Be Afraid of President McCain

The frightening mind of an authoritarian maverick

(Page 3 of 3)

Such flip-flops have cooled McCain’s longstanding, mutually satisfying love affair with journalists. The senator had a natural affinity for writers long before his political career—befriending, for example, the legendary New York Times scribe R. W. “Johnny” Apple before his imprisonment in Vietnam. During the Keating Five scandal, he made a decision to start answering all media inquiries promptly and exhaustively. If there’s one thing journalists love, it’s access. (The New Republic’s John Judis opened a 2006 analysis of McCain by gushing about how he has liked him ever since a one-on-one interview a decade ago.)

And if there’s one thing reporters love more than access, it’s politicians who buck the orthodoxy of their own party, especially when the party is Republican. McCain made some lifelong media allies when he called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance” in 2000 and when he spoke out against ethanol subsidies despite the strategic importance of the Iowa caucuses. Throw in his war hero status, which plays well in the eyes of a distinctly nonmartial profession, and you’ve got the most favorable press notices of any U.S. senator.

Until now. Besides the damage done by his sudden turn to social conservatism, McCain’s stubborn and distinctly glum support of Bush’s widely despised troop surge in Iraq has brought into sharp focus the candidate’s concepts of when and how Washington should use the strongest military ever assembled, and whether the president should recognize any constraints from the co-equal branches of government. On these questions, the most militaristic presidential candidate since Ulysses S. Grant has provided a clear answer: If you think George W. Bush had an itchy trigger finger, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

In addition to calling for tens of thousands more troops in Iraq than Bush has committed, McCain has pushed to keep military options against Iran “open,” criticized the “repeated failure to back…rhetoric with action” against North Korea, supported a general policy of “rogue state rollback,” and lamented the Pentagon’s failure to intervene in Darfur. On his short list of senatorial regrets is voting to cut off funds for the botched invasion of Somalia and failing to push for sending troops to Rwanda. Like the neoconservatives with whom he has increasingly aligned himself, he sees Iraq and Iran as integral to a new twilight struggle against Islamic radicalism, while holding onto the belief that too much multilateralism can screw up a perfectly good war.

“A world where our ideals had a realistic chance of becoming a universal creed was our principal object in the last century,” he wrote in Worth the Fighting For. “In the process, we became inextricably involved in the destiny of other nations. That is not a cause for concern. It is a cause for hope.” As for the current mess in Iraq, McCain defends Bush’s doubling down by arguing that the alternatives are too horrible to contemplate. “We should make no mistake: Potentially catastrophic consequences of failure demand that we do all we can to prevail in Iraq,” he said in the Senate on January 11. “We were able to walk away from Vietnam. If we walk away from Iraq, we’ll be back, possibly in the context of a wider war in the world’s most volatile region.”

Regarding the U.S. president’s war-related prerogatives, McCain has a nearly unbroken record of deferring to them, from the moment he volunteered to testify against The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case (even though his only expertise was in being a prisoner of war) to his rollover when Bush insisted that his ballyhooed anti-torture bill deny habeas corpus rights to War on Terror detainees and give the White House authority “to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” McCain once wrote that Teddy Roosevelt “invented the modern presidency by liberally interpreting the constitutional authority of the office to redress the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches that had tilted decisively toward Congress.” This is the kind of president John McCain is aching to be.

McCain is at his most unintentionally revealing when writing about his Republican predecessor in the Senate, Barry Goldwater. “I really don’t think he liked me much,” he wrote in Worth the Fighting For. “I don’t know why that was.…He was usually cordial, just never as affectionate as I would have liked.”

That it never occurred to McCain why a libertarian Westerner might keep a “national greatness” conservative and D.C.-bred carpetbagger at arm’s length is both touching and deeply worrisome. Does he not understand that there are at least some people in American life who take liberty as seriously as McCain takes his notions of national duty? Judging by a comment he made recently on the Don Imus radio show, the answer seems to be no. Defending campaign finance reform, McCain said, “I would rather have a clean government than one…where ‘First Amendment rights’ are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice I’d rather have a clean government.”

He may have his choice soon enough.

Matt Welch is assistant editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

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  • PapayaSF||

    Wow, how did the spammers figure out how to get spam links into the timestamps? And Arabic spam, too. The Syrian Electronic Army strikes again!

  • William of Purple||

    If you convert your handle to Arabic script it messes up the timestamp.

  • PapayaSF||

    Ah, I see, the handle then becomes the timestamp. Strange. Well, something interesting for the server squirrels to deal with on Tuesday.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    you guys are more annoying than I am, lol

  • newshutz||

    I think O has been a disaster, but I still think Mc would have been worse.

    At least the Republicans have slowed O down a little.

    And if you think the PPACA is bad, just think how much worse it would have been with Mc giving active guidance.

  • Hyperion||

    We wouldn't have Obamacare now, but we would be at war with Iran and hard telling what other countries. Also, McCain would sign any bullshit nanny crap that crossed his desk, unless he was playing partisan politics. He's just as much of a statist as Obama is. It's just a different flavor of statism. But we would have only had 4 years of that.

    To tell the truth, I was relieved at first when McCain lost, but that didn't last long until I found out just how bad Obama could be. That still didn't make me wish that McCain had won, it just helped turn me into more of a big L libertarian.

  • PapayaSF||

    A GOP President could not have possibly made health reform any worse. And we wouldn't have Kagan and Sotomayor on the court. And the IRS wouldn't be harassing Tea Party groups.

  • R C Dean||

    And the IRS wouldn't be harassing Tea Party groups.

    Probably not, but I would be willing to bet that McCain, like all establishment Repubs, hates hates hates the Tea Party.

    The only reason that he wouldn't sic the IRS on them is because he's not a bloody-knuckled product of the Daly machine in Chicago, who thinks nothing of using the apparat of the Total State to squash political dissidents.

  • PapayaSF||

    I agree.

  • John||

    And there wouldn't have been a porkulus. McCain was always a spending hawk. And we would not be at war with Iran. The Dems would have controlled congress and never approved it.

    It is funny how people peddle the whole "but we would be at war if McCain had won" line as Obama gets us into war after war.

    Whatever reasons there were to vote for Obama, clearly keeping us out of wars is not one of them.

  • Ted S.||

    When TARP (I think) was voted down in the House, McCain suspended his campaign to arm-twist the House Republicans into voting for it.

    Big Government Republican, and when the going got tough he quit.

  • Gbob||

    I was thinking about this not too long ago. I had preferred Obama over McCain during the election for the fact that a Republican congress could keep the worst aspect of Obama in check while a Democratic congress would merely help indulge McCain in his worst impulses.

    I had underestimated how craven and partisan the press corp had become. I had assumed that the press would find something to draw the line on for an imperial presidency. I had also assumed that there would be enough people on team red with a little bit of backbone as well.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    The killer was that the Dems got 60 votes in the senate. Without that, BOCare never passes.

    We can thank Alaska's and Montana's little temper tantrum at the GOP for that. Judging by 2012, Montana still doesn't seem to have learned its lesson in that regard.

  • Dweebston||

    “I resolved that when I regained my freedom,” he wrote in Faith of My Fathers, “I would seize opportunities to spend what remained of my life in more important pursuits.”

    And then, inexplicably, he cashiered that dream in favor of politics.

    Oh, he meant self-important pursuits. That makes sense.

  • Hyperion||

    Well, I have to say that comments have improved around here, somewhat, after registration.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    In a sense yes in a sense no. Alabaster Native was like the Joker. Registration was necessary to remove her, but it's led to this place becoming way more ideologically homogeneous.

    Few people are going to bother going through the hassle of registration to comment on a site they disagree with.

  • Copernicus||

    I disagree

  • Copernicus||

    I disagree.

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  • DJF||

    “”””campaign finance Quixote””’

    This one is funny. McCain was the darling of the media on campaign finance, but when Obama abandoned the Presidential finance system the media called it a brilliant strategy. McCain was left with only a fraction of the money to spend and the media abandoned all talk about the evils of private money in campaigns.

    McCain was left standing like a rube who was taken by some card sharks.

  • Hyperion||

    In 2008, the main platform of the GOP was NeoCon war boner. At a time when a large percentage of the American public were already starting to lose their own war boners.

    McCain was just the right war monger at that time. It didn't work. So then in 2012 the GOP found another dem lite who wasn't quite as much of a war monger, but who would still go to war with Iran when the time came. It didn't work.

    What will the stupid party do in 2016? They sure as hell will never let Rand Paul get the nomination.

  • Being Waterboarded||

    Am I the only one who doesn't like the mental image that the term 'war boner' presents? Particularly when speaking about John McCain? If one has a long-term war boner like McCain, shouldn't you see a doctor - just like is suggested on Viagra commercials?

  • John||

    Good thing we elected such a peaceful President. It wasn't a neocon anything. It is a Wilsonian thing. And the Dems are more Wilsonian than even the Republicans. And that is why Obama keeps getting us into wars.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Rejecting public money after promising to do so and then lying about how he only did it because those evil Republicans were completely funded by corporations and special interests PACs was the first time Obama really showed how he would govern: he'd lie his ass off when convenient and the media would eat it up without question.

  • Dave Krueger||

    The only good thing about the Obama Presidency is that it isn't the McCain Presidency.

  • Being Waterboarded||

    Lesser of two evils? Never makes me feel very good when the choices were a turd sandwich and a warm piss mojito.

  • Dave Krueger||

    They are both corrupt self-serving con men. But, McCain is also an enthusiastic warmonger. There are a lot of people alive today who wouldn't be if McCain were president.

  • R C Dean||

    McCain is also an enthusiastic warmonger.

    Unlike our current President, who has repeatedly asserted that he needs no Congressional approval to start a war, and in fact reserves the right to do so even if Congress specifically refuses to approve his war?

  • Virginian||

    Obama is an unenthusiastic warmonger. He really really feels bad about all those dead kids in Pakistan. It just really twists his conscience, in a way that no Republican caveman could understand.

  • ||

    Laws and intentions are magic.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Master Krayewski has taught you well.

  • Dweebston||

    In fairness, McCain is all that + insistent that Obama is weak by deferring to Congress.

  • Dave Krueger||

    McCain would be conducting all the same military operations that Obama is conducting and would be ignoring Congress exactly as Obama is doing. But, on top of all that, McCain would have gotten us into a war with Iran. He was begging for a war with Iran. McCain never met a war he didn't like. He thinks the U.S. looks weak and the only way to change that is to kill more people.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    You're not going to find much love for McCain around here (and certainly none on my part) but that's quite a logical leap.

    One thing that is certain: IF J-Mac were starting wars all over the world like BO is, the media would be screaming bloody murder over it. And that in itself would be a good thing, no?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    J'accuse! I knew everyone at reason loved Barack Obama back in the day. I knew it. Loooooooooooooved him.

    Now, who's this Maverick character we're talking about here?

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    The feminist parody of Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' you didn't know you were waiting for.

  • Killazontherun||

    So much better with the volume off. Feminism has ruined our species.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    The comments are pretty contentious:

    No one is degrading your gender so stop saying that you little wimp. Seriously, if you can't handle a music video that not only shows how sexist media is, but explains it then maybe you should reflect critically upon THAT viewpoint. Rape is being forced into sex without consenting, that's it, plain and simple. Videos like Blurred Lines make it seem like it's not that simple. I'm sorry that the majority of your gender is an idiot and I know, facts are offensive, but they're facts..

  • Fluffy||

    The Blurred Lines video has a rape in it?

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    I think she means the lyrics:

    Can't let it get past me
    You're far from plastic
    Talk about getting blasted
    I hate these blurred lines
    I know you want it
    I know you want it
    I know you want it
    But you're a good girl
    The way you grab me
    Must wanna get nasty
    Go ahead, get at me

    I think it's a stupid song, but I don't think it encourages rape so much as wanting women to initiate sex to make it simpler.

  • ||

    The next time you quote a YouTube comment here, I will hunt you down and kill you.

    Okay, not really, but Jaysus, the humanity.

  • Killazontherun||

    Jesus on a half shell, who ever wrote that is a freaking horror show up in the head. I would hate to know her on a personal level.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Seriously, if you can't handle a music video

    Wasn't that the motivation behind this "parody"? A bunch of feminists couldn't handle a video with half-naked women prancing around and a guy singing about women being just as sexually-driven as men, so they took the time and expense to make their own video?

  • William of Purple||

    Oh I hope we can discuss Vodka Samm


  • ||

    That's amazing. True American legend in the making. *Raises coffee cup in salute, pours whiskey in*

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    I'm trying to do the math on this. She seems fairly tall and thus bigger for a girl, but to blow a .341 she'd have to have slammed the equivalent of at least 9 drinks.

    How did she not end up in the hospital?

  • William of Purple||

    also it was 1PM

  • PapayaSF||

    That much liquor would kill me. If she keeps it up it'll kill her, too.

  • ||

    She's a professional. Just look at her Twitter feed.

    I was once in a bar with some friends, and some of them had gotten there at basically the same time as us, yet we already had drinks. So one of them goes "how do you already have drinks?" And my friend looks at me and goes "because we're professionals." And then we got loaded. AND IT WAS ALL TRUE.

  • John||

    I think she may have just taken a drink and that threw the number off. That number should have killed her.

  • ||

    She doesn't even make it into the top eight. Nowhere to go but up, Vodka Samm.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    There will always be outliers, and I guess Vodka Samm is one of them.

    But she has to be in the 99th percentile for alcohol tolerance among the population.

  • Dweebston||

    I'm feeling hangover pangs just reading this.

  • C. Anacreon||

    That number should have killed her.

    Nah -- we see people over .50 in the ER all the time - some who are walking and talking at that level. There are some hardcore alcoholics who go into serious alcohol withdrawal (shakes, confusion, vitals out of control) by going down to .341.

    If you are not a drinker, then yes, .341 will put a major hurt on you. If you drink a quart a day of hard liquor (which is not very unusual in our alcoholic patients) people might not even think you seem drunk at .341.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    I think the shock is that a female 22 year old college student has that level of tolerance for alcohol, comparable to a hardcore alcoholic.

    She needs to change her habits ASAP.

  • Killazontherun||

    I'm impressed. My old gang use to hangout near work at a bar in the basement of a hotel that was a nice out of the limelight niche. The bar had a breathalyzer which we treated like a game. I did some LSD after getting off of work, and feeling extra special lucid, did some shots of spiced rum. I wasn't feeling anything from the rum, and was drinking everyone else under the table. Curious what my blood alcohol content mosied over to the machine. Blew a .21. It was like, Holy Shit, brain and liver are not passing along the proper signals here.

  • Killazontherun||

    Just when I was bemoaning above college turning young women into creepy indoctrinated assholes my sense of hope is renewed. Thank you, Vodka Samm.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Still going strong:

    I gained like 6000 followers today and I'm over here just slapping the bag #wineme

    — Samantha (@Vodka_samm) September 2, 2013


  • Killazontherun||

    We need to get her to kiss a lobster while wearing a a Reason mag t-shirt.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    She's going to be a great ex-wife one day.

  • ||

  • Jordan||

    By the way, I should also mention that all my friends and ex-colleagues, they all loved the video, but all of them were afraid that I would be followed or even maybe bothered or harassed by the NSA in the future.

    Are you worried about that?

    I don’t want to worry about that, because in one way or another, NSA is a governmental organization. If I would be afraid of government even when it comes to such an innocent phone call, then we are really lost.

    Sigh. Another idiot prog who will keep his faith in government even as they march him to the gas chamber.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    So I guess Diana Nyad did not have the most impressive female accomplishment this weekend.

  • William of Purple||

    Kelly Heaphy, the girlfriend of Mike Skeen, who was clearly unhappy with Papis' actions on the final lap, confronted Papis to give him a piece of her mind.

  • Lady Bertrum||

    Here's a classic:

    McNugget Rampage

    And another:


  • Brett L||

    The McNugget rampage is fucking crazy. I mean, like, somewhere an ex-boyfriend of hers is in a shallow grave crazy.

  • Dweebston||

    More evidence that we need to up the minimum wage.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I'm surprised Homeland Security did not intercept Diana Nyad and lock her up for illegally entering the USA from Cuba.

  • The Rt. Hon. Serious Man, Visc||

    Why would Diana want to leave the socialist worker's paradise of Cuba for the exploitation and misery of the capitalist USA?

    Doesn't she know that Cuba has free healthcare and edu-ma-cation?

  • Brett L||

    So I'm pondering the important question of starting Kapernik v Green Bay or Josh Freeman v. NYJ in my fantasy opener against Sloopy. I mean, Freeman v. the Jets D is like a lottery pick, but he could go crazy against them. Kapernik is going to go up against a decent GB team. What do y'all think?

  • William of Purple||


  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Wow, I didn't get invited this year? Someone's sick of losing.

  • Boisfeuras||

    Thank god that war monger never got into office!

  • ||

    thanks for this great article

  • LifeStrategies||

    McCain is at it again, he's a strong advocate for military intervention in Syria, despite virtuall no support for it in America. And there's absolutely no coherent military plan...


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