COURAGEOUS? NOT QUITE.

Following up on Tim's post below, there are a couple of important things to note about McCain's allegedly courageous acts of apostasy. First of all, why exactly is it that going against your party is "courageous"? It's courageous if your goal is to rise within your party to become, say, Senate Minority Leader. But that was never McCain's goal. If your goal is to become president, as McCain's has always been, then there is a relatively minor cost to bucking your party - you might have some trouble picking up future endorsements, for instance. But there are much more substantial benefits to be gained.

McCain certainly knows that when he votes with Democrats, he will be almost guaranteed to earn the admiration of the press, which worships "rebels." He also knows that unlike other members of the Senate who actually buck their party much more often than he does (Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, etc.), when he crosses the aisle he will become the starring player in the story the press will write. Instead of a conflict between Democrats and Republicans, it becomes a conflict between Republicans and the courageous rebel John McCain, complete with interviews on the Sunday shows.

Finally, if you look at the instances in which McCain has bucked his party, in nearly every case it has been when his party was on the wrong side of public opinion. So he's doing the popular thing, winning the praise of his primary constituency (the press), ensuring a wave of positive media coverage, and reinforcing his "maverick" brand. Yeah, that sure takes guts.

-- Paul Waldman

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