Idle query

Has there ever in history been a politician as vain, childish, petulant, and dim as John McCain?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

61 thoughts on “Idle query”

  1. I see your McCain and raise you a Santorum.
    From your linked article:

    In a 2009 op-ed, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) described McCain as Obama’s “ace in the hole.”

    1. I suppose it’s fair enough to say that Bill Clinton is vain, childish, and petulant, although not nearly as egregiously so as John McCain or Newt Gingrich. But dim? Bill Clinton? That’s absurd.

    1. oops! i failed to notice the adjective “dim.” which makes my nominee as absurd as bux’s. sorry.

    1. Calling her a politician is a real stretch. She’s a grifter who used a pretty face to start grifting in political circles, but by all accounts she put absolutely no effort into actually being a politician. She was also smart enough to recognize her complete inability to be a politician and get out while she could still profitably move her grift onto the wingnut welfare circuit.

      1. Good call. Hard to believe more “commentators” and “observers” couldn’t see what should be so plain.

  2. Afterthought–my general test for politicians is: would you rather spend ten minutes in an elevator with this guy or commit suicide? Not many people pass, and I get a lot of aerobics on the stairs.

  3. Hundreds of them, at every level of government. McCain is probably better than average, as horrible as that is to contemplate

  4. Aside from the “dim” part (because everything I’ve read shows that he was jaw-droppingly intelligent in a specific number of areas), Richard Milhous Nixon

    1. In restrospect, Nixon looks better and better every year. He runs out to have been the second most liberal president, with the second most liberal accomplishments of my lifetime. I cannot see Obama ever making the kind of actual liberal contributions to society that Nixon made in the environment and other areas. The fact that Tricky Dick loos so good in comparison to every Demcocratic president since LBJ is not something about which Americans and especially Democrats should be happy or proud.

        1. But I doubt if many other Republicans would have made the effort. (‘Course, as a group, they were much less extreme then.) I’m with Mitch.

        2. Yeah, because if anybody else had gone, Nixon would have called him a Communist!

      1. In retrospect Nixon had to deal with large Democratic majorities in both Houses and was a paranoid delusional lunatic with his finger on the button.

        1. Obama also had to deal with much larger Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and accomplished much less of interest to liberals. Can you imagine him proposing the or strengthening any Great Society programs? Can you see Obama fighting to create the EPA, fighting for clean air and water, fighting for mo money for states to spend on police, fire and education?

          Whatever else Nixon was, and he was many unpleasant things, he governed well to the left of President Obama and he accomplished many more liberal priorities than Obama, too. We can argue about Dick Nixon and his legacy but what will be Obama’s legacy except drone attacks, endless war, indefinite detention without trial, murder of Americas by executive order, and the headlong rush to turn what is left of this country over to big business and the bankers?

          1. You didn’t think anybody would check, did you? The Democratic majorities in the Senate under Nixon were 58-42, 54-44-2 (where the 2 are really 1 D and 1 R in essence), 56-42-2 (ditto), and the House was 243-192, 255-180, and 242-192. Obama had 57-41-2 (essentially 2 extra Ds, although Lieberman was not always reliable) and 256-178 in his first term. I would call that ‘comparable’, not ‘much larger.’

            Moreover, the Democrats dominated the legislature for a decade prior to Nixon (and hadn’t been badly outnumbered even in the one Congress they didn’t control in the 50s, and had controlled Congress for another decade prior to that). This meant that they had considerable legislative momentum, and also that many of the Democrats serving in the 60s and early 70s had taken part in the passage of the Great Society, and in some cases, the New Deal, whereas a sizable chunk of the members that made up the difference between the Republican control of the House 1995-2006 and the large Democratic majority in the House that existed in the 111th were 1st or 2nd term members, many from conservative districts. Oh, plus, Harry Reid is no Mike Mansfield. But by all means, keep pretending Obama wasn’t constrained by Congress in the first half of the term.

            And for the record, I’m totally with you on the War on Terror issues, where Obama totally disgusts me. But this whole idea that a liberal firebrand president would have gotten us a significantly different set of legislative outcomes, particularly with regard to domestic policy, is a fantasy. If you want a more liberal agenda, elect a more liberal Congress. Plain and simple.

          2. Mitch, you overlook the fact that Nixon did not have to face anything like the malignant venom of the teabaggers in Congress, much less the unified, fanatical obstructionism of the GOP in the Senate. Nor had the right wing managed to damage the faith and credit of the government as badly as it has now. The historical circumstances really are not comparable.

          3. Correction to Prognostication’s numbers: In Nixon’s era, 51 supporters could get a bill passed in the Senate.

      2. All true, but come on, the man could hold grudges like a fourteen year old cheerleader, and based on the audio archives of his WH conversations, took each of those liberal accomplishments as cassus belli to seek revenge on the pointy headed liberal intellectuals who “forced” him to do so

  5. George W. Bush! I got him to take away your freedoms, and you guys love it.

    1. I agree about Bush, who was almost certainly the worst president in American history, but I can’t help noticing that Obama hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to retore those rights, either.

  6. You’re all wrong… Rep. Sharon Angle.

    Let’s do a quick summary shall we? 1) Believes trading chickens for medical attn is a viable health care reform policy. 2) Believes that unemployment “spoils” its recipients 3. Believes that the socialist-kenyan-indonesian President needs to be voted out of office, or it not, “2nd amendment remedies.”

    1. You’re correct regarding Sharon Angle, but credit for the Chicken Health Care Barter plan should rightfully go to Sue Lowden:

      Angle’s penchant for refusing to answer reporters’ questions has provided us with a rich lode of material, such as the time she was busy ignoring a reporter’s question about Afghanistan and Iraq, while racing through an airport parking lot. Quoth the Obtuse One:
      “You know, the two wars we’re in right now are exactly what we’re in.”

      That and “I’ll answer those questions when I’m the Senator.”

      That woman is a buffoon.

  7. From personal experience with both of them:

    Strom Thurmond and Dan Quayle were worse in all four categories than McCain. Which is no defense of McCain…

  8. I’m going with Mr. Kleiman on petulant. McCain is a thoroughly petulant man, more so than any of the above worthy candidates. I’ve always thought he was a very interesting mix of seemingly contradictory characteristics, a heterogeneous amalgamate of pre-war American noblesse and sixties-esque ethics and entitlement. The best and worst of bi-generational moralities. Read: confused. And petulant.

    1. I’m going to make another plug for Bilbo: “At the next election,in 1927, Bilbo campaigned for governor again and this time was successful. Bilbo’s second term as governor was largely a failure. He did have success in keeping Mississippi from being carried by Republican Herbert Hoover in the 1928 presidental race. The Democratic Party in 1928 nominated Al Smith of New York. Simith was a Catholic and against prohibition. Normally with these two strikes against him in Mississippi he would not carry the state. But Bilbo came up with the story that Herbert Hoover, while traveling through Mississippi during the flood of 1927, made a social visit to see Mary Booze, a Black woman who was a member of the Republican National Committee. Not only did Hoover visit Mary Booze, but, according to Bilbo’s story he danced with her. The idea of socializing with a Black woman not only shocked White Mississippians racial sensibilities, but dancing was a forbidden sin for Mississipi Baptists, a major element of the population.

      While governor Bilbo undertook a campaign to fire many educators in Mississippi state institutions of higher education and replace them with his selections. Bilbo claimed that he was trying to bring to life the University of Mississippi at Oxford. He apparently replaced 54 individuals but the figure of 179 was widely cited. This led to problems of accreditation…”

      The man just about wrote the book on ‘petulant’.

      1. I ought have credited the above: Thayer Watkins, San Jose State, “Political Bosses and Machines in the US”

      2. Was there ever a time when Missippi hasn’t been a cesspool of race hatred and ignorance? I understand that it was necessary to fight thue Civil War to free the slaves but was it really necessary to let Missippi back in the Union?

        I suppose a partition whereby the states of the former confederacy went their way and the civilized parts of the country went ours is totally out of the question!

  9. At least McCain has a big upside. He seems to be going through some things these days, but let’s not forget his past virtues.

  10. IOW, at one time he was a vain, childish, petulant, and dim politician who loved to buy the media’s adulation by betraying his own party, and you loved him for that, since it wasn’t your party he was betraying.

    1. Speak for yourself, my friend. I never liked the bastard and I never trusted him. I always thought that he was just using campaign reform as a way of deflecting attention away from his role in destroying the lives (and savings) of countless Americans during the S&L scandals.

      1. No, give him some credit: He was using it as a way of censoring people he wanted shut up. Which is, after all, the whole point of the exercise.

  11. Because nothing says free speach like a pile of money spent on publishing and broadcasting what you want to say, and when you regulate “spending money” only if you don’t like the topic people are using it to publish and broadcast about, you’re a censor.

