain, by Elizabeth Drew

Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir, by John McCain

Worth the Fighting For: The Education of an American Maverick, and the Heroes Who Inspired Him, by John McCain

Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them , by John McCain

Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life, by John McCain

Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember, by John McCain

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Other Writing on McCain
L.A. Times book review of Hard Call

"Be Afraid of President McCain," Reason

"Do We Need Another T.R.?" L.A. Times

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