John McCain: Master Thespian

I’ve been critical of Jon Stewart for what I perceive as a tendency to pull his punches when dealing with John McCain. But The Daily Show did a pretty good job responding to McCain’s ridiculous and reckless “suspension” of his campaign.

There’s still a tendency, shared by many “straight” pundits and late-night comics, to treat McCain 08’s excesses as strange anomalies—as if McCain himself is somehow not responsible for them. Even as Letterman was pummeling McCain for his dishonesty about jetting off to DC the other night, he put it in these terms. This was not, Dave said, “the John McCain I know.”

What he and Stewart and Chris Matthews and all of McCain’s media fans refuse to realize is that “the John McCain they knew” was the phony McCain. What we’re seeing now is the real McCain: a petulant, reckless egomaniac who will do anything to advance his own interests. This is the McCain who left his first wife for an heiress who funded his political career, carpetbagged-it to a district he had no prior connection to so he could get into Congress, took Charles Keating’s dirty money, told various colleagues to go f— themselves, sealed POW-MIA documents so the families could never see them, and so on, and so on.

The McCain they all fell in love with is as far removed from the real one as Rock Hudson was from the heterosexual leading man roles he played, or Bob Crane was from Colonel Hogan, or—take your pick. Republicans like to measure themselves against Ronald Reagan, and McCain is like Reagan in this respect: he’s an actor, playing a role.

As George Burns once said, the key to acting is sincerity: if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. A few bloggers have sarcastically compared McCain to Jon Lovitz’s pathological liar character, Tommy Flanagan. Maybe the better comparison is to Master Thespian.

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