Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Return of 'Maverick' McCain

I was reading Ryan Lizza's New Yorker piece on the Tancredoist transformation of the Republican party (great title: "Return of the Nativist"), and it made me nostalgic for the McCain of yore--the 'principled' 'maverick' we used to hear so much about. Lizza focuses on McCain as the sole Republican holdout, the one candidate who isn't pandering shamelessly to the nativist lunatic fringe.

And we who know better could be forgiven for rolling our eyes at yet another paean to McCain's 'integrity'. We've heard it all before; we know it's a sham, a pose to ingratiate himself with the Washington press corps. When someone uses 'McCain' and 'principles' in the same sentence, the first image I see is him hugging George Bush.

At the same time, McCain is genuinely less awful than the rest. Romney and Giuliani are the worst, having renounced relatively decent immigration policies in favor of the scapegoating demagoguery they hope will make the base happy, but the others aren't far behind. In this field, on this issue, McCain really is showing something that approaches what you could call integrity, if you squint hard.

Which, I realized, is the key to the whole McCain thing. Read between the lines, go beyond the intent of the authors. All of the gushing press, all of those pieces about Saint John McCain--they were never really about McCain. They were about the Republican Party. When someone calls McCain 'independent', they're really saying the GOP is the Borg. When they say he's a 'straight shooter', it's a comment on the craven mendacity of his opponents. When they talk about his 'integrity', it's really a comment on the stinking cesspool the party has become.

And yeah, McCain bows down to the Party when it really matters; his positions are hostage to political expediency; and he's dirty just like the rest. McCain is really, really bad.

It's just that the Republican party as a whole is even worse.