The Real John McCain

THE REAL JOHN McCAIN….Mark Schmitt adds his two cents to the argument over whether John McCain is “really” a liberal or a conservative or a maverick or whatnot, and not surprisingly, comes up with exactly the right answer: namely that we’re asking the wrong question.

I don?t like the whole mode of analysis that assumes a politician has some “real” core of beliefs and then various positions he or she takes are either “real” or “political.” That whole analysis is based on the cult of authenticity of which McCain, and to a lesser extent Bush, have been the greatest beneficiaries….But as McCain demonstrates, authenticity is itself a pose, one he adopted and has now discarded.

McCain?s latest move is necessary, if he wants to be president, but it?s awfully daring. Live by the cult of authenticity, perish by the cult of authenticity….I assume that McCain’s gamble is that he has so strongly established the “straight-talk express” brand with the general electorate that he can perform the ritual obsequies of the Republican nominating process and still emerge with his reputation intact. But he can’t. [There are] too many Republican activists who simply aren’t going to stomach his nomination, and he can’t spend two years in his current mode and expect the independent moderate voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere to remember what they kind of liked about him for a period in 2000.

It’s obvious that McCain is a conservative, but it’s also obvious that he really does have a few views that don’t fit current Republican orthodoxy ? views that have gotten him way more mileage than he deserves for being a “maverick.” Still, he is what he is, and endless hairsplitting over what word to apply to him has rapidly diminishing returns.

But Mark is right about the “cult of authenticity.” That’s been McCain’s real bread and butter, and it’s tiresome. McCain is no more a straight talker than George Bush, but both are terrific at manipulating our supposedly cynical and world weary media into thinking they’re straight talkers. My fervent wish is that McCain’s recent pandering to Jerry Falwell will at least disabuse them of this notion and finally earn him the coverage he deserves: that of an ambitious politician willing to work with whatever interest groups it takes to get him elected president. That’s the real McCain.