Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Angry Chameleon McCain
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Watching Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., in his recent public appearances, whether it’s grilling President Obama’s nominee to head the Defense Department, or making the case for immigration reform as a matter of practical politics, the question that comes to mind is, who is John McCain? Which of his various personas is the real McCoy – the real McCain?
He first burst onto the national political scene with his maverick run for the presidency in 2000, riding around New Hampshire in a bus dubbed “The Straight Talk Express.” Reporters loved him for his freewheeling approach to politics, his willingness to entertain questions on all kinds of subjects, and his unvarnished candor.
But the wheels came off the Straight Talk Express when the campaign moved to South Carolina and McCain realized that being a maverick meant that he did not always tow the party line, a fact that upset more conservative Republicans.
McCain prided himself on his strength of character, a trait that allowed him to persevere through five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Yet, he was unprepared for the way George W. Bush and his political allies attacked him in the South Carolina primary, claiming his adopted daughter was a love child, his wife was addicted to prescription drugs, and that his behavior as POW was not as advertised. Such tactics were beyond the pale, and should have created a lasting enmity. Instead, after losing the nomination, he campaigned for Bush, changed his colors and accepted the Bush orthodoxy. The maverick became the chameleon.
In 2008, the chameleon moved hard right and won the nomination. However, he still tried to pass himself off as a maverick by naming the unconventional Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, as his running mate, but the move backfired. She turned out to be more conservative than McCain, and far less knowledgeable on the issues. So, in exercising the most important decision a presidential nominee can make – selecting the person who would be one heartbeat away from the presidency – he failed. Palin was unqualified, and it is generally accepted that she cost him the election.
Having lost, McCain’s history would indicate that he would be as forgiving of Pres. Barack Obama as he had been of his North Vietnamese torturers or of George Bush’s nasty politics. But once again his chameleon nature prevailed, and he has seemingly fostered a lingering hostility, deep and personal, toward the man who defeated him in 2008.
The questioning at Hagel’s confirmation hearing exposed the rawness of McCain’s feelings when it comes to the man who nominated Hagel, and to the war whose success he wants measured by only one thing, the surge, instead of the initial invasion of Iraq. Hagel refused to give McCain a simple yes or no on whether the surge succeeded, viewing it in the overall context of a war that was unnecessary, cost too much in blood and treasure, and that served mainly to empower Iran in the region.
The way he bludgeoned Hagel was unbecoming of a senator and did nothing to advance understanding of the kinds of judgments Hagel will be called upon to make once he is confirmed as everyone expects he will be. Hagel did not perform well and had to be corrected at one point by the committee chairman, Democrat Carl Levin, on the president’s policy toward Iran, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb, and not containment. But Hagel kept his cool like a solid soldier, and even commended McCain’s heroism despite the hostile questioning from his old Senate buddy and fellow Vietnam vet.
Watching McCain in the hearing made us long for the days when a senator, proud of the position and respectful of the institution, treated others in a dignified and civil manner. Instead, we were treated to an angry man, who took advantage of his position to be overbearing and bullying. The maverick truly became an angry chameleon. The good news is that chameleons are capable of extraordinary change.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND