“The Ugly New McCain”: Richard Cohen is off the reservation

Cohen hits McCain on lying, and on Palin. Couldn’t be better.

I’ve been hoping for two new narratives to emerge about John McCain, along with “surrounded by lobbyists” and “McSame”:

1. “McCain is reckless, as revealed by his choice of Sarah Palin.”

2. “McCain is a liar.”

The only grounds for optimism was that those two narratives are true. That’s a weak reed to lean on in projecting media behavior. The cult of McCain that so many national political journalists seem to belong to gave reason for pessimism.

Now comes one of the high priests of the McCain cult, Richard Cohen, and vindicates my fondest hopes. Cohen even uses the l-word:

… the John McCain of old is unrecognizable. He has become the sort of politician he once despised.

The precise moment of McCain’s abasement came, would you believe, not at some news conference or on one of the Sunday shows but on “The View,” the daytime TV show created by Barbara Walters. Last week, one of the co-hosts, Joy Behar, took McCain to task for some of the ads his campaign has been running. One deliberately mischaracterized what Barack Obama had said about putting lipstick on a pig &#8212 an Americanism that McCain himself has used. The other asserted that Obama supported teaching sex education to kindergarteners.

“We know that those two ads are untrue,” Behar said. “They are lies.”

Freeze. Close in on McCain. This was the moment. He has largely been avoiding the press. The Straight Talk Express is now just a brand, an ad slogan like “Home Cooking” or “We Will Not Be Undersold.” Until then, it was possible for McCain to say that he had not really known about the ads, that the formulation “I approve this message” was just boilerplate. But he didn’t.

“Actually, they are not lies,” he said.

Actually, they are.

McCain has turned ugly.


His opportunistic and irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his political heir &#8212 the person in whose hands he would leave the country &#8212 is a form of personal treason, a betrayal of all he once stood for. Palin, no matter what her other attributes, is shockingly unprepared to become president. McCain knows that. He means to win, which is all right; he means to win at all costs, which is not.


Karl Marx got one thing right: what he said about history repeating itself. Once is tragedy, a second time is farce. John McCain is both.

Update I’m with Brian Beutler: I’ve always thought that McCain’s “maverick” behavior was simply one aspect of his overwhelming narcissism. He’s “above” party loyalty in the same way that he was “above” the UCMJ and the Seventh Commandment and the rule against telling dirty jokes directed at the wives and daughters of your political opponents: those are rules that apply to other people, not to Admiral McCain’s son.

If it makes Richard Cohen feel better to believe that there used to be a public-spirited, honest man named John Sidney McCain III who has now been corrupted by “the taste for offices,” I have no wish to disturb him in that thought. What worries me is something I heard from a conservative friend last weekend: he believes that McCain 2.0, the Maverick [the 1995 release] is the “real” John McCain. On this account, McCain 1.0 [1982-1994], the Reaganoid true believer, was something the man outgrew, while McCain 3.0 [2005-2008], the wingnut disciple of Rove, is just a pose. After the eleciton, the “real” John McCain will take a shower, apologize (he’s always been a good apologizer) and emerge to run the country in an honest and bi-partisan fashion.

That sounds to me like wishful thinking, but there seems to be a bunch of it out there, and of course no observation made between now and the election could refute it.

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com