Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
Dear Independent’s Eye:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there was a time when Arizona Senator John McCain was admirable. Papa says, “If McCain says “˜My friends’ it must be so.” I saw Senator McCain on TV talking in the Senate and he looked so angry he gave me nightmares. Tell me the truth: was there a time when John McCain was admirable?
Virginia, your little friends were right. Once upon a time, John McCain was admired across the nation. He showed incredible guts as a prisoner of war after being shot down over Hanoi in 1967. He was freed in 1971 after being tortured and refusing to leave prison out of turn. By his 2000 Presidential primary campaign he published a book, “Faith of My Fathers,” and become a major cultural and political figure. He was considered someone who didn’t talk like a lockstep partisan. He excited people almost as much as Bobby Kennedy. The press loved him. Students flocked to see him on campuses. He angered some Senate Republicans because he didn’t always follow the party line.
He suggested he wanted Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed as soon as military bigwigs agreed. He worked with Teddy Kennedy on ill-fated immigration reform, thus earning him the enmity of conservative Republicans. He criticized the religious right.
The John McCain of 2000 would never support or respect the 2010 talk radio radio political culture incarnation of John McCain. He would consider today’s McCain a bitter ideologue and partisan hack seemingly motivated out of a desire to “get even” with groups who were once part of his supporting coalition ““ a man with a sour grapes attitude bordering on contempt for the man who defeated him in his bid for President. Today’s McCain seems to be frantically trying to repudiate past positions that once seemed genuinely heartfelt. If McCain’s image had to go up today on Mount Rushmore they’d need two faces.
The question is: was 2000 all an act? It’s a question still being debated.
Virginia, tell your little friends that some people say John McCain was a political “maverick” but it is now clear that he has turned out to be political Edsel. The Edsel was a car of my parents’ generation which Wikipedia says “never gained popularity with contemporary American car buyers and sold poorly. Consequently, the Ford Motor Company lost millions of dollars on the Edsel’s development, manufacture, and marketing. The name “Edsel” has since become synonymous with failure.”
Instead of “dollars” just substitute the hopes of centrists, independent voters and moderates in that definition.
So, Virginia, there once was a time when John McCain was admirable ““ perhaps hated by some of his colleagues for his fiery temper and by partisans because he was too bipartisan. But most Americans considered John McCain an original marching to his own drummer.
Today’s McCain isn’t totally trusted by conservatives, is a big fat “I told you so” for liberals, and a huge disappointment to independents and moderates who feel snookered for having invested so much belief and faith in him.
The 2000 McCain became a kind of cultural hero. He appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and showed a flair for comedy. The 2010 McCain would bomb on that show because he’s bitter, angry and increasingly scary (let me get it straight: THIS GUY almost had his finger on the nuclear button?) He seems more like a guest on “The Jerry Springer Show.”
The 2000 McCain was a uniter because virtually all Americans respected his life’s narrative and courage and sincerity even if they disagreed with his politics. Today’s McCain is also a uniter: almost no one totally trusts him anymore.
So yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus.
But, no, Virginia: there is no more 2000 John McCain.
And perhaps, some of us now think, maybe there never really was.
Copyright 2010 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at email@example.com and can be booked to speak at your event at mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman