“... like a killer whale born in captivity in SeaWorld."
October 7, 2010 7:14 AM   Subscribe

"The Man Who Never Was." Vanity Fair editor Todd S. Purdum follows up his 2007 profile of then-Senator John McCain and a scathing 2009 profile of Sarah Palin by asking whether McCain, "...the leader so many Americans admired — and so many journalists covered — ever truly existed." (Previously)
posted by zarq (49 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Printable (single-page) versions of the Vanity Fair articles in the post:

* "The Man Who Never Was"

* "Prisoner of Conscience"

* "It Came From Wasilla."
posted by zarq at 7:18 AM on October 7, 2010


Making Sarah Palin into one of the most influential people in the Republican Party may turn out to be McCain’s most lasting political legacy to his country.

What a sad legacy for a sad little man.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:28 AM on October 7, 2010 [21 favorites]


From an old comment: the lamentable fall of Senator John McCain, as told through his ten Daily Show appearances:
First interview: having fun with inner monologues

"We're so delighted he's joining us, he has a reputation as a bit of a maverick"

"We're gonna find poo-poo!"
He has jackets

Sick and tired of negative campaigning

Criticizing Bush's State of the Union (that "studying bears in Montana" joke is older than I thought, btw)

Thoughts on the Iraq war
"You're my president, from now on"

"We should view the other party as our opponents and not our enemies"

But then, some troubling shifts:

Defending Cheney on torture
Debating Iraq

"Are you freaking out on us? Are you going into Crazy Base World?"

Their banter tightens:

Sparring over the war
Arguing talking points

And at McCain's final appearance: "I'd like to see the old John McCain"
posted by Rhaomi at 7:31 AM on October 7, 2010 [26 favorites]


Leader of what? 48% of the land in Arizona is owned by the federal government. He never led anyone anywhere to do anything.

McCain was popular among the journalists of the Vietnam generation because as a POW, he was precisely the kind of serviceman they could like in a pointless war they hated and lost. He's the nexus of boomer ambivalence and anxiety about the war.

These same journalists hated someone like Kerry, who actually served and shot at people, but were neutral about people like Bush, Quayle, etc also from that generation who got away with not actually fighting, because they too didn't fight.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:36 AM on October 7, 2010 [19 favorites]


A good portrait on the same subject: "What Would a Maverick Do?
John McCain, still at war".


Seems like a man very angry with the slights life has given him, and now desperation abounds. His treatment of Mark Salter is particularly revealing.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


My current theory is that McCain's sudden and sharp change in attitude represents his North Vietnamese brain washing kicking in with the plan to support so many stupid policies that the U.S collapses under it's own decadent capitalist weight and becomes ripe for communist missionaries.
posted by The Whelk at 7:44 AM on October 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


Even half-falling for some hack's shtick makes me feel like an idiot.
posted by box at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


...represents his North Vietnamese brain washing kicking in...

Was Lieberman in Vietnam too? He's gone off the deep end in the last 6 years.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


My current theory is that McCain's sudden and sharp change in attitude represents his North Vietnamese brain washing kicking in with the plan to support so many stupid policies that the U.S collapses under it's own decadent capitalist weight and becomes ripe for communist missionaries.

"John McCain is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."
posted by Rangeboy at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2010 [12 favorites]


A true maverick. Which is to say, lost calf.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:03 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


The new profile of McCain is essentially contentless, like a lot of Purdum's output. And like almost everything written about McCain, it says that he's a 'political risk-taker' without really giving any examples other than his laughable attempt at covering up his prior political corruption with the campaign finance reform bills. The only thing that's interesting about Purdum's piece is that he's (sort of) saying that McCain himself is contentless. Which of course could be said of almost any national politician other than, I dunno, Dennis Kucinich.
posted by jackbrown at 8:09 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Making Sarah Palin into one of the most influential people in the Republican Party may turn out to be McCain’s most lasting political legacy to his country.

What a sad legacy for a sad little man.


I like John McCain personally. I admire him and think he would have made a decent President in normal times. But when it was his turn, he was the wrong man in the wrong party.

The energy that produced Sarah Palin and the Tea Party was already present on the right and had been growing steadily under the Bush administration. McCain didn't create it. He was the first to recognise it. That should be part of his political legacy. Of course he veered to the right - like every other Republican who had to win a primary election.

As for him turning Palin into an icon, sure he brought her to national attention, but Tea Party movement has through its own energy produced a number of Sarah Palin copies - Sharron Angle, Christine McDonnel, Rand Paul.

