To me, one of the benefits of long life is also one of it’s curses. The benefit: watching someone talented – in any field – mature and blossom into a real professional. I don’t care what the work – politics, entertainment, business, charity organization or running a classroom with 30 third graders. Seeing someone achieve full potential over the years is great to watch. And admire.
The curse: watching someone with that same potential misuse it for personal gain, pander for public affection or support and waste what obviously had been great talent for selfish ends.
Case in point: the name of John McCain is near the top in both categories. While I admire his military record and much of his chosen political life, he has become more a caricature than someone with true character. Once considered a reasoned voice who got past the posturing of cheap politicians to get to the meat of an issue, he has – in my mind – become one of those cheap politicians with only his own interests to serve.
I’m not talking about changing one’s mind on any given issue. Nor do I mean adjusting one’s views as age and experience give us all more information and new values on which to base our viewpoints. I’m talking about the too obvious business of altering one’s stands for no other reason than to gain political favorability with some constituency. In the past half dozen years, McCain has become a master of “mobile thinking.”
It would be easy to use the term “flip flopping” which is often applied to people who change their positions to meet an occasion. Our political world is filled with such creatures. But use of that term is not precise for McCain.
After years of conducting himself with a seeming set of strong personal values – something flip-flopper’s don’t usually have – McCain has loudly and repeatedly put himself on both sides of the same issue, saying he has “long held” the position. Abortion is one. For years, an ardent voice for a woman’s right to decide, he now thumps the drums for pro-life. Even he can’t tell you there was some catharsis at work. No, running for president, he tried to appeal to a strong though small GOP voter base. He failed.
For several years, he was a reasoned voice to cut our losses in Iraq and other Mideast hot spots, reduce our presence and redesign our military to deal with different kinds of wars. Now, he blasts the president on Sunday talk shows for drawing down troop levels and trying to get this country out of two losing situations. From reasoned voice to blind hawkishness.
He’s put his name on sponsorship of more than a dozen bills in the Senate only to vote the direct opposite when they came up for a vote. He’s proudly proclaimed the media tagged him a “maverick” but has subverted his own obvious intelligence and previously reasoned positions by gamesmanship and self-serving posturing.
I’ve interviewed McCain a couple of times. He’s shorter than he appears on television and a bit of a fidgeter as you ask a question. He used to look you in the eye and had the knack of making you feel his answer was directed only at you. Now, as I watch him being interviewed in the Halls of Congress, his eyes dart around, his body shifts and he looks from place to place as he answers. Very different.
His willingness to tout the party line and “go along to get along” have cost him his maverick title. He’s no longer an individual voice commanding others to hear a different position on issues. I don’t understand why the Sunday talk shows keep putting him on the air, but you’ll find him on one or another of them seemingly every week. A contrarian. A party liner. A constant and often unreasoned critic of the man who beat him badly at the polls in 2008. McCain is a very angry man. Deeply and personal.
Talented political leaders are hard to find. Just look at the absence of real talent in the current crop of wannabees. So, when someone comes along, exhibiting abilities of strong character, seeming ease and comfort with making large decisions and able to present his thinking with common sense, people naturally gravitate to such a presence.
That used to describe John McCain. But it’s a McCain we see no more. That’s too bad. For the country. And for those of us to whom he represented reason in an often too unreasonable world.