Maverick

You really haven't heard so much about John McCain the “Maverick” lately it seems.  I think that Ezra Klein may be right and Tina Fey's parodies of Sarah Palin may well have turned it into a complete joke.  My favorite: “gonna get mavericky” with it. 

For that matter, there's the fact that McCain really is not quite the maverick he, nor especially Palin, claims.  Rolling Stone ran a big story assessing his maverick record.  (The story actually bugged me a bit, a thought it was really unfair about his time as a POW, actually.  It seemed to suggest he was somehow weak for giving information under torture.  I don't think anybody has the right to make that claim).  Nonetheless, the article makes a compelling case for its primary theme: McCain has always been about his own ambition and putting himself first.  Not a particularly awful revelation for such a successful politician, but one that does not exactly square with the McCain image.

Actually, though, Paul Waldman's February 2008 deconstruction of McCain's claim to Maverickness is much more compelling:

But is John McCain really a maverick? A look beyond the media's
repetition of the word at McCain's actual record suggests that the
answer is no. In fact, McCain is a reliable conservative, and if not a
perfectly loyal Republican, at least a reasonably loyal one.

According to Congressional Quarterly's party unity scores, which
track how often members of Congress side with their party on key votes,
over the course of his career McCain has voted with his party 84
percent of the time?not the highest score in the Senate but hardly
evidence of a great deal of independence. Similarly, the American
Conservative Union gives McCain a lifetime rating of 82.3, making him a
solid friend of the right's. And according to the widely respected Poole-Rosenthal rankings, McCain was the eighth-most conservative senator in the 110th Senate…

Now, here's the key point, and I think it fits quite well with the Rolling Stone case:

There is one other key factor to understand in the making of the
“maverick” myth. Look at the times when McCain has differed with his
Republican colleagues, and what you find is that in almost every case,
the position held by most in the GOP was broadly unpopular with the
public. Campaign finance reform, regulation of tobacco, even the Bush
tax cuts (to which the public was indifferent and which McCain could
hardly support, having criticized them as Bush's opponent in the 2000
presidential race)?in every case, the position McCain took put him on
the right side of public opinion. So what the press calls “maverick”
stands could just as easily be interpreted as highly political efforts
to maintain McCain's strong popularity with the general public. For
someone whose goal was to gain sufficient affection among his
colleagues to rise to become his party's leader in the Senate, these
would be unwise moves. But McCain never demonstrated any interest in a
position in the Senate leadership?his sights were set higher.

So, enough of this maverick business.

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