Friday, September 26, 2008

Self first: McCain and the financial crisis

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In a column published yesterday on McCain's "fundamentals," the NYT's David Brooks delved into the myth of McCain and came out with all the usual drivel. "I still think of him first in the real world of governing, not in the show-business world of the election," Brooks wrote. McCain is "a humble man," "an unfailingly candid man," a man of far too many accomplishments to list in a single column.

Oh, sure, Brooks isn't at all happy with "the foolish decision to run a traditional right-left campaign against Obama," but he understands that "in this media-circus environment, you simply cannot run for president as a candid, normal person." Brooks is also disappointed that "the McCain campaign... has no central argument," with the candidate stuck in "the contradiction between the Barry Goldwater and Teddy Roosevelt sides of his worldview." But, no matter, McCain is "a good judge of character," "a practiced legislative craftsman," "a serious man prone to serious things."

Partly in response to this drivel -- and I encourage you all to read Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, by David Brock and Paul Waldman, to get a better sense of the real McCain (hint: it's not at all Brooks's McCain) -- TNR's John Judis, once a key liberal admirer of and apologist for McCain, argues that, in terms of the financial crisis, McCain is putting country last, not first. Like Brooks, Judis also delves into the myth and regurgitates some of the old drivel, but, overall, I think his main point is right:

[I]t is simply unpatriotic -- it's an insult to flag, country, and all the things that McCain claims to hold dear -- for McCain to hold this financial crisis hostage to his political ambitions. McCain doesn't know a thing about finance and is no position to help work out an agreement. If we do suffer a serious bank run, or a run on the dollar, it can be laid directly at his feet. As I said to friends last night, if McCain had been president at this point, I would have wanted to impeach him.

That brings me back to David Brooks' column. David thinks that beneath the surface of McCain the craven campaigner, that the man who nominated an ill-prepared Sarah Palin as his possible successor and has lent his energies to blocking a financial bailout, there still sits a "real McCain" who could govern fairly and effectively as president. I doubt it. I really doubt it. Whether because of age or overreaching ambition, McCain has become the kind of man he earlier railed against. He has become the Bush of 2000 against whom he campaigned or the Senate and House Republicans whom he despised. His defeat is now imperative.

I would argue that the "real" McCain was always the self-made myth, the image of the maverick / moderate / reformer -- just look at his record -- but, regardless, it is indeed imperative that he (and Palin) be defeated.

It has been all along, but it is now more than ever.

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