I dunno about you, but my initial instinctive sense of John McCain, even when he was giving George W. Bush heartburn on the campaign trail back in 2000, was that he really was a world-class phony. That whole "maverick" schtick was so transparently a cover for opportunism that he always had me counting my spoons, if you know what I mean.
This past week, he put his utter phoniness -- and the really vicious streak that it has always hid -- out there for the whole world to see, leading the Republican charge against Don't Ask Don't Tell in a truly ugly fashion. But every bit as phony, and significant, was his vocal opposition to the DREAM Act -- a bill he had once vocally championed in the Senate and on the campaign trail. Because of McCain, only a tiny handful of Republicans were willing to vote for what had once been a consummately Republican immigration bill.
He caught everyone's attention with his utter nuttiness on DADT repeal:
If John McCain gets any more hostile toward his Senate colleagues, they might consider having him go through the metal detector before he enters the Capitol.
Saturday's debate on the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was only half an hour old when the Arizona Republican burst onto the floor from the cloakroom, hiked up his pants and stalked over to his friend Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Ignoring Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had the floor, McCain hectored the men noisily for a few moments, waving his arms for emphasis.
When McCain finally stormed off, Durbin shook his head in exasperation and Lieberman smiled. A minute later, McCain returned -- he had apparently remembered another element of his grievance -- and resumed his harangue.
When we look back at the apartheid-loving segregationists of the 1950s and 1960s, most decent people see racists and misguided monsters. Yesterday, it seemed as if McCain decided, perhaps deliberately, that he wanted to be that guy for the 21st century. Why? I obviously can't read the conservative senator's mind, but it seemed to have something to with (a) his intense disgust for President Obama and anything he wants; and (b) his revulsion towards gay people.
... This isn't another "Whatever happened to the old McCain?" piece, which we've all seen too many times in recent years. Rather, this is to suggest McCain has done more than make the transition from "maverick" to petulant right-winger. Yesterday, the man waving his arms on the Senate floor was a misanthropic hack who's abandoned basic decency, and trashed any hopes he might have had about a respectable legacy.
Indeed, McCain has now secured a kind of legacy for himself.
Today, we look back on figures like "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman and Theodore Bilbo and John Rankin and Strom Thurmond and James Eastland -- all ardent defenders of segregation and the sanctity of white womanhood -- as tragic monsters, bigoted misanthropes who fell on the wrong side of history defending a system of xenophobic hatred and human evil.
Fifty years from now, Americans will look back on McCain as that kind of politician too -- not just for his vile efforts to defend DADT, but for his utter betrayal of his onetime supporters among the Latino community by coming out against the DREAM Act.
As you can see from the video atop this post, even on the campaign trail, McCain flip-flopped all over the place, telling some right-wing bloggers in 2007 that he now opposed the DREAM -- even though he had cosponsored versions of it in 2003, 2005, and 2007. In 2008, before a crowd of Latinos, he said he supported the act. Later, on the campaign trail, he had an Arizona backyard barbecue with some DREAM Act proponents, and as you can see he was very warm about helping them. He expressed similar sentiments on the campaign trail in Florida in 2008, when he met with several DREAM Act students, including Gaby Pacheco.
Yet when he encountered Pacheco a few months ago, threatened to have her arrested:
A few days before the Senate left for the Thanksgiving break, Pacheco met the new McCain when she tried to lobby him on the DREAM Act, the bill he'd once championed.
When Pacheco approached McCain, she said, he dismissed her and threatened to call the Capitol Police on her if she continued to follow him.
As he entered an elevator, the DREAM Act supporters told the senator that all they want is to serve their country.
"Go serve them then," McCain told them, according to Pacheco.
Brooke Buchanan, spokeswoman for McCain, said the protesters approached the senator, but said McCain did not say he would call the Capitol Police. She said she was not aware of him telling the protesters to "go serve them then."
Like I said: A world-class phony.