Thursday, October 30, 2008

John McCain's Last Narrative: The Obstructionist.

This past Sunday, New York Times Magazine featured an article by Robert Draper entitled "The Making (and Remaking) of McCain." It examined the various narratives that the Arizona senator's campaign staff has tried to attach to its candidate over the last year-and-a-half. Terry Gross got to sit down with Draper on Tuesday, and I was lucky enough to catch that segment of Fresh Air. I marveled at the litany of identities that McCain has assumed. He's been The War Hero, The Agent of Change, The Wise Elder, The Bipartisan Deal Maker, and The Maverick. During the chaotic course of the race, he has often needed to change his story mid-step, and that has caused a fair amount of confusion out on the stump.

So what mask is John McCain wearing in this last week before the election? I've often felt that people tend to choose a Halloween costume that subconsciously reveals their inner desires and complex relationships with their inner selves. In this case I feel that insight holds true. McCain has finally exposed his true nature. He is The Obstructionist. This is the final message his handlers are selling the American Public. What convincing argument are they left with to get people to pick John McCain over his opponent? They are warning that if Barack Obama becomes president, he will have an overwhelming Democratic advantage in Congress to work with. He will be able to push through his agenda with relative ease. And McCain doesn't want to let that happen.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see this latest face of John McCain. After all, we saw it just a few long weeks ago when the senior politician suspended his campaign and rushed back to Washington DC to "rescue" the Wall Street Bailout bill. We were told that the "Do-Nothing Gang" in Washington needed his expert guidance. After a stop at the Katie Couric studios, and a visit to his old friend Bill Clinton, McCain dropped into the Capitol for one last mission. Despite the fact that his senate colleagues had difficulty recognizing their long-lost friend, he assured them (and the nation) that he would save the day. But what did he actually contribute? Sources at the scene reported that he scuttled a deal that was already on the table, without offering any fresh ideas.

McCain's approach to "solving the economy" is much like his overall strategy of leadership- "Talk loudly and drag your feet." He's got a hell of a reputation for taking on unpopular issues, but by the time his initiatives gain traction, he has already abandoned them. What would this nation be like today if John McCain had stuck to his convictions about lobbyist corruption, reasoned and deliberate military policy, positive dialog in political campaigns, or opposition to the Bush tax cuts? Where would he be if he had moved ahead with his plan to enlist an actual moderate of substantial qualifications (Joe Lieberman or Michael Bloomberg) as his running mate? What would his reception have been if he actually tried to fulfill his promise that "Change is Coming"?

When it comes down to it, all John McCain represents now is a place-marker. He's basically just running interference for a political party that has no idea what to do next. Virtually every move the GOP has made during the last eight years has proved to be a failure. With the potential of an ignoble defeat facing Republicans on November 4th, its leadership has directed its attention inward. But can the American people wait while the GOP tries to figure out whether it wants to become the populist (and anti-intellectual) party of social conservatives like Sarah Palin, or return to values like fiscal conservatism, cautious foreign policy, and political accountability? Thomas Paine notably said, "That government is best which governs least", but we have to ask ourselves if we can actually afford that approach in these fragile times.

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