A McCain Festschrift, Featuring Sarah Palin

As the chances for an up-or-down Senate vote on the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy dwindle, here is a collection of reader messages about John McCain, who became the most visible face of Republican opposition to DADT's repeal. I had mentioned earlier the shift from the seemingly big-tent, coalition-building, non-party-line McCain I remembered from the 1980s to today's bitter partisan, and speculated on possible reasons. Below and after the jump is a giant compendium of reader attempts to answer the question of why John McCain changed -- or to challenge the idea that he has changed at all.

To start off, a naval veteran, on why the Palin choice made the difference:

>>I was fascinated by your blog re Senator McCain. As a retired Navy officer, I've always respected, and sometimes idolized, the Senator - with the exception of the perturbations I've seen in his public demeanor and personal life.

Nonetheless, I was willing to cast my vote for him in 2008 (as many times as I could, here in Texas). I thought he would be the leader who had the cred to right the path that went so terribly wrong during the Bush administration.

Then he made a scandalously irresponsible choice for running mate, a fact that you chose not to mention. Or he was simply deranged. That's a mystery to me. But it has forever changed my impression of his ability to judge and provide leadership. And I believe it cost him the election.<<

Another disappointed Navy voice:

>>I read your post on John McCain and could not help but wonder why he's changed.

When I was a Midshipman at USNA (1994 to 1998), McCain was THE American hero of all living graduates, at that time, save Admiral Stockdale and Admiral Lawrence. And while both the Admirals have since passed, they have been enshrined on the Yard with their very own statues facing each other. As for Senator McCain, his legacy has not yet been determined by those who decide how to memorialize heros around the Yard.

But my larger point about your post is related to John McCain as a product of his time(s). He's lived many different phases of his life in many different ways. But I think the ways in which he has decided to live his present life very much mirrors the 50 year cycle model of America suggested in George Friedman's book The Next 100 Years.

I think, as Friedman suggests, we are in the middle of the presnt 50 year cycle and the building tensions that lead up to the inevitible re-set are taking form. John McCain is precipitating the ensuing tumult.<<

McCain as Cedro Willy:

>>I voted for McCain in the 2000 Ohio primary to try to stop what I believed was a frightening prospect: George W. Bush. I was right in my motive and also right in my choice at the time because I perceived McCain to be a person who would choose the right thing over the popular thing. He's sunk to such horrible lows in recent years that I shudder when I think about that vote of mine. My pop psychology view is that he wants love and is looking for love in all the wrong places. I think you are old enough to remember The Congress of Wonders. They had a character named Cedro Willy--a hapless orphan who would periodically shout: "LOVE MEEEEEE!" John McCain is Cedro Willy all over again.<< [I had in fact never heard of 1960s group Congress of Wonders, but the Cedro Willy clip, which is the #3 item here, is very weird, in the ways described.]

It's just age:

>>I hate to over simplify, but I think McCain is just plain, old, bitter. People who have gone through a lot less than he did have ended up in psychiatric units or homeless, and /or permanently "broken". In addition, his later years were spent attempting to cope and comprehend what Bush was doing to him during the election - presto...

He's simply mean and bitter these days - that seems to appeal to a large part of our country. Somehow it now equates to patriotism.<<

It's about being entitled:

>>It's always risky trying to do "armchair psychological analysis" (particularly when one is not a psychologist), but it seems to me that much of McCain's political posture in the last 2 years is due to his evident bitterness over his loss in the 2008 Presidential election campaign.

From the beginning of that campaign through its end, McCain appeared to think that he was entitled to the Presidency, by reason of his long service to the country, his sacrifice as a prisoner of war and the fact that his opponent did not have near his level of experience and had not paid his dues. McCain never understood that the Presidency isn't supposed to be a reward.

His demeanor and public comments since the election all suggest the same thing-that he bitterly resents that he lost to a fellow he thinks is inferior to him. His comment the other day in which he referred to the DADT repeal as tied to a campaign promise by an inexperienced candidate is incredibly revealing of McCain's perception. Never mind that the repeal of DADT has been a significant Democratic policy point for years, that there has been enormous discussion of this issue on the Democratic Party's side for a long time; in McCain's mind, this is ultimately only about experience vs. inexperience.

Although I was never a McCain fan, there can be no doubt that the man has destroyed whatever reputation he ever had in politics. Unfortunately, what he is likely to be best remembered as is the worst sore loser in recent American Presidential election history.<<

After the jump, more about the shock of losing to "lesser" foes, the complex effects of his great ordeal, and other possible factors.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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