I often decry the cynicism of the press corps -- heck, I did it in my last post -- but allow me to make the case for some more cynicism in one particular case. Today, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, long a big fan of Sen. John McCain, washes his hands of the former presidential candidate, while still managing to fit in his column nearly all the tropes that made coverage of McCain so maddening for so many years. There's the gratuitous mention of McCain's POW past, lest we forget for a moment that what McCain endured 40 years ago makes him more honorable than the rest of us. There's the repetition of descriptions like "gutsy" and "independent," in explaining how McCain has always been such a lovable rogue. There's the assumption throughout that when McCain was acting in ways the author likes, that was the "true" McCain, and when he was being an opportunistic, pandering, flip-flopping politician -- in other words, acting the way journalists believe most politicians act -- that was a false McCain, a mask he temporarily adopted when backed into a political corner.
And finally -- because we know the "true" McCain is so full of virtue -- there's the conclusion that, yes, he's being a typical politician now, but it's just tearing him up inside:
Toadying to the right wing of his party has left McCain angry, frustrated and—to his old admirers—deeply disappointing. But as disappointed as some of us may be with the latest John McCain, I suspect he is even more disappointed with himself.
If I had a nickel for every time a journalist wrote some version of that over the last decade ... well, I might not be rich, but I'd have a lot of nickels. Try to remember the last time somebody discussed a Mitt Romney flip-flop that way. Yet the idea that John McCain has always been a "maverick" (a proposition that doesn't survive examination) persists, and McCain continues to garner copious press attention, despite having virtually no impact on the course of our national debate.
What I'd like to see is a column by one of McCain's admirers like Weisberg that, instead of saying the noble McCain has fallen, entertains the idea that maybe McCain was never so noble in the first place. Any takers?
-- Paul Waldman
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