What differentiated McCain from your cookie-cutter RINO squish was the sheer brio of his viciousness. I mean that as a genuine compliment: without it, he’d have been Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe. In fact, he was pretty much reduced to that by the generally bland weekend obits: In their determination to show respect to a war hero who’d battled cruel illness, they generally dropped all mention of the stuff that made him fun and human. On air he bantered with a showbiz professionalism: When he and I appeared together on “The Dennis Miller Show”, he said he had a real respect for me because that ridiculous accent was a lot harder to keep up for three hours than you’d think. Off-air it was more cutting, snide, vindictive, and extraordinarily petty. As I wrote during the 2000 campaign:
It turns out that, in an ideologically-riven Congress, John McCain is a truly bipartisan figure: both sides loathe him. There’s a persistent rumour that the only reason his fellow Republican senator, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, decided to get into the race for president last summer is that he can’t stand McCain. Senator McCain concedes that he called another Republican, Iowa’s Charles Grassley, a ‘f**kin’ jerk’, but says that he and Chuck are now ‘friends’ (‘friends’ in the context of the US Senate means they have the warm, close, personal relationship of, say, Suha Arafat and the Israeli government). When he was a humble Congressman, the Atlantic Monthly reported McCain’s altercation in the aisle of the House with Democrat Marty Russo: ‘Seven-letter profanities escalated to 12- letter ones and then to pushes and shoves.’ It takes a while to decipher this code but, reconstructing the incident, ‘seven-letter’ is a reference to ‘a**hole’ and ’12-letter’ to ‘motherf**ker’. One mayor back in his home state says that he’s not happy with the idea of McCain having his finger on the nuclear button.
So on Sunday the senator released 1,500 pages of medical records proving conclusively that he is not clinically insane – though for my own part I’d like to see what’s in the handful of pages that were held back ‘for personal reasons’. But, for the moment, we must accept the word of his doctors that John McCain is not, to use the medical term, stark staring nuts.
Nonetheless, in private many senators agree with that Arizona mayor… So, throughout New Hampshire, at one campaign stop after another, someone stands up and asks about the rumours that he’s explosive and out of control. ‘Boy,’ says McCain with mock solemnity, ‘that really makes me mad.’ The crowd laughs. ‘I was just exploding about that earlier this morning.’ More laughs. ‘Look, my friends, I get angry sometimes. I get angry when I see Congress wasting billions on weapons systems even the Pentagon doesn’t want. I get angry when I see 12,000 of our brave fighting men and women living on food stamps. I get angry when I see the lobbyists and special interests in Washington corrupting our democracy. I get angry when I see gross injustices perpetrated…. ‘ Etc.
Actually, there’s no evidence that John McCain has ever got angry over any ‘gross injustice’ or matter of public policy. Every incident recounted by Senate colleagues revolves around some piffling perceived slight; mention weapons systems and McCain is perfectly calm, but use the last piece of Senate toilet paper and he calls you a motherf**ker.
The real John McCain was far more interesting than the vapid obituarists would have.
To repeat: McCain was the pluperfect example of absolutely everything wrong with our government and the people in charge of it—the living, breathing representation of the wrong turn we’ve taken, where it’s left us, and how extremely arduous a journey it will be getting back, assuming we ever do. We’re well rid of him.