WaPo has an interesting profile of John McCain. The lead-in about McCain’s driving style is rather amusing. The substance of the piece is the Senator’s strange role as neither fish nor fowl in an increasingly partisan town.
In his 67 years, John Sidney McCain III has survived three plane crashes, all flights he piloted. He has endured, among other things, 51/2 years in a North Vietnamese prison, cancer, an almost career-killing scandal and one of the nastiest primary campaigns in GOP history. “This is all so transient,” McCain says. “It could all end tomorrow. My philosophy is just to just go, go like hell. Like Teddy Roosevelt did it. Full-bore.”
The Arizona Republican’s version of full-bore went national in 2000, when his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination nearly wrecked George W. Bush’s juggernaut. McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” — his campaign bus, featuring the candidate’s unplugged and impolitic musings — became a roving political cavalcade. Reporters swooned like schoolgirls, and many haven’t stopped. He has become the exemplar of that exotic political virtue, candor.
It hardly mattered that McCain lost in 2000 — bitterly in the end, and with lasting animosity toward Bush. He somehow has come to embody a now-perished age of bipartisan friendships and philosophies in Washington.
Other colleagues, especially Democrats, came to covet him as a public ally. John Kerry’s latest TV ads feature a photo of him and McCain. Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards fell all over themselves during the Democratic primaries to tout their collaborations with their “good friend John McCain.” In a speech last year, McCain jokingly accused the candidates of “identity theft.”
The [Kerry] running-mate trope is just the latest co-dependent transaction between the media and their good friend McCain. Intrigue is served, ratings rise (when McCain is booked on a talk show). In return, McCain gets attention.
And attention is paramount to his success. He has a sharp nose for outrage and a fast tongue for spreading it, and his maverick star power — born in 2000 and enhanced since — grants him a cachet that transcends traditional political alignments.
McCain has become a political weather system unto himself. He is the smart-mouthed kid from the back of the class, leaving his smarty-pants colleagues to compete for his reflected glory. “You think these guys would keep mentioning my name if I didn’t have this national name recognition?” McCain asks. “No way.”
Norquist distills McCain’s political views to “whatever will get him on TV” and theorizes that McCain suffered withdrawal after getting so much attention in 2000. “He needs to keep reinventing himself, so it becomes like Madonna’s business plan: He always has to do something new to get himself back on the cover of magazines.”
Yep. McCain is an interesting character and, certainly, the suffering he endured in the Hanoi Hilton has earned him the right to be cantankerous. Still, I find that his act has worn thin.