The Myth of the Independent

I think these two quotes go well together. First, from the Lemann essay I just mentioned:

Pluralism, in the tradition of Bentley, requires that one see one's own political passions, and those of such unimpeachable actors as winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and members of the Concord Coalition, as representing something other than the promptings of pure justice. That does not come naturally. One has to see that sincere talk of the public interest and the general good can be dangerous tools in the hands of people one disagrees with, if not in one's own ... One has to get over the habit of assuming that "interests," and, worse, lobbying and corruption, are the province only of one's political opponents, and not one's allies. Pluralism means dialling down the moral stature that we attach to universalist arguments, and dialling up the moral stature of particularism.

And then Larison, on the commentariat's disappointment that the once "fiercely independent" McCain has turned to partisanship:

Of course, the "fiercely independent" McCain spent the bulk of 1999 and the early months of 2000 (and many years after that) trying to please other people. The difference then was that Ignatius and other members of the Washington press corps were the ones he was trying to please ... During the 2000 campaign, he referred to the GOP establishment as the "evil empire," which seemed perfectly fair and satisfactory to his boosters in the press because they thought this was simply a description of reality and not a slur.  Pretty much every "maverick" episode in McCain's career has involved staking out a position in opposition to his party in the interests of attracting good press and cultivating a reputation as one of the "good" Republicans-the "noble, tolerant" McCain that Conason refers to in his piece-and he has done this by adopting a haughty, self-righteous tone as a champion of reform fighting against the forces of corruption (campaign finance) and bigotry (immigration "reform") within his own party.  By endorsing the worst prejudices about his party held by his party's political opponents ... he became renowned for his integrity, just as Republicans have been lauding Joe Lieberman for his character and courage for denouncing liberals, his own party and that party's nominee in terms that perfectly fit GOP talking points.

I think it would be an excellent discipline for pundits deeply invested in the ideal of the "independent" politician to attempt, at least once a year, a column praising a public figure for taking an independent, maverick position with which they disagree.