I think John Coyne's review of Game Change is brilliant, through and through, so I hate to nitpick. But one sentence -- and one only, in this great review -- really sticks in my craw. It is the one that ends thusly: "The F-word was apparently McCain's trademark. And for readers of Game Change, that's how John McCain, who deserves better, will be remembered."
But WHY does John McCain deserve better? Coyne never explains. Nor could he, because McCain does not deserve better. Does anybody doubt that this man of volcanic and inexcusable temper uses the F-word with reckless abandon? Does anybody doubt that this man of deep grudges, reportedly flagrant infidelities, an intense mean streak, and a disdain for the actual substance of most domestic political issues would easily lend himself to caricature precisely because his own manifold flaws make him a walking caricature all on his own?
It was fellow Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, after all, who early in 2008 -- not somewhere back in distant memory, but in the presidential election year itself -- told The Boston Globe that "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me." Cochran was talking about the same McCain who parachuted in to immigration-bill negotiations at the last minute and started yelling at Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, with frequent F-bombs, that he, McCain, knew more about the issue than anybody there, even though he had been gone from the negotiations for six weeks.
Why does John McCain deserve better? Certainly not for flyng off the handle like a lunatic on crystal meth when the financial crisis hit in September of 2008. He soon took to spluttering that it was all the fault of SEC Chairman Chris Cox, a solid conservative and all-around good guy who actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the crisis -- no oversight over the things that went bad, etc. (Actually, McCain's criticism was even more ludicrous than most: The one and only thing that he specifically blamed Cox for NOT doing was something Cox actually had already done.)
McCain certainly dos not deserve better for providing crucial support to His sidekick Lindsey Graham's personal and petty vendetta against Pentagon legal counsel William J. Haynes, when Haynes was up for a well-deserved judgeship -- when Graham and McCain in effect accused Haynes of giving approval for torture, when he had done nothing of the sort.
McCain deserves no credit for running a terrible campaign that saddled us with Barack Obama as president; he deserves no credit for choosing a not-yet-prepared Sarah Palin for Veep, tossing her to the wolves without enough support, and then letting his aides try to blame her for the campaign's failure even before the race was over -- in the process unfairly harming a rising conservative star who had and has great potential that now has been sidetracked from productive governance to show business.
McCain's Gang of 14 was awful. His support for amnesty was awful. His opposition to some of the good Bush tax cuts was awful. And his temper, his mean streak, his bullying tactics, all are inexcusable.
McCain loves his country. He served it honorably in captivity. He was right, and showed great leadership, about needing a "surge" in Iraq (and right that we should have had more boots on the ground all along).
But he is a vicious little man. Even if Game Change is not necessarily to be believed in all its particulars, because its sourcing appears woefully sketchy, the overall image Coyne says it paints of McCain is not an image that is hard to believe. Instead, it seems to capture McCain to a "T." Or, rather, to an "F."
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