In an interview with Newsweek, John McCain has denied he ever claimed to be a "maverick," which is pretty remarkable, since this was the idea on which his entire career was constructed. "'Maverick' is a mantle McCain no longer claims; in fact, he now denies he ever was one. 'I never considered myself a maverick,' he told me. 'I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities.'" Right.
But here's my question: At this point, why would any journalist consider the idea that McCain was ever a "maverick" anything but a joke? Newsweek certainly doesn't -- they subtitled the article this way: "A maverick fights for his political life -- and his soul." You can also check out the photo gallery, titled "A Maverick's Path."
I'm proud to say that I was screaming to all who would listen that McCain wasn't a maverick, long before it was cool. For instance, I wrote a column over two years ago titled "The Maverick Myth," in which I discussed why the nickname was bogus. There were many reasons, but the key point now is this: On those extremely rare occasions in which McCain took a "maverick" stance, it just happened to be on an issue where the GOP's position was unpopular with the public. In other words, he was only a maverick when it was politically advantageous. This has been the hallmark of his career. Consider immigration: He was all mavericky on it, advocating comprehensive reform, until he started running in the 2008 GOP presidential primary. In that context, immigration reform was extremely unpopular, so McCain announced that he wouldn't vote for his own immigration bill, and he wanted to crack down on them illegals, just like all his opponents.
And now that McCain is facing a conservative primary opponent, of course he's moving to the right. That's completely in character. But the attention to "his soul" shows that little in the coverage of McCain has changed. When Mitt Romney shifts positions, reporters assume that he's just a cynical politician, doing what cynical politicians do. When McCain shifts positions, they lament how it must be tearing him up inside. Because deep down, he's really a maverick.
-- Paul Waldman