ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


Why McCain matters by mattsteinglass
July 8, 2009, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Conservatism

[posted by Matt]

Andrew Sullivan has been trying to explain over the past few days that Sarah Palin matters because the decision to elevate “this unstable, erratic, know-nothing beauty queen” to a potential Vice Presidential or Presidential spot reveals tremendous cynicism and irresponsibility on the part of John McCain, FOX News, and the Republican establishment. I think that’s largely true, but perhaps not entirely the way he’s thinking of it.

Sullivan writes “McCain knew full well that Palin was unqualified to be commander-in-chief.” But here’s the thing: John McCain is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief. McCain is a guy of rather mediocre intellect, little curiosity, and very poor and impulsive decision-making skills. He’s vain and headstrong, and he easily turns opposition over matters of policy or politics into personal vendettas. He became a political commodity in 1973 because he embodied the right-wing working-class value of patriotism under duress at a moment when patriotism and the white working class felt under attack for their complicity in a disastrous foreign war. And he was seized upon by a desperate Republican Party in political free-fall; in the thick of Watergate, the Nixon administration launched him as a political celebrity. He then parlayed that notoriety into a political career a few years down the road. He certainly has a substantial amount of charm and an instinct for playing the press, and he’s hardly the dumbest guy in the Senate. But he is not a responsible or serious person. And to a great degree, when he met Sarah Palin, he probably felt he was looking at a younger version of himself. Which is to say that the “rot” in the GOP, the eagerness to substitute celebrity and resentful pseudo-patriotic gibberish for real political discussion, goes back a lot longer than 8 years.


36 Comments so far
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I found you through Sullivan’s link to this blog post. Excellent observation.

I thought I knew Sen. McCain and even voted for him in the 2008 Michigan Primary (though half-heartedly). By the time Autumn came and I had completed my due diligence on the candidates; I was stunned at how different McCain really was from his public persona.

After 30 years of loyal membership, I left the GOP the evening of the Republican Convention when the Convention delegates approved Gov. Palin’s nomination to be McCain’s running mate – sheer insanity. I have not regretted my decision.

Comment by Michael Heath

This is the most intelligent piece I’ve read regarding the making of Sarah Palin. I am still suffering post-train traumatic stress from what might have been. I accuse John McCain ‘Mr.Country First’ of Dereliction of Duty. Unforgivable..

Comment by mcgruff

Sorry for the typo-post-traumatic stress-

Comment by mcgruff

I don’t quite know what to make of the whole McCain/Palin mess. My husband is from Argentina (I’m ahead of my time on that issue–I met him in NYC in the time of the “DIrty War” while I was a jazz singer in Manhatten). I had never voted till I had a child and voted for the first time for Clinton. Unfortunately I started to pay attention to politics. My first experiences were with Coulter, O’Reilly, etc. I felt LIKE I got the cooties just from voting. It did not deter me, however. I got some benedryl and kept on voting. Now I need something really strong. These same creeps refuse to swallow those sour grapes going slimy in their mouths I’m sure they think of someone’s penis in their cakeholes. . That’s how they are with slime in their mouths). John McCain made my husband a citizen in 1985 in Phoenix on the 4th of July and a celebration of the Statue of Liberty. Cindy (as a child) was there. He was creepy then and he still is. Will he go away (Mother may I , please). Jan

Comment by Jan

Spot on analysis, Matt. I too found you through Sullivan a few weeks ago and you have become part of my must read list.

I never paid much attention to McCain until this election cycle so I bought the media accounts of what a “good guy” McCain was. When it became obvious McCain would be the GOP nominee I got the rundown on the real McCain from a colleague originally from Arizona. I was actually stunned to find out just how little I knew of the Senator.

Comment by thegrandpanjandrum

The shallow character of John McCain is quite well documented in an article from October 2008, published by Rolling Stone.

Tim Dickenson, in a long and carefully researched piece, puts to rest any claim McCain should have to an elected office. This in-depth exposure of all McCain’s nasty secrets must be read:

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/make_believe_maverick_the_real_john_mccain

Comment by CMGreen

The Rolling Stone article was one of the articles that confirmed my suspicions of McCain’s erratic and idiotic behavior that became clearly evident after he became the GOP candidate in the early-summer. It’s well worth the read.

Comment by Michael Heath

I agree with everything but your comment on the complicity of the white working class. How are they complicit? Most of these soldiers were drafted and did not have the luxury of the “Cheney” college deferment. As a young girl, I saw my male cousins and neighbors ship off for boot camp and ” ‘Nam” – and certainly not with the enthusiasm displayed when they packed for a fishing or hunting trip.

Comment by BEmama

To me, Palin has only ever symbolized one thing – she was the horrifying evidence of John McCain’s recklessness. He was prepared to put her in a position to become the most powerful person in the world. He was prepared to do that cuz he thought it would get him elected.

