The fascinating thing about New York Times columnist David Brooks is his ability to faithfully serve the interests of the Republican Party while maintaining a stance of ironic detachment and independence. His column today is a small masterpiece of the genre. Entitled “The Education of McCain,” it is devoted to the story-line that the GOP candidate is deep down the same unconventional and wholly admirable man he’s always been, but who has been forced by contemporary political realities to slavishly follow the party line and personally attack Barack Obama.
Touting McCain’s “long-running rebellion against the stupidity of modern partisanship,” Brooks says there’s just no question that McCain’s current campaign rubs against his very nature:
In a thousand ways, he has tried to preserve some sense of self-respect in a sea of pandering pomposity. He’s done it through self-mockery, by talking endlessly about his own embarrassing lapses and by keeping up a running patter on the absurdity all around. He’s done it by breaking frequently from his own party to cut serious deals with people like Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold. He’s done it with his own frantic and freewheeling style, which was unpredictable, untamed and, at some level, unprofessional.
But alas, alackaday, McCain had to abandon the Straight-Talk Express because of “too many 25-year-old reporters and producers seizing on every odd comment to set off little blog scandals.” And he had to run a nasty, negative campaign because “McCain and his advisers realized the only way they could get TV attention was by talking about the subject that interested reporters most: Barack Obama.”
Poor, poor John McCain, forced to behave like a regular politician, even though he’s not.
This story-line is of inestimable value to the McCain campaign, which is engaged in a high-stakes gamble that its candidate can talk out of both sides of his mouth to conservatives, who must be convinced that McCain is if anything a more principled right-winger than Bush, and to swing voters, to whom he is being marketed as a reforming centrist with no loyalty to anyone other than his country. McCain has taken this game to a new level of duplicity in recent weeks. The man who relentlessly channeled the conservative message at Saddleback Church over the weekend is hard to reconcile with the subject of his current network ad, which describes him as the “original maverick” always ready to reach across party lines to battle drug and tobacco companies and Big Oil. (This last assertion must have spawned some head-scratching or cynical belly-laughs among the oil executives who have been showering McCain with campaign contributions after his flip-flop on offshore oil drilling.)
Brooks would have us believe that all the glaring contradictions and vicious tactics characterizing the McCain campaign are just the unfortunate byproduct of our benighted political system–which, presumably, the Real McCain will deal with in office, when he’s not defeating evil somewhere overseas.
One way or another, Democrats need to take on the “Original Maverick” story-line and expose it as a deceptive and hypocritical stunt.