McCain and the M-Word


In a Newsweek interview that people are having a good chuckle over, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says this:

I never considered myself a maverick.

Nope, never:

Note subhed

That said, the main takeaway from the Newsweek article is not about John McCain, it's about Newsweek. In a piece that details at length the senator's many changes of position over the years, what do you think the subhed is? "A maverick fights for his political life—and his soul." The accompanying photo gallery is called "A Maverick's Path." Here's the rhetorical question festival trying to pass itself off as a nut graf:

If McCain's onetime mentor, Barry Goldwater, could write The Conscience of a Conservative, McCain could pen The Machinations of a Maverick. His dramatic shifts raise several questions: How much of his maverick persona over the years has been real and how much simply tactical? Is he in the midst of some struggle for his soul, or is this evolution simply the latest example, dating back to his days at the Hanoi Hilton, of McCain doing whatever it takes to survive? Is the anger people sense in him anger at Obama, or the American electorate, or fate, or himself? And if, as seems likely, John McCain goes on to serve another term, which John McCain will it be?

If nothing else, this demonstrates the indelibility of great political branding. No matter what their track records and personal lives demonstrated to the contrary, Teddy Kennedy was the Champion of the Little Guy, Newt Gingrich was/is an Ideas Man, and Ronnie Ray-gun was a one-man Government Reducer. It will ever be thus. 

If you want an entertaining snapshot of the McCain/J.D. Hayworth race, this recent column from George Will is one place to start. If you want a relevant book for as low as 52 cents, click here. And as always, the man was considerate enough to warn us in advance. From the book pictured above:

Never gets old

I'm sixty-four years old as we begin this book, which seems a bit old to be routinely described as a maverick. American popular culture admits few senior citizens to its ranks of celebrated nonconformists. We lack the glamorous carelessness of youth and risk becoming parodies of our younger selves. Witnessing the behavior can make people uncomfortable, like watching an aging, overweight Elvis mock the memory of the brash young man who had swaggered across cultural color lines.

I fear many things, but only few things more than appearing ridiculous. And my chest does not swell with pride when I encounter every reference to "Senator John McCain, the maverick Arizona Republican," even when it is meant as a compliment. I worry that the act might be getting a little tired for a man of my years. Better for old men to be known as collegial team players, who expect to find in the warmth of their associations a tonic for fears of approaching infirmity and extinction.

Lest you wonder if the above passage reflected a genuine distancing from the term back in those will-he-jump-the-GOP? days of 2002, note that the chapter in which he details all his bucking of Republican orthodoxy on issues from cigarette taxes to campaign finance reform is entitled "Maverick."