Last night I mentioned that in his mid-70s -- a stage of life in which many public figures seem driven to moderate their sharp edges, to broaden their appeal, to reflect on their standing in history -- John McCain has been moving the other way, toward a narrower, harsher, and more irritable tone. Reactions:
1) I asked for a comparable example of this late-in-life movement. Several readers quickly came back with the same suggestion, Al Smith. As one put it:
>>The first name that comes to mind for me is Gov. Al Smith, the Dems' 1928 nominee, who, after decades of fairly progressive policy positions, started moving far to the right in 1932, when the Democrats didn't renominate him. He ended up being a harsh critic of the New Deal, a member of the conservative American Liberty League, and something of an embarrassment to the Democratic party, or at least its Northern component, during his final 12 years.<<
2) As he mentions on his site, Ta-Nehisi Coates quickly thought of John C. Calhoun, another good choice. To me an interesting connection is that both Smith and Calhoun came close to but didn't reach the presidency. (Smith was crushed by Herbert Hoover in the 1928 election, Calhoun failed early in his run for the presidency in 1824, wound up as vice president under both JQ Adams and Andrew Jackson, and then bitterly resigned after policy splits with Jackson.) Larger point: losing a race for the presidency must be so embittering and overwhelming an experience that it is a miracle that people who come close, but lose, recover as often as they do to lead relatively positive and productive lives. Think of: Herbert Hoover after his overwhelming rejection; Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale; Barry Goldwater in his post-1964 career; Gary Hart; recent one-termers Ford, Carter, and George HW Bush; and, yes, Al Gore. No one has ever called him an easy-going or "obviously at peace with the world" personality, but to function at all after Bush v Gore....
After the jump, a "losing in 2008 made all the difference" message from a reader.
3) Nominee from many people: Dick Cheney, as explained previously here.
4) Many people have written to say: What is this McCain "mystery" you are talking about? He's been the same person throughout his career. What about the Keating Five? What about his long-standing opposition to Martin Luther King Day? Aren't you just reflecting the faddish fascination with McCain from what he once memorably called "my base" - the national press? He's always been thin-skinned, a glory hog, etc.