Comment by Aunt Moe

What is so outrageous is the continuing enabling of this delusional woman by the media. Otherwise sane people blather on and on regarding Palin’s future as a presidential candidate! WTF-has this country gone mad? Responsible bloggers such as Sullivan and this author must stay on this travesty until something so damning brings this kook down and exposes her for the fraud that she is. Obviously, the current mountain of evidence isn’t enough for the dim-witted in this country.

Comment by mcgruff

“But here’s the thing: John McCain is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief. McCain is a guy of rather mediocre intellect, little curiosity, and very poor and impulsive decision-making skills. He’s vain and headstrong, and he easily turns opposition over matters of policy or politics into personal vendettas.”

Why do you say he has little curiosity? He was curious enough about campaign finance reform to author a bill on it that was made into law. Any profile I’ve ever read of the guy has him reading a book. As for his intellect, he rates higher than most elected officials. Other than Clinton and possibly Obama, he’s on part with most post WWII presidents.

“He became a political commodity in 1973 because he embodied the right-wing working-class value of patriotism under duress at a moment when patriotism and the white working class felt under attack for their complicity in a disastrous foreign war.”

White working class complicity for Vietnam? Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk et. al were working class? The complicity for the Vietnam War rests solely with the administrations which promulgated the War. McCain became a political commodity because he served 5 and a half years in Vietnamese prison camps, including rejecting preferential offers to leave based on his father’s status as the commander of the Pacific fleet. This isn’t exactly a Republican thing. When people do extraordinary things, they have opportunities in politics, and sometimes pursue those opportunities.

“And he was seized upon by a desperate Republican Party in political free-fall; in the thick of Watergate, the Nixon administration launched him as a political celebrity. He then parlayed that notoriety into a political career a few years down the road.”

McCain came back from VN in the spring of 1973. The GOP wasn’t quite in “free fall” then. Nixon had trounced McGovern only several months earlier and didn’t resign for another 15 months. Also, if McCain was seized as a political commodity, why did it take him until 1982 to actually run for an office?

“He certainly has a substantial amount of charm and an instinct for playing the press, and he’s hardly the dumbest guy in the Senate. But he is not a responsible or serious person.”

He has gained a number of legislative achievements in the Senate, one of them being McCain-Feingold. He also backed “the surge”, which has worked. (Yes I know — like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, he also backed the war initially.)

“And to a great degree, when he met Sarah Palin, he probably felt he was looking at a younger version of himself.”

No. You can read about this stuff. What he saw was that the 72 year old version of himself was going to lose the election, and he decided he needed a “game changer”. For his purposes, he picked (sort of) the right person. The GOP only pulled even when she became a star at the convention in St. Paul. Unfortunately, they did no due diligence on her, and when her idiocy became known to the public, she was rejected and a became a drag on the ticket.

“Which is to say that the “rot” in the GOP, the eagerness to substitute celebrity and resentful pseudo-patriotic gibberish for real political discussion, goes back a lot longer than 8 years.”

It’s bizarre that you’re writing off John Mcain as a celebrity. He wasn’t that much of a celebrity when he ran for a House seat in Arizona in 1982. It’s not as if people would ask for his autograph. Again, to the extent he gained celebrity, it was by being in VN prison camps for 5 and a half years. A real celebrity is someone like Al Franken. Is he a subsititute for real political discourse, or a contributor to it? John Kerry was also famous in the early 70s, for being a spokeman for VN Veterans Against the War. Does that disqualify him from being able to contriubte to real political discourse? Also, is everything patriotic “pseudo-patriotic”? Do you think all appeals to patriotism in public life are pseudo-patriotism? If so, you have a lot more political parties to concern yourself with than the GOP.

I’ve agreed with Sullivan all along. He’s repeated it over and over — McCain choosing Palin to be in a position to assume the presidency at any moment disqualified him from being fit to serve as President. It was an awful, irresponsible, error in judgement on McCain’s part. I don’t think Steinglass has added anything to the discussion.

Comment by James

I think it’s clear he’s referring to the working class’s right wing, given the previous clause, and not the working class in general. Nixon’s constituency. The people who would have raised holy hell if Johnson had bailed out of Viet Nam. The people who thought the Kent State shootings were good and proper, who though My Lai was no big deal. A sizable plurality of the vote.

Comment by T Aleck

T Aleck: going back to the original post, how did the working class right wing have complicity for VN? How were they under attack?

McCain is incidental to all of this in any event. When a good-looking, articulate, son and grandson of war heroes comes back from 5 and a half years in captivity, you invite him to the White House. I don’t care what political party you represent. It’s good politics, but it was also deserved on the part of McCain, who stayed in the Navy for the next several years and didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, in the 1980s he “parlayed” his service into a political career — in other words, he was a citizen who ran for office. Why Steinglass is offeded by this is beyond me.

