McCain, who seems to relish the glare of TV cameras, was recently seen grilling former Senator Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee for secretary of defense, at Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearings. Some reports described Hagel as looking somewhat unglued during his appearance which, if accurate, is understandable if only on account of the “battering ram” style of questioning engaged in by a guy said to be his friend. During McCain’s presidential bid in 2008 Hagel was one of his biggest boosters. But the nominee was shown very little in the way of any bond of friendship by McCain. True, the Arizona senator wasn’t the only one among committee Republicans coming on like gangbusters against their former colleague. But certainly, for Hagel, the acid spewing from McCain had to inflict a more lethal hurt.
What’s troubling is where McCain sought to score his “inquisitor-in-chief” points. He may not be the sole proponent of this view but he is at best part of a small, freakish minority who think there’s merit in trumpeting the virtues of the Iraq war. McCain was obviously bent on making an example of Hagel for the latter’s having suggested that George Bush’s celebrated “surge” decision in that precipitous and protracted interventionist action was a foreign policy blunder. Pressed to admit that he was wrong in that assessment, Hagel sagely responded that he would defer to the judgment of history. McCain, not about to be appeased, went into full Joe McCarthy incarnate mode as he excoriated his “friend” and fellow war hero.
At this point in the theatrics, a logical sequence for an observer, even a dispassionate one, would have been indulging a fantasy format in these hearings which allowed for the tables to be thereupon turned a bit and for the nominee to then inquire of McCain if he was prepared to admit how reckless he had been with the nation (and the world) in his choice of a running mate when he was the 2008 GOP standard bearer. At the time the scuttlebutt was that the choice of Sarah Palin had been orchestrated by right wing kingpins. Even so, having ballyhooed his full confidence in Palin and, following the election, having continued his outlandish branding of the dimwitted bush-leaguer as validly presidential, where does McCain get off thinking to question anyone’s judgment about anything?
McCain’s status as a POW, after he was shot down and injured as a navy pilot during the Vietnam war, served him in good stead to earn election first to the House briefly and then the Senate. Showing himself at times to be not the kind of doctrinaire hard-right conservative as some in his caucus, he was seen as someone flexible enough on some issues to make compromise possible. Campaign finance reform was one such area, as his name on the McCain-Feingold bill attests. On immigration reform he evidenced a willingness to work across the aisle as well.
But there has been in latter years a pronounced yen from McCain for sniping and being quite bellicose as far as moves being made on the Democratic side. As for example, setting himself up as one of the ringleaders who effectively drummed Susan Rice out of the running for the secretary of state post she was reportedly in line for in the Obama second term. At every perceived opportunity to rain hell and damnation down on the administration, on the foreign policy front particularly, McCain has rushed to his favored location in front of the TV lights to make his spiel, whether or not it squares with the facts as known.
Some have suggested that this belligerence and anger have their genesis in McCain’s defeat when he ran for the White House in ’08. Whether this morphing into the “angry man” persona had begun before his loss to Obama became a done deal we don’t know. But there’s an erstwhile McCain version, much more given to civility and evenhandedness than the reflection in the mirror these days. When departed Secretary of State Hilary Clinton suffered injuries, which caused her to be hospitalized and found herself the target of jackals on the right who claimed she was faking it to avoid testifying on Capitol Hill about the messy Benghazi incident, McCain of yesteryear would likely have distanced himself from the villainy, once the life-threatening extent of Clinton’s injuries became clear. That he opted, as did the other jerks, for stony silence on the Hillary matter spoke volumes about how McCain has plummeted…and sadly, not with a whole lot of grace.
McCain is now 76. And one hopes there’s good sense and decency enough in the mix for him to be willingly compliant with directions that read: “Exit, stage left.”