    Paper and ink cost money. Prohibiting people from spending that money to publish what they want to say is censorship, flat out. An issue where the ACLU happens to agree with conservatives far more than ‘liberals’, doubtless much to their dismay.

    1. It is not censorship because money does not, in fact, equal speech anywhere but in the feverishness of the Republican id. I am not aware of any modern democracy that does not limit the ability of the super-rich to spend money to influence elections. Indeed, most modern states have far more stringent regulations of both spending specifically and electioneering generally. None of these places (France, Germany, England, Canada to name but a few) are less free and democratic than we are and, to the contrary, I believe them to be far freer and more robust democracies than the USA is at the present time.

      On the other hand, I am aware of no society in which wealth and power were allowed to concentrate so heavily with it ending at some point in violent and bloody revolution. And that, I believe, is the path that we are on now. If the elites do not turn away from this path (as they did once before at the end of the First Gilded Age)then I fear that the middle-classes and the merely rich will find themselves with no alternative but to soak the streets with the blood of bankers, CEO’s, and hedge fund managers. Since there is no instance of a revolutionary society becoming a liberal state (with Russia itself being a prime example), I am naturally opposed to violent revolutionary change but it does seem to me that the only thing that stopped violent revolutions here and in Europe during the First Gilded Age was that the elites saw the Progressive Era in this country and the rise of the liberal state in Europe as preferable to taking their chances on ending up like the Romanov family. The clock is ticking.

      1. “It is not censorship because money does not, in fact, equal speech anywhere but in the feverishness of the Republican id”

        Any more than paper and ink equal a newspaper. But try publishing one without paper and ink.

        Look, if the application of the law is dependent on what you’re trying to say, the notion that it’s not censorship is beyond absurd. Defend censorship if you like, but have the honesty to admit what you’re about.

        Because not admitting it won’t keep the rest of us from noticing.

        1. just as the rich and poor alike are forbidden to spend the night on a park bench, so too the rich and poor alike are allowed to spend as much as they like on political advertising.

          your prescription to anyone attempting to deal with the corrupting influence of unlimited and unaccountable money spent on political advertising seems basically to give up and suck hard.

          look, if you like the idea of oligarchs running things then just come out and say so. defend oligarchs if you like, but have the honesty to admit what you’re about.

          because not admitting it won’t keep the rest of us from noticing.

          1. McCain/Feingold was aimed at ME, and I’m no oligarch. One of key objectives of the law was to shut up groups like the NRA, of which I’m a member. It was never about the wealthy, only about keeping those of modest means from banding together to be heard. It was no accident that the law didn’t distinguish between for profit corporations, and interest groups. Corporations are easy to buy off or threaten, the latter were the real target.

            Ask the ACLU, if you don’t believe me.

          2. i am a member of both the nra and the aclu. they don’t speak for me on every issue but they’ll do until something better comes along.

            i don’t have millions to funnel into virtually unaccountable super pacs or into anonymous special organizations. neither, i strongly suspect, do you.

            if you seriously believe that corporations are easy to buy off or threaten and that unlimited money from unaccountable sources are good for our elections and politics then i would nominate you for mr. kleiman’s original question if you were a politician.

  12. I agree. McCain does appear to be a Bozo.

    But before ’08, the Media pedestalized him as a throwback to good ole liberal-republicans, like Nixon Ike…who in retrospect looks better than Kennedy. But then placed alongside Obama he gets exposed.

    So the million-dollar questions is; Was he…

    1. A complete bozo the whole time


    2. Did Obama transmogrify him like he did to Geraldine Ferraro…who went from Feminist Icon to the 2nd coming of George Wallace in two seconds flat.

    If 1, then…

    Why was he constantly paraded out in front of conservatives like the honor student is to the delinquents? Did the Liberal Media decline to investigate his bozoness because he was a useful idiot?

    If 2, then…

    Clearly Obama is lock in ’12. I mean, if his special powers can transform the Clintons from the most cunning Dems since LBJ to a couple of Bozos who can’t figure out how to run in a caucus…then I don’t see Mitt faring any better .

    Come to think of it, even Trump was never this stooopid. Osama too. I’m leaning 2.

  13. As Quincy Adams opined on this site in 2008, McCain’s politics are wrapped up in a vainglorious focus on his own honor. This combined with his intellectual shallowness makes it hard to bring him along for any sustained public policy initiative– even Lindsey Graham has discovered this. However it is still possible that concerted flattery would have brought some small dividends to the Obama administration. Flattery and other methods of close-in political cajolery don’t seem to be strong suit of Obama or his team.

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