Comment by James

Matt,
Excellent post. If we needed any additional evidence that the mainstream press still loves McCain, its been provided by the fact that none of the major news orgs have been inclined to face the truth as you’ve presented it here, which is simply that McCain was an unserious candidate, prone to fits of irrational decision making who also displayed a lack of aptitude on a range of policy issues. But hey, he throws great barbecues at his ranch in Arizona, so no problem.

Comment by Mike P

I was a big McCain supporter in 1999-2000, but his craven behavior between those years and 2008 really disappointed and had me questioning my loyalty for the man. I did vote for him in the primary, but once he picked Palin as VP, I knew I could never support him again. Reckless and unserious are understatements. I lived in a state that went for Obama overwhelmingly, so I voted for Bob Barr with a clear conscience.

Comment by Marcos El Malo

“T Aleck: going back to the original post, how did the working class right wing have complicity for VN? How were they under attack?”

Agreed. I come from a multi-racial, split-working class/professional class family. We lost our blond, blue-eyed uncle in Vietnam – he didn’t have a chance to decide if he would be working class or professional – dude was 20, and had just gotten out of junior college, leaving behind a baby and a Chinese-American wife in San Francisco. And he sure didn’t have any say in what happened with the war.
My dad, who also married a Chinese-American woman, also had to serve because of what used to be called THE DRAFT. (Remember that?) We all had to go to Walter Reed as kids. Made my mother crazy that Dad was assisting in the war effort against other Asian people, but he didn’t want to go to prison or leave the country, and at least we could stay stateside as an intact family with two young kids.
But you know what? It’s never the fault of the white working class. Why not? Because there aren’t any decisions in this country made by the working class – WHITE or OTHERWISE.

🙂

Anyway, I love my white working class cousins – just as much, if not more, than my non-white professional class cousins. But none of us were able to stop the Iraq War.

Comment by Eva

James, I think that if we grant “complicity” to the Viet Nam disaster to the war planners, who knew lives were being wasted in futility but held on for political reasons, it stands to reason the voters they feared should be considered somewhat complicit too. This is a democracy, after all.

This same constituency felt besieged by the enormity of their failure and the predations of the general cultural tumult–but saying they were “under attack” is a stretch.

As far as McCain being a war hero, well McCain displayed many admirable qualities during in his military service, but they were not necessarily the qualities of a politician. We elected Eisenhower to high office, MacArthur and Curtis LeMay faded away, though not for lack of trying on their parts.

Comment by T Aleck

Sorry, forgot to write this:

Does it even matter what anyone thinks of John McCain now?

I mean, what upsets you more:

1) the now-negligible McCain, or

2) what we’re now planning for “Afgapistan”?

I campaigned and voted for Obama, love the guy, but let’s face it, what anyone thinks of McCain is essentially meaningless on a relative level to the military mayhem we’re still engaged in.

McCain is a now a style issue, like whether you wear white after Labor Day. I myself prefer to go past the Labor Day limit, but seriously, this country has bigger problems.

Comment by Eva

Dunno what Matt thinks, but I have to agree with you here, McCain is old news, Obama is in the chair. Now, certainly the future of the Republican party is important for the US (and by extension the rest of the world) but only in the long term. In the short term the Republicans are going through a period of what looks like extremism but is most probably actually a spate of internal strife. They have already forgotten McCain, only to latch onto even less impressive figures. People like Palin will almost certainly be disasterous for them in 2010, it is from there that the Republican recovery will begin.

Comment by foarp

[…] Matt Steinglass: Sullivan writes “McCain knew full well that Palin was unqualified to be commander-in-chief.” But here’s the thing: John McCain is unqualified to be Commander-in-Chief. […]

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Here is why Palin matters more and why she could be the most significant part of his legacy. McCain is 73. His best shot at the Presidency was in 2000, and say what you will about him, we would have been much better off had he been President. He wasn’t going to win in ’08 and had he chosen Leiberman or Ridge as he wanted. or Romney, as Rove and others wanted, that would have been his swan song. Instead, he gave the national stage and a degree of legitimacy to Palin who is 45 and has 20 years or more to terrorize us as a potential President. She might have gotten there on her own eventually, but he allowed her to leapfrog over the field and attain an otherwise unavailable prominence.

If she ever does get close to the Presidency, we will have McCain to blame for it.

Comment by Seth

Palin either has, or shortly will, implode as the airhead that she is. 20 years from now I doubt she will be remembered as anything more than a footnote.

Comment by foarp

T Aleck: I voted for Obama (though McCain in the primary and the 2000 primary), so my aim isn’t to defend him as some kind of great presidential candidate. I do agree with a slice of Steinglass’s original post, as well as the point that Sullivan has made over and over that McCain’s choosing Palin disqualified him from being president.

