McCain: Hedging Bets on His Legacy
Sen. McCain has taken his lumps lately, for allowing his campaign to sink into a vile pattern of half-baked smears. In that context, I read with particular interest this Politico article, which suggests that “the Rev. Wright factor” is a line McCain won’t cross. (Not surprisingly, the same article suggests McCain’s running mate is not only ready to cross that line but to obliterate it.)
Perhaps we are finally seeing vestiges of the former, principled McCain, the one with a healthy dose of integrity and a strong, independent streak, which so many of us once found so compelling. We’ve learned that McCain will bend, but maybe — after all — he won’t break.
Maybe because he recognizes — as an anonymous source notes at the end of the article — that “There is a future beyond this election.” In other words, McCain is concerned about how his legacy might be written in the post-Nov. 4 future, if he attempts to win at all costs. But I suspect there’s more to it than that.
While McCain was not the brightest bulb in the Naval Academy’s lamp, he is surely street-smart enough to remember recent history, when one of the most feared and successful political machines in history — the Clintons — crossed the Rev. Wright line and still could not stop the Obama juggernaut. And if the Clintons couldn’t prevail after crossing that line, on what basis would anyone bet that McCain’s own bumbling political machine can?
Also, McCain might realize that the Clinton machine’s play failed because voters aren’t buying the “in pews equals same views” meme. Nothing in Obama’s very public life and career suggests he accepts Rev. Wright’s meaner instincts, and people understand that. They not only understand it, they believe it … because they remember that they too have hung around half-good/half-cracked personalities/mentors and walked away without being half-cracked themselves.
Thus it seems McCain’s decision might, if anything, be doubly if not triply pragmatic: His hand is restrained by concerns about his legacy should he go “all in” — and he fears that legacy would be written even less kindly if he played a card that is at once vile and a non-starter. Translation: It’s bad enough to go all in. It’s worse to go all in, consequences be damned, and still lose.
Whatever the reasons — noble or self-centered or a little of both — I applaud McCain’s decision and if, by some strange circumstance I were invited to write his legacy, I’d use this last-stand thread of restraint to open the book.