Now that all is said and done, I confess that I used to like McCain. Honesty, I think that 2000-era John McCain would have made a half-decent president and he'd be the ideal choice if it was 1952. But it isn't 1952. And 2000 McCain disappeared sometime in mid-January, re-appearing just last evening during his concession speech. The candidate who ran in his stead lost this election (or at the very least turned it into a rout) because he declined to do what he so often touted as a strength: listen to his own judgment. Instead he chose the counsel of hired hacks who urged him to run a Rove-style campaign in the persona of someone who looked like John McCain but clearly wasn't. This election was over the moment he overruled himself and started listening to Rick Davis, Bill Kristol, and other loud-mouthed boors who dole out advice that amounts to, in essence, gambling with other people's money.

Imagine, if you will, a personal trainer. He charges astronomical fees because he is widely recognized to be something of an expert. He's more than happy to regale you with stories of his past success to justify the price tag. For instance, he helped famous athletes X, Y, and Z bring home gold at the Olympics. In fact, hand this trainer any athlete and he will turn him or her into a legend in no time. But let's say some very wealthy people hire him to work his magic on a 60 year old overweight housewife. If he's actually a good trainer he'll say "Hmm, I probably can't put her through the same program that I use on professional athletes." If he's an overpriced moron he'll put her on the Olympic powerlifting plan and call someone to pick up the corpse in a few hours. In other words, there's a crucial difference between a smart trainer and a guy who just happens to do one thing really well.

McCain allowed himself to be convinced that his Expert Advisors knew better, that he couldn't compete by being himself. The hired guns proved their incompetence by failing to recognize what would or would not work with the candidate in question; instead they simply did the only thing they know how to do. The only way to compete, according to the carved-in-stone rules borne of the 2004 Election, was to relentlessly pander to fear and the borderline-crazy right. That McCain could never pull this off was irrelevant. There simply is no other option in their world. Metaphors about ponies who know a limited number of tricks come to mind.

When it became clear that McCain did have a limit – a point beneath which he would not sink – they saw the perfect solution: find a running mate with absolutely no shame. Find some rube, some county fair livestock princess who would say and do anything for the chance to stand under the pretty lights. "Don't worry, John. We'll bring her up to speed on the issues. Trust us. We're professionals. We can turn anyone into Daniel Webster. And this will really help your numbers in the sticks!" Hence the decision, the self-inflicted wound, from which McCain never recovered. His discomfort with his arranged marriage to Palin showed. It was the resigned, simmering anger of a man who realized that he had been sold a ration of horseshit by con artists.

The old saying goes that a doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. In the political arena, though, the patient is actually quite wise. Candidates learn from experience what works for them and if McCain had one advantage in this race it was political experience. Only arrogance or ignorance would prompt someone to tell a 72 year-old man to try something brand new after crafting a well-defined persona over three decades in Washington. McCain got a healthy dose of both. The arrogant doled out advice based on their ideological biases irrespective of how it would affect the candidate. It's no skin off Kristol's back when McCain gets routed, so let the far right "wisdom" fly! The ignorant, the people paid collective millions to separate the meat from the fat, looked at the advice of the arrogant and said "This is a prime cut, John. Dig in."


  • Well said and I agree whole heartedly, except I thought that it was obvious that he was cultivating this pandering persona when he spoke at Liberty University (the Falwell institution of lower education). I think that was about 2 years ago. I was dumbfounded, because I was thinking at the time that if I was forced to vote republican, he'd be the one I'd choose. Also, there were hints in his 2004 convention speech. Also, I read that full article from your last post. It seemed like he did indeed have some limits, because there were some pretty crappy sounding attacks that were vetoed by his campaign.

    The man must really be good about swallowing his pride and resentment. It's gotta come out somehow. I just wonder if one day he will snap, and get those crazy white eyes (a la Bill Bixby) and start turning green.

  • BTW, I think that it was mostly out of desperation, and less arrogance, that he adopted this bad advice on his last ditch effort to be the Prez. And I think it stems from the scars of the South Carolina tactics of Rove et al in the 2000 primaries.