That teaparty plant bears only nuts.
posted by three blind mice at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


He gave a gracious concession speech the night he lost the election.

I'm trying to ignore everything after that.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


The TV business Politics is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry society, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:19 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Making Sarah Palin into one of the most influential people in the Republican Party may turn out to be McCain’s most lasting political legacy to his country.

We had to destroy the country in order to save it. I guess he won Vietnam after all.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


McCain is what he's always been. He was sad about losing the 2000 primaries, so he voted against Pres. Bush an unusual amount for a Republican senator. Now he's mad at Obama for beating him, so he's spending all his time piling scorn on Pres. Obama. Other than a (now-vanished) genial manner, and a not-particularly-philosophical belief in the virtues of "reform" and "maverickness," what were his beliefs on policy that set him apart in the first place?

This comment about McCain comes to mind:
He doesn't know anything about anything, he just wants to be president. Who knows what he'd actually do on warrantless wiretapping if he were president? He certainly has no idea.
I think this is exactly right. He has one immovable belief -- in war generally, and in the endless occupation of Iraq specifically. Everything else is just an instrument for becoming President.

The more I watch him, the more convinced I become that he's one of the most belief-free presidential candidates in a long time. How typical, then, that he's depicted by our media as being one of the most steadfast, principled, and substantive -- exactly the opposite, as usual, of reality.
(Personally, I am filled with resentment for McCain the same way I am for Tony Dungy-- I believed the reporters who went on about how moral they were, and am angry at them for being frauds, and at myself for believing things they said on the news).
posted by ibmcginty at 8:22 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


A pathetic little man whose misunderstanding begins and ends with himself.
posted by tommasz at 8:22 AM on October 7, 2010


A better profile: Make-Believe Maverick by Tim Dickinson (previously on the blue, although the original link is broken). It dissects the myth and puts his history, including the POW years, in perspective.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was Lieberman in Vietnam too? He's gone off the deep end in the last 6 years.

I think he was too busy doing keg stands at the Elihu house.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:27 AM on October 7, 2010


John McCain is stupider than George W. Bush and here's how.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:27 AM on October 7, 2010


I think the central John McCain quote is that quip about how presidential ambition is a disease curable only by embalming fluid. Sure, it's a joke and everyone laughed when he said it, but I also think that pretty much everything he's done over the past 10 years show that it wasn't really that much of a joke and there isn't much of anything he wouldn't do if he thought it would significantly help him become the President.
posted by Copronymus at 8:31 AM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like John McCain personally. I admire him and think he would have made a decent President in normal times. But when it was his turn, he was the wrong man in the wrong party.

I don't because I disagree with the rest of that paragraph. He wouldn't have been a decent president in normal times. This asshole has proven nothing for the last ten years except that he will immediately do whatever he thinks is popular and will get him approval. If he won the election in 2000 and became president and the tide turned against campaign reform he'd have dropped it in a heartbeat. President McCain would have been the same Senator McCain who on September 12, 2001 started barking about how "may god forgive Afghanistan because hell knows we won't." And he would have sent us right into Iraq because the same people who gave George W. Bush millions of campaign dollars would have done the same to him if he was in charge because by god that was popular.

He picked Palin because he thought it would be a popular, take-that-Obama choice. it wasn't. It was, as I noted back then, the most ridiculous thing he could have possibly done, and when he realized, oh, let's say that following Monday that he had just ended his presidential campaign, it because entirely about making poor John McCain look dignified and respectable before he scampered away to one of the eleven houses he owned with his second wife that he married only a month after dumping the wife who waited for him but then got disfigured in a car accident.

But we won't talk about that on the A&E Biography profile because that's just completely against the image that we're supposed to believe John McCain is. The one he faked for a few years on the Daily Show when he thought he could still get campaign donations from college students. The guy who cared about stopping corporate donations from controlling elections exactly during the period when corporations weren't backing him.

So no, I don't "admire" John McCain, a man who has spent the last forty years doing absolutely nothing except everything that he strategized as being great for John McCain. He's probably the most perfect representation in all of Washington of the lying, fake politician who pretends to care about you ("Country First!") while thinking it's all about personal victory. And he'll do or say anything to keep winning because that's all he cares about.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2010 [41 favorites]


I think the central John McCain quote is that quip about how presidential ambition is a disease curable only by embalming fluid.

