John McCain is the Beltway's wet dream – a man constantly talking about Solutions, bipartisanship, and his oft-troubled conscience. I think he enjoys being idolized by everyone on the Sunday Morning shows, constantly fawned over and taken seriously and never, ever challenged on his record or asked to explain why for all his hand-wringing his voting record is one of a reliable, party line Republican.
McCain and his like-minded compatriot Joe Lieberman sure talk a great deal about doing the right thing. They bring it up, in fact, far more often than they actually do it. And now, a week after giving his usual sanctimonious musings about how badly Congress needs to stop doing all these deeply Troubling things, he's rushing back to Washington to help his party pass a health care bill that not even the Senate has been allowed to see.
This is classic McCain. Everything about him as a politician is a myth. He has made a career out of playing the Moderate character to a tee and he wears the permanently pained expression that lets the Chuck Todds of the world conclude that he is constantly tormented by the battle between good and evil in his mind. He has mastered the Moderate the same way George Will mastered looking like a Smart Person without actually saying things that are smart. But that's it. It's an act. He plays the media like a performer manipulates an audience.
Honestly, it took me a while to recognize this pattern. I felt legitimately bad for McCain in 2008, at least until he almost saddled the country with Sarah Palin. Frankly I hadn't paid a ton of attention to his voting record, and I was familiar with his Senate career mostly in the context of the McCain-Feingold legislation and his statements opposing torture during the G.W. Bush administration. So like everyone else, I thought of him as a Moderate.
It's natural to think that because we are constantly being told he is a Moderate, a voice of reason in a madhouse. But if you pay attention, you start to notice that he does shit like this all the time. He wrings his hands, he looks Troubled, he basks in the glow of some laudatory media coverage, and then he votes for it. Over and over. That's his game. From the outside we can only speculate what he gets out of it – Attention? Validation? Straight ego boost? – but his career is long enough to give us all the evidence we need to establish the pattern.
Look, I feel as sorry for him as I would if my bus driver said he had cancer. I feel badly for everyone with cancer. But look at what he is doing, not what he is saying or what is being said about him. That is the real John McCain, and there's very little Hero there.