I told anyone who would listed after election day that we would learn who the real John McCain was in the early weeks and months of the new administration, now that McCain was a true free agent, beholden to no one, free to pursue his own true north star. Was he the true bi-partisan maverick who simply tried without success to sell out to the far right because that was the only way he could get the nomination? Or was he in fact an original neocon- as he himself once claimed - who attempted to leverage the victimhood at the hands of the Bush-Rove team in 2000 and a lone act of line-crossing (McCain-Feingold) into an entire "maverick" brand that never truly existed?
The Senator has given us his answer: it's the latter.
McCain railed on the House recovery package, claiming it was not bipartisan, as it had not a single Republican vote. (This is, itself, backwards logic, as the Republicans responded with greater obstructionist unanimity than the Democrats pushed forward with rubber-stamp unanimity.) Then he led the opposition to the plan in the Senate, rallying his party behind the McCain Plan... a package comprised almost entirely of tax cuts.
During the campaign, McCain peddled little more than Conservative ideology: low taxes at all costs, values issues, and carrying the Ronald Reagan mantle that government does not solve problems- the government is the problem. (Again, an odd position to be held by someone running for high government office.) McCain offered few, if any, ideas to solve the numerous grave problems that face the country... an almost poetic bit of alignment, as McCain was the standard-bearer for a party whose own intelligentsia has recognized, with sadness, is completely bankrupt of ideas. The Republicans once proudly carried the banner of being the party of ideas. Now they are simply the party of "no". They reacted to their resounding defeat in November not by accepting it as a wake-up call, but rather, by running back to the obstructionism that led them to shut down the federal government in 1996 when they were led by Newt Gingrich.
Obama ran on "Yes We Can" and the GOP has countered, in one voice, with "No We Can't".
And McCain is once again demonstrating, just as he did in his bumbling, fumbling, stumbling campaign, that he just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that the country voted resoundingly for action, not more of the same, and he doesn't understand that any capitalist democracy is a public-private partnership that at times calls for more government action and at times calls for a more laissez-faire approach. You cannot simply apply a single ideology at all times. So when McCain decries Obama for ramming his agenda down the throats of the other party just as Bush did to the Democrats for six years, what he doesn't understand is that so long as the Republicans- as the majority or the minority - offer only distilled ideology and no ideas, there is no place where the two sides can meet. There are no degrees of "low taxes, leave it to the free market".
When Obama met with Republican Congressional leaders to discuss the recovery package- an act of conciliation and bipartisanship unheard of in the last eight years- the President couldn't incorporate their ideas because they had none. All they had was their embattled ideology that the voters have rejected. Chris Hayes of The Nation opined last week that asking Republicans for ideas on a recovery package is like asking the Quakers for ideas on your next battle plan; they are simply not wired to even think in these terms. And John McCain is no better wired to do so than the rest of his party. Not very maverick-like.
My grandfather always said: when someone shows you who they are... believe them. When McCain said that he still needed to be educated on the economy, he was being honest, and he was right. And when he said he believed the fundamentals of the economy were strong, he was again being honest, and he was dead wrong... tragically and catastrophically so (for us) had he been elected.
Re-watch Obama's prime time new conference tonight. Try to imagine John McCain answering with the depth of understanding of the complexities of issues that Obama demonstrated. Impossible. Obama is an intellectual giant and a great leader- something even his most committed enemies will tell you. McCain is an average intellect, something even his most committed supporters will grant. And you know what? These qualities of the two were revealed in the crucible of the campaign.
Also revealed in the crucible of the campaign and demonstrated since the inauguration is that John McCain is simply too committed a partisan and too true a believer - too great an ideologue - to read the landscape and understand where he and his party have gone off the rails. And as someone who worked pretty hard to make sure McCain didn't win, it gives me no pleasure to see the GOP lost in space. This isn't Michigan and Ohio State, where any Buckeye misfortune is categorically a boon to the Wolverines. This country needs the Republicans to make meaningful contributions and provide a necessary ideological counterweight... NOT have them lie down in the middle of the road and act as human roadblocks on the Progressive Highway.
When McCain said that he believed that Obama could bring change but has turned out to be every bit the hard-liner that Bush was, he demonstrates a shocking inability to look in the mirror and understand why the Republicans lost. Obama has reached out his hand. Republicans have not taken it. Obama named three Republicans to his cabinet (unprecedented). He sought their input on the recovery plan, but they had no ideas besides the policies that were tried, failed, and ultimately rejected by the voters. Obama will come to the middle, but bipartisanship doesn't mean coming all the way to the right.
McCain cannot see this, because he was never bipartisan, never a moderate, never a maverick. That was a short term marketing campaign that ultimately did not pass muster.