That said, Steinglass’s original post suggests that there was something nefairious about McCain’s celebrity when he returned home in 1973 and his subsequent career success in the 1970s and eventual successful campaign of 1982 — that these events have a connection to the “rot” in the GOP. They don’t. My point was only that, in any political party in any democracy, a good-looking, articulate, genuine war hero will be lauded and put on the national stage. Nixon was obviously nefairious and deserved to be impeached, but McCain didn’t even have a minor role in Watergate over and above innocent bystander.

Regarding complicity for VN — maybe you’ve read the Best and the Brightest? Or for a much shorter and current version, read George Will’s recent column following the death of Robert McNamara. The primary architects of the war, e.g., McNamara, Bundy, were genuine anti-communists, notwithstanding that they weren’t “right wing.” They thought they could control events and had an outsized view of their own credentials and infallibility. If there hadn’t been escalation in (I think) 1961 or 1962, no one would have blamed Kennedy for losing a war, although it’s true that they didn’t want a repeat of the “who lost China?” crap of the early 50s. Later on, Johnson didn’t want to become known as the first president to lose a war. I don’t think any of this rises to the level of complicity on the part of anyone in the general public. It’s a republic, not a participatory democracy. – James

Comment by James

Dude, you have a mancrush on McCain or what?

Comment by Houston

So … who is the dumbest guy in the Senate then?

Comment by ajb

You are totally off the mark.Sarah Palin is effective. McCain hates people like me. We believe in God, the bible, and country. McCain is dem who ran as a republican. Obama is a Fascist who ran as a dem. God help us. Thanks Check out my blog.
http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

Comment by bobbygee

Errr . . . . yeah. Meantime, back in the real world, Sarah Palin’s ratings drop pretty much every time she goes on TV.

Comment by foarp

Dead Smack On

Being captured and held in a POW camp for years doesn’t prove that you are smart and a deep policy thinker. It just shows that you got caught and were tough enough to survive the experience. Thank Dog he is not President.

Comment by lilysmom

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Just want to make a tangential point on the quality of these comments.
James stands out as a lone voice from beyond the echo chamber and he makes a series of strong
points and observations that contrast with Stienglass’s tendentious over-heated writing (maybe he is picking up tips from Sullivan) and the amen chorus of his fans (Eva- viva la revolution!)
Anyway, Good ‘on ya mate.

Comment by joe

When I saw the title of this post I immediately hopped onboard without knowing which blog the train was landing at with the words “Why McCain Matters: BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A GOOD LAUGH NOW AND AGAIN!” resounding in my head. Then I saw it was your site, which I respect greatly and where if I comment on politics at all I try to be even a sliver as articulate as all you politically savvy people are. But here I sit. I read and agree with your thoughts; learned even more about the man whose charm will eternally elude me, and still the words “BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A GOOD LAUGH NOW AND AGAIN!” conga through my brain…

Comment by Forrester McLeod

Spot on! As an Arizonan for as long as McCain has been in office your take on how he got there is fact. Only can add that he has stayed there with the same old tired line that he uses in every campaign…”When I was a POW…” I think AZ, a vastly rightwing state is about to lay him off though. Both he and Kyle. There is a groundswell of support from Hispanic and African Americans who are moderate to left. And with the disgust from the GOP in his attempts to give amnesty to illegals, we might just rid ourselves of a man how doesn’t know how many houses he owns, and has been absent for votes 66% of the time in the senate lately.

Comment by bradfrmphnx

[…] He argues that the selection of Palin for the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket is a bigger indictment of John McCain than it is Sarah Palin. To a large extent, that’s true. McCain was in many ways an unserious candidate who was […]

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So Matt. You cite Andy like a child mimicking a cartoon character.
McCain is not qualified because he had a robust path to elected office? Not the smartest? Not the slickest. You forgot to mention he married a smoking hot beer heiress! Bravo! A beer heiress!
He’s one of the few politicians who puts aside blind party loyalty in the name of finding the right, reasonable path forward.
Examples:
McCain-Feinberg (a Dem) campaign-finance reform.
Or true immigration reform that went against the GOP. And proposing the surge (which worked) when hand-wringers and weather vanes moved by the latest public blowhards. Or holding his rank and suffering five years as a POW instead of slinking out the convenient way.
So he’s smart enough and stout enough to know what matters. And not such a puff-bag wimp that he will drop ideals to please the political cabal (or someone breaking his arms).
So Matt and Andy, what have you done that is true in the face of blinding opposition? Write a blog? Walk through a Himalayan mountain village, proclaiming your concern for the local people, prancing about in your fancy $300 jackets and with your camera that could buy a new house for that poor villager?
You should be ashamed, criticizing people who have given more in a year than you will in a pathetic lifetime.
Palin was a party train wreck. Fear the zealots like Matt and Andy and the Palin handlers.

Comment by Jeff Herr




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