Top Gun 2: Maverick Reloaded

When a reporter sits down with Mitt Romney four years from now to see how the former presidential candidate remembers the biggest loss of his political career, which Mitt will he be? It's something that comes to mind after reading The New Republic's interview with Senator John McCain, a wide-ranging conversation that proves the much-loved maverick of campaigns past wasn't a figment of our imagination, but merely on sabbatical. In fact, post-2008 McCain coverage exists in a constant state of wonder at the senator's undulating maverickosity, a defining quality bestowed upon the politician by his "ex-girlfriend, the Washington press corps."

McCain and Romney have been among the most exasperatingly chameleon campaigners of recent memory. The prehistory of their flirtation with the presidency is dominated by practical governance that left them well-liked by their respective constituencies. Once they catapulted to bigger stages, they each had their charms: McCain his growly charisma, Romney his aw-shucks family man shtick. The rigors of presidential campaigning, however—and a need to impress the conservatives who can make or break ambitions in early winter primaries—left the two nursing bruised personas and cleaning out their political fridges by November.

This latest interview has McCain in the position we political binge-watchers are most comfortable having him occupy: toeing no party line and issuing opinions point-blank. He thinks Hillary Clinton is a rock star, Obama's inspiring, and Rand Paul is a "wacko bird." Sure, he'd like to be president. Sure, the Supreme Court dismantled his greatest legislative achievement. (But as his interviewer points out, he was in Wedding Crashers.) 

Chances are Romney will have a recovery as graceful as his forebear's if we let it steep, as eulogies delivered for legacies still raw are hardly ever definitive (exhibit A: the 2013 mayoral election in New York City). We always think it's the sad end of the road for failed presidential candidates, but Al Gore post-beard, John Kerry post-water sports, and John McCain post-grump beg to differ. 

SO THEY SAY

"Fucking slutbag. Nice fucking glamour shot on the cover of the Daily News. Man, see if you ever get a job in this town again."

Barbara Morgan, communications director for the Anthony Weiner mayoral campaign, describing intern Olivia Nuzzi to reporter Hunter Walker (she thought she was off-the-record. Oops.)

DAILY MEME: XKEYSCORE + PRISM = EEK!

  • Another day, another leak about the National Security Administration that will probably freak you out (or maybe not).
  • Behold XKeyscore, a top-secret NSA program that lets government analysts and contractors sift through metadata, browsing history, e-mails, social-media activity, and much, much more. 
  • Here are the leaked slideshows that show the program's specs.
  • Needless to say, the Obama administration's critics have a lot more questions on the surveillance front ... which won't be answered immediately, since a hearing today on the subject has been postponed after the White House scheduled a last-minute meeting with House Democrats at the same time.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee did hold a hearing today, and many of the senators are ready to enact some changes.
  • Senator Al Franken said, "Ad hoc transparency doesn’t engender trust."
  • Senator Patrick Leahy did not buy the agency's claim that 54 attacks have been stopped by the NSA's newly revealed surveillance programs.
  • Even Senator Diane Feinstein, who has often been a vocal supporter of the NSA's programs, says there are obvious ways to improve our current system, and Republican Senator Chuck Grassely was skeptical about the relevance of phone data to the NSA's operations.
  • Meanwhile, the fate of the two whistleblowers responsible for the biggest information leaks of the Obama presidency remains very much up in the air—as well as their legacies, currently straddling the space between Benedict Arnold and Nathan Hale, as Bill Keller puts it. 
  • We'd be remiss to note that, whatever you may think of him, without Edward Snowden there's no way we'd be discussing NSA reforms.
  • And the government still has a lot of catching up to do in being transparent about all this before another leak drops, which could be soon.

WHAT WE'RE WRITING

  • A new study has discovered that a fall in white student achievement generally leads to “teacher quality” bills. Kay Steiger writes that the same is not true when it comes to drops in black student achievement.
  • Pennsylvania law does not allow same-sex couples to marry, but Montgomery County has decided to provide marriage licenses to them anyway. Christopher Moraff reports on whether this will help or hurt the cause.

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • Ben Terris profiles Patrick Murphy, the most boring man—by design—in Congress.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry is setting a goal of nine months for a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Truce? Rand Paul is offering to defuse the spat between him and Chris Christie, which memorably included Paul calling the New Jersey governor "the king of bacon."
  • The U.S. economy grew by 1.7 percent in the last quarter, with consumer spending rising 1.8 percent.
  • Pro-immigration reform groups will forego television ads during the August recess and instead focus on grassroots organizing.
  • No access to abortion? Have a cookie. When activists were protesting North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory's signing of an abortion restriction bill, he stopped by to give them some cookies—which were soon returned.

POLL OF THE DAY 

Nearly 75 percent of people who smoke in America want to quit, according to a new poll released by Gallup. Even more, 85 percent, said they have tried to quit at some point, and 45 percent said they had tried at least three times. That said, there has been virtually no change in smokers’ desire to quit since Gallup first asked the question, in 1977.

Prospect interns Colin Daileda and Eric Garcia provided many useful links for today's Ringside Seat.

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