I guess that explains why I keep seeing all that embalming fluid being delivered to his house.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am filled with resentment for McCain the same way I am for Tony Dungy

Did Tony Dungy ever display any evidence that he didn't believe the things he says he believes about gays? I dislike him, but not because he's a fraud, or because he once said nice things about gays on the news and later retracted them. Most sports professionals are homophobic or at the very minimum uncomfortable with the thought of homosexuality existing anywhere near them -- Dungy just brings an extra layer of fundie fervor into it.

John McCain, on the other hand, is a total fraud. Saying after the 2008 campaign that he never considered himself a maverick is probably the topper in a long career of lies and opportunistic reversals.
posted by blucevalo at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2010


>McCain is what he's always been. He was sad about losing the 2000 primaries, so he voted against Pres. Bush an unusual amount for a Republican senator. Now he's mad at Obama for beating him

McCain has always been an angry, reckless, entitled guy-- he just happened to have been captured and tortured as a POW, a situation in which his anger was perfectly morally suited.

After he was freed, McCain continued being Angry, Reckless, Entitled Guy... now he just had a backstory that made reporters swoon.

At any rate, since McCain's tics of Fuckup/Contrition/Crusade, War is Virtue, Who's My Enemy Now, and What's Good for John McCain is Good for America are and always have been obvious, the real point is what all this confirms about the weakness of McCain's tribunes, the press.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


ibmcginty (quoting Glenn Greenwald): "The more I watch him, the more convinced I become that he's one of the most belief-free presidential candidates in a long time. How typical, then, that he's depicted by our media as being one of the most steadfast, principled, and substantive -- exactly the opposite, as usual, of reality."

A big part of the problem here is that we Americans have decided "ideologues" are terrible horrible people ruining our political system and "independent mavericks" are the ones out to save it. Being an ideologue is actually a sign of principle and intelligence - it says that your policy preferences follow from a connected, coherent set of beliefs.

Example: I find William F Buckley's positions, particularly on race, abhorrent and counterproductive. It's hard to say his positions lack principle though: they clearly extend directly from his core beliefs. In fact, Buckley's ability to explain those connections in an articulate way was a sign of his intelligence. We disagree ultimately about those core beliefs.

McCain - and to a much greater extent Palin - clearly participate in politics for their own self-aggrandizement. They are anti-ideologues: they will say and do whatever they can to win, regardless if its consistent with what they've said in the past, or some core belief structure. They do it all while mocking and belittling intelligence and academia (particularly our law-professor president) because it perpetuates the myth that leaving your opinions to the whim of the loudest of the American people is the true principled stand.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:52 AM on October 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


I believe the real Mavericks of San Antonio, mostly a very progressive family, took some umbrage with McCain's use of the word in the '08 campaign.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:54 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a tendency to judge politicians on their spouses; who did they marry, why, and how do they seem to interact. Say what you will about the Clintons (there's someone who only embalming fluid could have kept from the presidency), but they each married interesting, vibrant people and rely on each other for counsel.
Cindy McCain has never been more than an emotionally broken (at least that was my take on reading "Game Change") endless cash register.
posted by readery at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


John McCain was in the singular position as a victim of torture, senator, and member of the republican party to use credibility and influence to help stop the pro-torture policies put into place by the Bush administration. He could have been a hero to history and desire to be president himself be damned. In the moment of his country's greatest need he put that aside in favor of personal ambition. History may well forgive him but I'm not ready yet.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2010 [9 favorites]


I believe the real Mavericks of San Antonio, mostly a very progressive family, took some umbrage with McCain's use of the word in the '08 campaign.

Yep.
posted by zarq at 9:13 AM on October 7, 2010


A big part of the problem here is that we Americans have decided "ideologues" are terrible horrible people ruining our political system and "independent mavericks" are the ones out to save it. Being an ideologue is actually a sign of principle and intelligence - it says that your policy preferences follow from a connected, coherent set of beliefs.

Agreed 100%, l33tpolicywonk. Centrism is by definition unprincipled. It's a pose, a reflection of one's psychological compulsion. In 1998, a "centrist" would have said that torture is bad and that we should try to avoid invading and occupying countries halfway around the world; by 2003, centrists worked to shout down people who had those points of view. I'm actually predisposed to be centrist, suspicious and ready to hear out both parties, but it just so happens that right now in the US, one of the two major parties is completely devoid of rational thought. Partisanship in defense of sanity is no vice.

