Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance & John McCain

In Slate, Jacob Weisberg has a really weird piece about John McCain. I'm sure the political blogs are all over this, and who needs my two cents here, but why not? Plus, as Weisberg writes at the start of his piece, it's hard to watch John McCain these days. Honestly, even pictures of him make me wince. Weisberg suggests that McCain flipped the switch from Republican rebel the press could love to the guy pulling the party line hardest not only to win his primary campaign against a Tea Party candidate, but because he's so ashamed of his Presidential campaign. Weisberg offers a significant list of examples where McCain considered his behavior dishonorable (at times like the Keating Five scandal it was; in the torture situation, no one can judge him). But after the 2008 campaign and raising the profile of one Sarah Palin, McCain can't just say he's sorry. Weisberg theorizes:

"So instead of grappling with his damaged honor the way he has in the past, by examining his soul and apologizing, McCain has retreated into a kind of political second childhood. When he started out in politics, it was as an extremely conventional, Sun Belt Republican. It took the Keating scandal to get McCain to question the campaign-finance system and turn him into the independent spirit he became in the 1990s. Since losing in 2008, he has reverted to his earliest political incarnation."

That's a big reach if you ask me. My theory of Weisberg's theory? (Oh it's my own little echo chamber!!) Weisberg has known and admired McCain for years. McCain's embrace of the narrowest views in the Republican party has created a kind of cognitive dissonance with Weisberg. How can he reconcile this man with the one who stood up to Cheney? Sure a sense of honor lost might play a role, but McCain has shown himself to be an ambitious fellow grasping at maintaining a position he probably assumes he has a right to hold. Like Arlen Specter, I'd bet McCain has been in the Senate so long that for him, the most important thing is to stay in the Senate, the rest of the world, and his morals, be damned. Maybe the media who once loved him will forgive him and if they don't, who cares? at least if he's a Senator he'll still have a staff and get on TV. It's not pretty, how McCain has chosen to campaign, and there's no reason to try to dress it up into something thoughtful and tragic when it's pretty much small and petty.

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