Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning for an exclusive interview. Tim Russert quizzed McCain on pretty much a full range of topics, from Iraq to the environment to stem cell research to his presidential aspirations, with a lot more in between. It was a fascinating opportunity to take stock of a man I have long respected for his politics and integrity, but whom I have roundly hammered over his failure to drag Bush’s privileged, draft-dodging ass out into the parking lot for a richly deserved come-to-Jesus meeting in the wake of Dubya’s amoral, sewage-sopped smear tactics in the 2000 South Carolina primary. I have in the past likened McCain to an abused dog, who after being kicked for years, once more lowers his tail and slinks back up hoping his master will love him this time, and as much as I really do like the guy, I’m still waiting for evidence that I’m wrong on this.
So for me, today’s sit-down with Russert was something of a State of the Candidate event, and you’d have to be a tad on the simple side not to see it as something of a weather balloon on McCain’s part, as well. With this in mind, a few thoughts:
1: McCain is managing the Dubya issue, but he’s doing so in a very calculated manner. When the subject is about events and policies, McCain is undercutting Bush at every turn, although he’s not aiming his comments at the president directly. He might note that things aren’t going well in Iraq, but he won’t fault Bush for it. When the subject turns to Bush explicitly, the whipped dog crawls out and wags his tail for the cameras.
2: The same is true when it’s the Rabid Right that’s being discussed. When asked about Congress’ foray into the Terri Schiavo debacle, for instance, he finds a practiced way to backpedal in the face of fact without overtly selling out the Fringe:
MR. RUSSERT: Would it be fair to say in hindsight Congress should not have been involved in the Terri Schiavo case?
SEN. McCAIN: I think it’s easy in hindsight to make a judgment. But I do know at the time that many of us, or the overwhelming majority of us as well as the American people saw a young woman whose life was going to end, whose parents and brothers and sisters wanted to care for her. That’s what I think made it so compelling. So in hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t have. At the time, I understand the emotion, all of us. Who was not moved by seeing the films of this woman, young woman?
3: Therefore, it’s important to understand that, despite his hedging on the 2008 question, the man is running.
4: And heck, I will likely vote for him, unless something new emerges in the meantime. I’d have voted for him in 2000. I’d have voted for him in 2004. And the thing most likely to keep me from supporting him in 2008 would be the presence of Dubya’s drooling halfwit brother, Jeb, on the ticket.
5: When asked if he’d contemplate a third-party candidacy in 2008 if he failed to secure the GOP nomination, McCain predictably dismissed the idea. But it’s an interesting thought. Polls show that McCain is actually more popular among Democrats than he is among Republicans (56% approval with Dems and independents to only 53% with Republicans, many of whom will use his “betrayal” of the party on the judicial filibuster “nuclear option” against him the same way other GOP nut-jobs once used his Panama Canal vote against Howard Baker, who ironically was the last Republican candidate I felt this way about). Most “viable” third-party candidates (Wallace, Anderson, Perot, Nader) wind up being little more than spoilers, but McCain may be the only guy I can think of in my lifetime who’d be a legit threat to win.
If you had a Dominionist/Theonatist nominee coming out of the GOP (Frist, Hagel, Santorum, Bush III, etc.) and somebody like Hillary Clinton (oddly popular with the left wing of her party, given the reality of her actual policies, and polarizing as hell where the opposition is concerned), a recycled Kerry (discredited and about as exciting as pre-chewed tapioca at this point), or a Barack Obama (not yet ready for prime time) earning the Dem nomination, you’d have something appealing to the activist 10% dominating the nomination process in each party and a humongous 80% in the middle void waiting for an actual moderate to swoop in and give it something, anything to vote for. If McCain crossed party lines for a VP and lured a moderate Dem aboard, maybe even an emerging Latino leader like a Ken Salazar or Antonio Villaraigosa (the booming Latino demographic represents about 1/7 of the population at present, and will comprise 25% of the US population by 2050)*, all of a sudden you’d have a ticket that would scare the pants off both parties. I’d just about bet the farm that McCain would win such a race, and if you could somehow convince him that he could drag the American political dynamic back in off the fringes and toward the center where most of us actually live, he could perhaps be made to understand that third-party candidacy would be be good for the country.
That might be enough.
6: Read the interview if you didn’t see the show. On the whole, McCain was smart, thoughtful, and engaging. He’s willing to change his mind when presented with new and better evidence, and he’s open to hearing new evidence. He doesn’t seem to believe that he’s omniscient or infallible, and he’s not afraid to face hard questions. If you disagree with him, it doesn’t mean you disagree with God and that you’re going to Hell. Like Kerry, he’s not afraid of complexity, but unlike Kerry, he’s capable of talking about actual issues in ways that are neither alienating to less intelligent listeners or insultingly simplistic to the smart ones.
And in that alone, I have probably explained why he has no chance in Hell of ever being president….