Here's a fine post on centrism as tribalism ("he is demonstrably happy to engage in rage-filled, irrational and delegitimizing rhetoric when it is aimed against the enemies of the “We” who “approve of consensual politics.” His tribalism is one of the center rather than the partisan left or right, but it is perhaps more pernicious for being completely unselfconscious.") Here's an excellent parody of David Brooks ("I have been critical of President Bush, not because I have actual convictions, but because I have a pathological need to seem reasonable," rather like Joe Klein's compulsive need to criticize, say, labor unions, when he's critiquing Republican support for war or torture or national bankruptcy).
posted by ibmcginty at 9:25 AM on October 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I said this in 2007: "Poor John McCain. He's like Gil the Car Salesman from the Simpsons; affable but desperate, and willing to eat one of his own shoes for a dollar."

My opinion has changed somewhat since then.
posted by boo_radley at 9:38 AM on October 7, 2010


-This is The End, my only friend, The End

-McCain be Old by MC Jelly Donut
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:02 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was Lieberman in Vietnam too? He's gone off the deep end in the last 6 years.

Lieberman was a right-wing religious nut when Gore picked him to run as VP in 2000. If you thought he wasn't you weren't paying attention.
posted by rodgerd at 10:59 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


McCain - and to a much greater extent Palin - clearly participate in politics for their own self-aggrandizement. They are anti-ideologues: they will say and do whatever they can to win, regardless if its consistent with what they've said in the past, or some core belief structure.

And gods forbid they're ever called out on it, they will never admit to inconsistent or hypocritical behavior, and worse, they will evade the issue by employing some stupid folksy pseudo-aphorism which will get picked up and turned into some sort of mantra by the Right.
posted by quin at 11:24 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The new profile of McCain is essentially contentless, like a lot of Purdum's output.

This is slightly annoying. What do you want except for an eloquently written account of the way he has changed, along with strikingly candid conversations with ex-aides, some juicy anecdotes, plenty of bits of interview with McCain himself, and some intriguing psychological speculation? I think it's a pretty good piece all told — especially as, yes, it's Purdum's point that there isn't a deeply worked out political philosophy there to discuss.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:32 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Making Sarah Palin into one of the most influential people in the Republican Party may turn out to be McCain’s most lasting political legacy to his country.

That had less to do with McCain and more to do with the left's exaggerated hissy fits over her -- it's like a parent telling a teenage daughter she cannot date the neighborhood bad boy -- it's the way otherwise annoying twerps get to seem so desirable. Replace the hysterics with calm or indifference and the spell is broken. Palin really ought to write Tina Fey a thank you note for turning Palin's fifteen minutes of being a historical curiosity into a lucrative career.

But, no matter, Palin's rise reminds me of the old saying, "Equality is not when a female Einstein gets promoted to assistant professor. Equality is when a female schlemiel moves ahead as fast as a male schlemiel..."
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:55 AM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


That had less to do with McCain and more to do with the left's exaggerated hissy fits over her -- it's like a parent telling a teenage daughter she cannot date the neighborhood bad boy -- it's the way otherwise annoying twerps get to seem so desirable. Replace the hysterics with calm or indifference and the spell is broken.

That doesn't make sense. A mature political party would select its leaders based on their merits, rather than on the lodestar of "the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily." As far as I've seen, the left has responded more with laughter and disbelief than hissy fits.

Republican/Tea Party members don't really care much about the substance of Palin's words, instead regarding her as some sort of homeland/hearth/fertility talisman. So I guess she really is just like Jesus to them.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:39 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the central John McCain quote is that quip about how presidential ambition is a disease curable only by embalming fluid.

I think in a hundred years McCain might just be revealed to be Blackadder, disgusted with trying to gain power in Britain and trying his luck overseas, in disguise. Has anyone seen Tony Robbins near him? (We're pretty late in the series, if you get what I mean.)
posted by JHarris at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Tony Robinson, dammit)
posted by JHarris at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2010


That had less to do with McCain and more to do with the left's exaggerated hissy fits over her -- it's like a parent telling a teenage daughter she cannot date the neighborhood bad boy -- it's the way otherwise annoying twerps get to seem so desirable.

