Having acknowledged that I misquoted the exact words of Sen. McCain during a bloggers’ call yesterday, I now turn the focus away from me and back to McCain, where it belongs. (I write as a nervous but strong supporter of his campaign this fall.) Sen. McCain utterly deludes himself if he thinks, as he said in the call, that is is always respectful of his critics on the right. This is important. Self-awareness (as opposed to self-centeredness) is always important in a leader. A leader who is not aware of his effect on others, or who deludes himself about his own words and actions, is asking for trouble. And it is incontrovertible that McCain has lashed out with particular scorn and anger at those to his right. He called immigration opponents “nativists” and raised the Jim-Crow-like specter (withOUT using those two words) of those opponents acting like they wanted immigrants to stay at the back of the bus. He famously went way overboard in 2000 in taking what should have been a pointed push-back against overly harsh words from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell into a full-fledged attack on the whole religious right. He accused Mitt Romney of insulting our troops and (tacitly) of being on the wrong end of serving “for patriotism, not for profit.” (Somebody please tell McCain that the profit motive is not a bad thing, because he often acts as if the only people with the right to a profit motive are those who own beer distributorships.)
In arguing against the left, he says they are wrong and that he will gladly debate them on it — and then he does debate them, strongly and sometimes fiercely. In arguing against the right, he says that not only are we wrong but that “there is no debate” — as in his most recent jeremiad about global warning. We are not, therefore, just mistaken, but not even worth respecting with reasoned argument, according to McCain. (Another example: When discussing ANWR, he doesn’t discuss and debate, but shuts off all debate by repeating that “it’s pristine, it’s pristine.” And therefore, it’s not even worth discussing.)
His insult to the CPAC 2007 has been well reported. His expletive-laced tirade at Sen. John Cornyn has been well reported. His profanity-laced tirades at other GOP senators have been well reported. He refused to shake the hand of Federal Election Commission opponent Bradley Smith, and refused to apologize for his slight, in so doing accusing Smith of repeatedly impugning his own integrity — without giving evidence thereof.
And so on and so on. The point is that this tendency of his is a huge barrier to full-fledged conservative support for his campaign. I asked a respetful question yesterday, a constructive question. A candidate with grace would have said that he did not intend ever to be disrespectful, that sometimes he knows he gets passionate and that sometime it can come across wrong, that he has always acknowledged he won’t win any “Miss Congeniality” contests but that he wants to take this opportunity to pledge that he will always TRY to be respectful and to listen, and that if he fails, he is only human and will try to do better next time…. or SOMETHING like that. The fact is that when the standard-bearer of the more conservative party says that his conservative critics on immigration are “nativists,” it stings.
John McCain has many strengths. A lack of sanctimony is not one of them. He will do well not to deny the obvious truth that he tends to bristle rather too easily against fellow conservatives, and instead to take the opportunity to show real grace — on the spot, not as a canned campaign line — by reaching out, acknowledging past dust-ups, and re-stating his regard for those on the right who disagree with him.
My question yesterday was actually intended as a chance for him to show such unscripted grace. When asked, in follow-up, to provide examples, I screwed up with a misquotation. But that doesn’t let this good man, John McCain, off the hook for the underlying premise of the question, or for his lack of grace in refusing to acknowledge any truth to it whatsoever.