Five Easy McCain Pieces

Political commentary and more.
Feb. 5 2000 2:35 AM

Five Easy McCain Pieces

Mickey's Assignment Desk: Think there's nothing left to be said about John McCain? Think again! Here are five (5) McCain angles that haven't been beaten to death yet:

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1. The Marshal Petain/Jimmy Carter angle: McCain's great virtue is his person--his character and integrity. His policies are much less clear, maybe even to him. In the wake of a national scandal, he's offering to make a gift of himself to the nation, much as Marshal Petain made a "gift of my person" to France when he agreed to head the Vichy government during World War II. The Petain analogy was last invoked, by Charles Peters and James Fallows, to describe the candidacy of Jimmy Carter in 1976. Then, the nation was disgusted with Watergate, as it's now disgusted with Flytrap; like McCain, Carter offered himself as a clean, moral figure. Like McCain, he attacked the special interests and iron triangles. Like McCain, he seemed an appealing combination of liberal and conservative impulses. He even did an "I'll never lie to you" riff. And look what happened! The point of the Petain analogy was to dramatize that it's not enough to be a good man to be president. You also have to be a skilled politician. Is McCain? Or is he Carter II?

2. The Bobby Kennedy angle: Like RFK, McCain seems to be a politician in the process of evolving, from right to left, before our eyes in the middle of a heady populist crusade of a campaign. Take it away, Jeff Greenfield ...

3. The "Strange New Respect" angle: Also like RFK, McCain's evolution is being egged on by a press corps that, if not monolithically liberal, is a lot more liberal than McCain was before his evolution began. When McCain moves to the left hinting at a pro-choice position, decrying the gap between rich and poor--he gets showered with adoring notices. Conservatives have a phrase for the tendency of the press to praise right-wing politicians who move left--they are suddenly accorded, in Tom Bethell's coinage, "strange new respect." Slate's Jacob Weisberg has noted the SNR being paid to McCain, as well as McCain's unattractive impulse to please the media even when it leads him into embarrassing reversals. Given the senator's substantive fuzziness, the press's influence should be of some concern. Will McCain let the media write an agenda for him that's  too left of center? Being guided by reporters might be worse than being guided by the polls.

4. The predictable kausfiles angle: What are McCain's views on welfare reform, anyway? You won't find much guidance on his Web site, or on NEXIS. And what he says in a position paper might not be what he really thinks.

5. The Reform Party angle: If McCain is quickly denied the Republican nomination, will he seek the nomination of the Reform Party? In many ways, he's the perfect Reform candidate. He champions campaign-finance reform and budget-cutting. He'd save the party from possible loss of federal matching funds, and from Pat Buchanan. And he might just win. The possibility of a McCain Reform candidacy was floated in a front-page squib in Friday's Wall Street Journal. Of course, it almost certainly won't happen--McCain is too much of a Republican. But that doesn't mean the idea can't be milked for a few more weeks, at least until McCain is forced to shoot it down. ... Even after that, there are intriguing possibilities. Will Perot's ego be able to stand McCain's stealing the reformist adulation Perot undoubtedly feels is rightly his? The more successful McCain is, the more likely Perot is to accept a Reform Party "draft." Might McCain's ego be so swollen, by the end of his crusade, that he will be unable to turn down such a draft himself?

Today's Toobin Item--Part IV of the Continuing Series, "Jeffrey Toobin, Hypocrite": In our last episode, you'll recall, New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin's book A Vast Conspiracy had criticized Michael Isikoff's coverage of Flytrap as motivated by "greed"--in particular, by the opportunity to "profit from" the scandal in the form of a book deal. But kausfiles has obtained a letter to Isikoff from an editor at Random House, Toobin's publisher, showing pretty clearly that when Isikoff did meet with the publishing house to talk about a possible book (after the scandal broke in early '98), it turned out that he'd been beaten to the punch by ...Jeffrey Toobin! Or does Toobin have another candidate for the "Random House favorite son" referred to in the following passage from the Random editor's Feb. 1998 letter?:

Dear Mike:

I'm sure Gail told you that my dreams of having my first Random House bestseller with your book were dashed from above because a Random House favorite son plans to write a book that will inevitably be seen as competition for the house's resources, and for book buyers. I understand and agree with the decision--you'll be better served by a publishing house that can train all of its energies on your book--but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. ...

All best,

Scott Moyers

Senior Editor

Note also that Isikoff (whose book, Uncovering Clinton, was eventually published by Crown) was clearly viewed by Toobin's publisher as "competititon." ... Thank God Toobin was free from any insidious commercial pressures when he assessed Isikoff's work!

P.S.: What's in the part of the above letter I've left out (and replaced by ellipses)? Anything significant? No. Just general sucking-up to Isikoff by Moyers, too embarrassing to print here.

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