Marginal Footnotes

A Strange Column by Ignatius
May 3, 2006, 11:27 am
Filed under: Media, Politics, Uncategorized

Just because it isn’t easy for McCain to compromise with extremely conservative factions within the Republican Party should not suggest that he is ‘A Man Who Won’t Sell His Soul’, as David Ignatius’ column in the Post today suggests.  And just because a political candidate tells a journalist he won’t sell his soul doesn’t mean he won’t. 

And anyway, that’s not really the point, is it?  McCain’s position on torture and global warming (I refuse to use the euphemistic ‘climate change’) are without question admirable and display, in my view, no political opportunism.  Perhaps they would for other politicians, but not McCain.  I recall attending a hearing on NOAA a couple of years ago when McCain was chairing the Commerce Committee and I was stunned at how withering was his dressing down of the Administrator of that agency regarding the warming issue.  I had never seen a Senator talk to a high-ranking official in that way before, and it occurred to me that in general this sort of attack was usually reserved for the shenanigans that goes on in the House rather than the Senate.  One might call this grandstanding, but there were no cameras in the room.  

Nevertheless, the central thesis of Ignatius’ column demonstrates how absurd the institution of American politics can be.  He suggests that McCain is a man of principle, but that in order to win a presidential election (and, more importantly, to get through primaries), he’s got to compromise on those principles in order to connect with a significant enough number of voters.  But what value does principle have if the compromise of principle is the sine qua non of getting elected? 

As they say, politics is the art of compromise.  But it cannot be also a venue for principle if political expediency always trumps political principle.  This is an idealistic view, certainly, and people would be fair in making ends and means arguments and others of that sort.  I do not wish to lodge a critique against politics as compromise; in fact, I celebrate it.  It makes the system work.  Perhaps we should allow that compromise is itself a principle, maybe of the greatest kind, and this extricates us from the philosophical quandary which posits the two as mutually exclusive, as poles on the opposite ends of a spectrum.  My only point is that McCain is not unlike most politicians, and the journalistic celebration of his ‘principled stand’ (meaning, his unwillingness to compromise, his independence, etc.) is becoming (or simply has become) tiresome.  It seems strange to write a column suggesting that McCain will refuse to sell his soul to get elected and then argue that in order to get elected he must sell his soul.  Is the point then that John McCain is not running?  I don’t think so.  What is the point of such a column?  The answer seems obvious enough to me: rehabilitating McCain's maverick image, which, as Ignatius correctly points out, has suffered recently due to some typical political hackery propagated by the man himself.

There's been a lot of talk about 'authenticity' recently.  I do not know what this is.  But perhaps it could characterize a politician willing to admit that he or she is not so independent after all, that compromise is the way it goes.  Maybe this would make it more 'comfortable' for McCain to run for president.   


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