Dear god. Spoken like someone who doesn't really know much about Sarah Palin. To borrow an idea from another recent thread, she's like a Mandelbrot Set of loathing; every horrible thing you can pick about her, when you focus in on it, turns out to be a forest of horrible things, each of which similarly pronged, going down and in forever.
posted by JHarris at 12:47 PM on October 7, 2010 [18 favorites]


Is Sarah Palin the Paris Hilton of politics?
posted by Cranberry at 12:59 PM on October 7, 2010


So us librul hissy-fitters get blamed for Palinmania too? Awesome.
posted by defenestration at 1:12 PM on October 7, 2010


Lieberman was a right-wing religious nut when Gore picked him to run as VP in 2000. If you thought he wasn't you weren't paying attention

Still proud of the fact I spent 30 minutes mercilessly mocking Lieberman to one of his campaign staff and true believer in 2004 at a new years party. God he (and McCain) are such preening narcissistic a-holes
posted by slapshot57 at 2:43 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The similar story Capt. Renault linked is more substantive, I think.


If you are at all interested in the minutia of the Weaver/Salter/Davis wars, a sidetrip through the unfolding drama in Massachusetts is worth your time.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:11 PM on October 7, 2010


Republican/Tea Party members don't really care much about the substance of Palin's words, instead regarding her as some sort of homeland/hearth/fertility talisman. So I guess she really is just like Jesus to them.

Why Sarah Palin Is a Goddess
posted by homunculus at 7:22 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agreed 100%, l33tpolicywonk. Centrism is by definition unprincipled. It's a pose, a reflection of one's psychological compulsion.

Do you have an argument for why it's necessarily this instead of a tightrope act balancing between competing worthwhile principles? Because to me, this sounds like a better rationalization for ideologues eager to avoid compromise and shut out other voices than a good working definition.
posted by weston at 7:48 PM on October 7, 2010


John McCain raised hell at the Naval Academy, went to Vietnam, got captured, got tortured, went to Washington, got discharged, got elected to congress, got elected to the Senate, got corrupted, got clean, got redeemed, got beat, got cancer, got lucky, got unlucky, got beat again and then got angry and vindictive.
posted by humanfont at 8:52 PM on October 7, 2010


Do you have an argument for why it's necessarily this instead of a tightrope act balancing between competing worthwhile principles? Because to me, this sounds like a better rationalization for ideologues eager to avoid compromise and shut out other voices than a good working definition.

Sure, weston-- as I see the term used in the US, centrism is seeking the middle ground between the two major parties (and we are talking about the US here, which has had only two parties forever). Therefore, centrism is by definition unprincipled.

The Republican/Tea Party has come unmoored from any principles whatsoever. Ten years ago, people claimed to be Republicans because they wanted a more humble use of the military, a balanced budget, a smaller federal government, and a less powerful executive branch. During the Bush Jr. era, we invaded a Middle Eastern country for what all Republicans in Congress say was a mistake, the deficit was massively increased, and the executive claimed the right to torture and to detain indefinitely without trial American citizens captured and held in the US. As a result of his chain of calamities, by the end of Bush's presidency, his approval rating was 34 percent. Independents gave him an approval rating of 28 percent; Republicans were at 75 percent. 75 percent. That is because allegiance to the GOP/Tea Party is a matter of tribe, not principle.

In this context, all the principled centrists are now Democrats. Anyone who wants to address, say, the health insurance issue or pollution or banking reform by balancing free-market principles with the experience of the past ten years and the expertise of mainstream economists is a Democrat. (Recall that the health insurance reform plan passed a few months back was based on conservative ideas, yet conservatives who supported aspects of it for years reject it not only as unsound policy, but unconstitutional tyranny).

Self-conscious centrists, though, aren't bound by principle, but rather by a desire to be described as moderate or non-partisan.

Exemplars of centrism in the US are folks like Tom Friedman, Joe Klein, Olympia Snowe, Evan Bayh, and Susan Collins. At the links you'll see examples of nonsensical policy proposals untethered to substantive merit, unwilling to acknowledge that one of the two parties is completely divorced from policy concerns. All of those folks would have argued in the late 1990s that invading and occupying a Middle Eastern country for unclear reasons would be a very bad idea; but, because they are animated by a desire to appear reasonable rather than any principles, they all supported the invasion of Iraq. They're the sort of people (pretty sure they all think this, but I don't care to chase it down) who would have said in 1999 that torture was always really bad, and who now think at the least that it should go unpunished if committed by Americans, and maybe that Americans should have license to torture very bad Muslims.

Those are the sorts of views and people described as "centrist" in modern American parlance. (I'm pleased to back down from that, if you have counterexamples). Centrism is by definition unprincipled and amoral.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:17 AM on October 8, 2010


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