[Opinion] – A Maverick’s Mettle

To Americans, there are few characters who better capture the spirit of the âÄúmaverickâÄù than the sneering, swaggering Johnny Strabler played by Marlon Brando in âÄúThe Wild One.âÄù When asked what heâÄôs rebelling against, Johnny replies with the devastatingly cool comeback, âÄúwhaddaya got?âÄù BrandoâÄôs portrayal of Strabler hit the big screen two years before James Dean strutted out as the âÄúRebel Without a Cause,âÄù and so may be fairly described as the original maverick. Now, America has a new original maverick, albeit self-appointed and in smirking collaboration with the comically unpopular establishment. We are speaking, of course, about John McCain. McCain is very comfortable wearing the maverick mantle, and the media seems comfortable with letting him wear it. In the past month, there have been more than 600 print news pieces in which McCain has been associated with the term âÄúmaverick,âÄù and its laborious overuse has a decidedly knee-jerk quality to it. Yet the warm embrace McCain received as he strode to the lectern to accept the GOP nomination suggests that heâÄôs moved far enough to the right to win the approval of party hard-liners âÄî a group not known for tolerating plurality. While becoming a garden-variety party conformist, McCain persists in claiming the maverick persona. Considering this, necessity and curiosity compels the question: Johnny, what are you rebelling against? Historically, McCain has supported a variety of legislative proposals that have, for one reason or another, run afoul of conservative propriety. Most notably, he championed (or rather, co-championed) campaign finance reform, proposed a crackdown on the tobacco industry, sought comprehensive immigration reform and, in what will remain a permanent political footnote, took ultimate fighting to the mat. (As an aside, only one of these issues ever received any measure of success. In case youâÄôre wondering which one, let me give you a hint: Mixed martial arts wonâÄôt be broadcast from Madison Square Garden anytime soon). But that was then, this is now. Gone are the days of noisy splits of the GOP. Instead, theyâÄôve been replaced with a noisome hustle to cozen up to every right wing PAC and pol, like the NRA or John âÄúthe Holocaust was the fulfillment of God’s willâÄù Hagee. Beyond its ironic utility, the continued application of the maverick namesake to McCain is little more than a branding effort designed to sell the bogus idea that heâÄôs got an irrepressible centrist streak. If 45,000 screaming delegates and a campaign packed with neoconservatives were not enough evidence to the contrary, the notable absence of any major departure from conservative orthodoxy in this electionâÄôs biggest issues ought to put that myth to rest. Most obviously, there is his hardheaded and well-publicized support of extending President BushâÄôs tax cuts and continuing the current Iraq policy (although he has assured voters that these hitherto abysmal policies will somehow transform into successes in his first term in office). He also supports the appointment of judges like Antonin Scalia, who took exception to the requirement that we âÄúprove in a civilian court that evidence supports the confinement of each and every prisoner.âÄù On health care, an irrational fear of government aid has led him to propose a health care strategy that would raise costs and increase the number of uninsured Americans by about 40 percent. And of course, he’s on board with the current Republican drilling fetish. In fairness, thereâÄôs nothing wrong with this. McCain is running as a Republican. If Republicans wanted to become a moderate party, they would seek out true centrists like Olympia Snowe or Lincoln Chafee (neither of whom has been described as maverick, in spite of voting records more defiant than McCainâÄôs). Instead, they have chosen McCain, a candidate who was bought as a right-winger and is now sold as a moderate. Whether McCain is or ever was a maverick is neither certain nor relevant, but it must be hard to be a rebel when youâÄôve got no one in particular to rebel against. Please send comments to [email protected]