Saturday, October 04, 2008

Josh Notices that McCain's erratic temper goes way back, but forgest the good bit

Josh's readers remind him:

Speaking of McCain's temper, does anybody remember the whole 2006 ethics reform matter. I have been thinking about this for days, ever since the first debate. I didn't remember all the details at first, only that McCain had responded to a cordial, inoffensive letter from Obama with some unhinged rant. At the time Obama's star was definitely rising and I remember thinking this old guy is mad as hell that he is being shown-up by this "young upstart". Perhaps it was even more calculated than that. More... Certainly in 2006 McCain already had this election in mind and the word presidential was being applied to Senator Obama. I felt at the time it was a preemptive smear, trying to knock Obama down a few pegs before he became too much of a threat. Thank God for Google, a search for "Obama McCain letters" brought up this:


I didn't remember Obama's reply but upon reading it all I could think was how consistent it was with the sort of campaign he has run. Unfortunately it would seem McCain has been consistent as well.

Check out the link and relive the early days, when the bile was just beginning to rise.

Josh has been posting on this for a while but seems to have forgotten the most interesting thing about this incident. Basically, it was a clash of two styles and two cultures--McCain's overwhelming inability to forge actual ties and move legislation through clashed with Obama's actual desire to get something done on ethics reform. The way the Washington Post put it gives way, way, way too much credit to McCain and the Republicans by putting it this way:

When Obama approached McCain to talk about working together, the veteran recalled his first days in the House in 1983, when Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.) took McCain under his wing, according to Salter. "He never forgot that."

McCain personally invited Obama to attend a February 2006 bipartisan meeting of senators. Democrats say the meeting went well and there were no signs of animosity, but some Republicans contend that Obama delivered what amounted to a high-handed speech about the culture of corruption without wanting to delve into legislative detail.

Obama was "talking more than was justified," said Lott, who was chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee at the time. "Maybe there was a little bit of pettiness on the other side."

Obama would later recall later that McCain thanked him "several times" for attending and pledged to work with the freshman.

The Arizonan, however, lost faith in Obama the next day.

Obama dashed off a letter -- promptly released to the media -- that suggested McCain, who was already considering a presidential run, had "expressed an interest" in creating a task force to study the issue. But, Obama wrote, "the more effective and more timely" route was to move a bill quickly through Senate committees.

For someone familiar with the players what happened, clearly, is that McCain-who has never shown himself generous to juniors, decided he might be able to use Obama as a client/subordinate and invited him to yet another fake round of Republican ethics reform. When Obama came to the table it was assumed he would fall under McCain's control and do what McCain and his party wanted, which was to keep real ethics legislation from occuring. When Obama refused to be a patsy instead of realizing he'd been outplayed by a junior Senator with far more political nous than his own, McCain decided to try to outflank Obama and crush him with a public show of contempt. As we've seen in McCain's recent attempts to control public opinion and gain the presidency through a similiar overwhelming show of arrogant force this really, really, really doesn't work well. Its the instinctive response of the martinet, not the maverick--the response of a bully who has always been protected by rank and who has always been able to imagine that he leads by the force of his example, rather than by the unwilling submission of subordinates to his uniform or his money.

Even more to the point, the Washington Post story reveals that McCain himself was not responsible, either for the letter or the original emotional response to Obama's legislative initiative. In other words--the impulse to translate an ordinary piece of legislative business into a personal attack came not from McCain but from his long time associate, alter ego, and ghost writer Mark Salter. This came out early in this campaign cycle in the same Post story where it is put this way:

"He's sending you a press release/letter for his leader," Salter recalled telling McCain. "He did something that you just don't do."

Days later McCain, an avid baseball fan, told Salter to draft in response the equivalent of a pitcher throwing at the batter's head to rattle him. "He told me to brush him back. . . . You don't do things like that," Salter said.

Salter admitted his stinging letter "probably put too much English on it." The missive was quickly released to the media.

"I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me . . . were sincere," McCain's letter began.

In other words, McCain's supporters feared a kind of "les majeste" that diminished McCain's status as elder statesman. They told McCain he needed to do something about it and then they wrote the letter for him to sign.

I believe McCain is an authentically shallow, angry, greedy, arrogant man but frankly I wouldn't have believed of him that he was too stupid to authentically respond for himself in such an authentic, shallow, angry, greedy and arrogant fashion but would have to rely on Mark Salter to do it for him.