It sure is. It's just too bad it's not him.
Thank goodness for Tuesday night. No, not just because "that one" won (although that was nice). But because the guy who said the now infamous phrase showed why
, at one point, he
was the anointed figure. The darling of the press. A man who attracted the best in the business to poke, prod and report back on what they'd found. And all of this happened years ago, before "that one" entered the national consciousness.
First, the bad news: the legacy of John McCain has been tarnished. Permanently. That much should be clear after the Palin-pander nomination (best summed up by Reagan's former chief-of-staff: "Even at McDonald's, you're interviewed three times before you're given a job"), the botched campaign suspension, the "our economy is on solid ground" quote, the daily invoking of the two-headed boogeymen: socialism and domestic terrorists. The list goes on.
Yes, they happened in the heat of a presidential campaign. And yes, the stain that once threatened to permanently tarnish McCain (his involvement with the Keating Five) has largely been reduced to a footnote. But that was 20 years ago. McCain is literally running out of time.
This transformation, from genuine maverick to a man who exhausts even his supporters with the now-empty term is a loss for everyone. Republican, Democrat. It doesn't matter.
It's also a loss for the people who put food on the table by trying to make sense of our public figures. Two of whom--peerless in their fields--were once similarly enchanted by McCain...
In 1996, Michael Lewis met John McCain while covering Bob Dole's campaign. The Arizona senator was stumping for his Republican colleague and angling to push through the piece of legislation that would come to define his political career (the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill).
McCain wasn't Lewis' main subject. But, at some point, he became too charismatic, and confounding, a figure to ignore. Here's Lewis, from his 1997 New York Times profile "The Subversive"
I had been following the 1996 Presidential campaign for three months when I first met McCain. He came as a bit of a shock. I was sitting in a private air terminal in Columbia, S.C., late one night waiting for Bob Dole's campaign plane to land when McCain ambled in, unescorted. This in itself was unusual: every big-time politician I had met over the prior months traveled with a posse of aides to rope him off from the world. McCain introduced himself without staring me in the eye meaningfully for 10 seconds, which was also unusual. But what was truly unnerving was that, even though he was a Dole backer, he violated the Dole campaign's three most sacred taboos: he praised Pat Buchanan, he called Ross Perot ''a nut'' and (the deepest heresy) he suggested that Dole should ignore his paid political operatives who were busy issuing anodyne statements on his behalf instead of letting the candidate speak openly for himself.
At the end of this astonishing monologue, I put down my notebook and tried to figure out what to do. A politician who lived dangerously! A politician who spoke his mind! It was all I could do to stop myself from shouting: Lie! Lie for your life! Lie or some journalist will take a quote from you and twist it around your neck! The man clearly needed to be protected.
It was then that I noticed the faint scar over McCain's right eye and asked him about it. ''Oh,'' he said, ''that was just a knife fight back in high school.''
Just a knife fight?
With only the vaguest notion of who this man was, I took to following him around -- in the spirit of the beggar who looked for the loose change under the street lamp not because the money was there but because the light was better.
Four years later, McCain's odd habit of actually telling the truth prompted another modern giant to follow him around during his first campaign for president, when the late David Foster Wallace boarded the Straight Talk express for a week and hopped off with "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub: Seven Days in the Life of the Late, Great John McCain."
For some, the Rolling Stone piece would come to define what could have been were it not for, as the legend goes, the infamous South Carolina robo-calls. Of course, Wallace ended his life earlier this year. But not before sharing his thoughts with the Wall Street Journal
on the Modern McCain. A man who, paradoxically, had grown less recognizable while becoming more visible:
The essay quite specifically concerns a couple weeks in February, 2000, and the situation of both McCain [and] national politics in those couple weeks. It is heavily context-dependent. And that context now seems a long, long, long time ago. McCain himself has obviously changed; his flipperoos and weaselings on Roe v. Wade, campaign finance, the toxicity of lobbyists, Iraq timetables, etc. are just some of what make him a less interesting, more depressing political figure now—for me, at least. It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick. Understandable, but depressing.