  • I tend to think that there's something fundamentally decent about McCain, but I have to admit that the recent Rolling Stone article took some of the shine off for me. It's a clear hit piece, and yet I still came away feeling like McCain is someone with a hair-trigger temper and a talent for re-writing history to periodically reinvent himself.

  • great post ed. and i agree with warmbowski. the old mccain was killed by rove's whisper campaign in 2000. he learned right there what it took to succeed in republican politics – fear, hatred and good old fasioned lies.

  • I'm of the mind that McCain, as Frontline put it, "discovered a brand in 2000." He found a way to sell himself as the rogue, the maverick, the wild card; and he cultivated that image until 2004, when he begin to parcel the shreds of his soul to the RNC. Then, in 2007, he fired Jon Weaver, the architect of his maverick image, and from that point on, his campaign became a rudderless ship.

  • Many a good candidate has been lost to an ugly defeat. The prime example is George Wallace, and we all saw how that turned out. The relief I feel at McCain's loss is mostly due to the dismissal of Palin from a place of national prominence, but frankly, I'm also relieved at the fact that 'McCain the asshole candidate' will not get to be 'McCain the asshole president.' McCain's selling of his integrity to people he despises in his heart is the real-life equivalent of going over to the dark side–once you embrace the politics of the lowest common denominator, you never get your soul back because the office demands aggressive behavior, and having sunk below your former self, you'll naturally rely on that same behavior because it brought you rewards that integrity could not. Good, in short, that he's not going to be running things, given the current state of his character.

    Frankly, I appear to be one of the few who thought that McCain's concession speech was nauseating. You can't spend month after month telling the nation that your opponent is an America-hating crypto-terrorist Marxist neophyte monster, and then blithely announce in defeat that he's really a good man and the two of you just had a polite difference of political opinion. Because if you do, you're showing the country that you knew all those slurs to be false, lies you were using to tear down someone whose character you have no problem with, but who made the mistake of standing in your way. I also thought that the "the fault is mine" line rang incredibly phony, an ostentatious 'falling on his sword in front of the forum' that was really done out to curry sympathy rather than out of contrition–fact is, he blames a whole lot of people for his loss (Palin, Bush). All of which is comic, because it's the one really *true* thing he said–the fault *is* his. He just doesn't know/think so. Fuck McCain, in short. I refuse to be gracious to a man who did not show that quality himself.

    OK, so I'm a wee bit cranky. Probably shouldn't 'reply' before my morning coffee.

  • I agree with all the above posts, especially Ed's. Indeed, I had been surprised over the last few months to not have heard a shred of positive commentary about McCain from Ed, when I had been thinking that he must like him at least a little for some of his reforms. Never once did I hear of McCain mentioning the McCain-Feingold Act, probably his most substantial career contribution to the USA, during his campaign. Instead we heard garbage about Joe the Plumber (which if I ever hear again I will punch a kitten). That underscores how pandering of a campaign he ran.

    In their campaign's defense though: for a Republican to win this election after Bush and when MASSIVELY outfunded would have been difficult.

  • I had some respect for McCain 2000, but when he got on his knees in front of the "agents of intolerance", I lost all respect for him. He was against aWol's tax cuts before he was for them. When he hired the same people that trashed him in 2000, that's when he started the downward spiral. There are any number of things that could be said to be the cause of his defeat and all I can say is it was all of the above.

  • Yeah, I used to like McCain too. I agree with you that the McCain we used to like disappeared like 2 years ago. When I saw his concession speech I was like, "This is a great speech… where the hell has this guy been?"

  • interesting angle, pmayo. and y'know, reading back through ed's post and these comments (my own included), i'm now thinking 'hmm… fuck the old mccain."

    lets take moment to remember this 'war hero' was shot down on a bombing raid that included civilian targets (contested, of course).

    and the keating five thing.

    oh, and the native land thing –

    and who could forget the old iran contra chestnut? mccain would like to, apparently-

    he might have acted more like a decent human than many of his GOP colleges, but that's kinda like saying he's got more in common with a spaceship than an artichoke does. it may be true, it tells us basically nothing.

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