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The Myth of a Maverick

03.26.08

New New York Times Op-Ed From Me

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It's called "McCain Wants You." Here is the lead paragraph:

Behind any successful politician lies a usable contradiction, and John McCain's is this: We love him (and occasionally hate him) for his stubborn individualism, yet his politics are best understood as a decade-long attack on the individual.

03.23.08

Wherein I Review the Semi-Competition at the New York Post

filed under: Reviews + Vietnam | 0 Comments | link

Today I review Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, by Media Matters guys David "Blinded by the Right" Brock and Paul "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn from Conservative Success" Waldman. Opening graf:

For those of us who have been writing critically about John McCain over the years, keeping tabs on the 2008 presidential campaign through the media is a bit like getting your war news via Saddam Hussein's old information minister: The street names may be right, but the big picture looks funny.

03.22.08

McCain, and the Editorial Boards Who Love Him

filed under: Anger Management + Media hate + Media love + Reviews | 3 Comments | link

This paragraph of Alan Bock's kind review of my book jumped out at me:

It is hardly uncommon for a man of personal charm also to be personally pugnacious, and McCain's temper is legendary. We at the [Orang County] Register experienced it in an editorial board meeting some years ago when the senator blew his stack over some issue so minor we have forgotten what it was. Matt Welch illustrates with a number of examples that McCain is most likely to explode when a criticism can be taken as a personal affront (which he does more readily than most) and, most significantly, contains a strong element of truth. He also shows that from an early age McCain was frequently looking for a fight, eager to show he was a tough guy.
That's at least the third testimonial I've seen from ed board members who recall McCain just going apeshit on them for no good reason at all (usually involving a perceived slight on his or his family's honor). Interestingly, all three were from ed boards politically right of the journalistic center.

Here's my open letter to the nation's ed boards from January.

03.09.08

Some Television Appearances

filed under: 12-step + Campaign Finance + Crooked Talk + Foreign Policy + God + Media hate + Media love + Misspent Youth + Vietnam | 0 Comments | link

Yes, this website needs some serious updating. Let's start by linking to some of the television appearances I've made lately.

This is a picture of me taken by the funny and talented New York photographer Robin Holland on Friday, just after I taped the Bill Moyers Journal, which aired later that day. Video here, transcript here, mini-profile of me here.

Here's five minutes of me yakking about the New York Times' lousy attempt at scandal-mongering, which nonetheless brought up an interesting (if not very new) point about McCain's figuratively steamy relationship with lobbyists. Note the sweet Reason.tv robot-dance bumper music.

Here's me (in bits) having a bad hair day on Al-Jazeera (in the 3-4 minute area), which certainly was an interesting experience:

Here's me on Bloggingheads with the charming moral philosopher Will Wilkinson, talking for a full hour:

Here's me on Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, in three parts! Transcript here.

This is a condensed version of an hour-plus book forum I did at the behest of the nice folks at Cato; unfortunately I didn't give them my best performance. Full video (including a comical trash-Welch performance by political hack Lance Tarrance, Jr.) available at fora TV; here's a snippet:

This website is going to get its groove back over the next couple of weeks, and then be a Force of Natposted">filed under: 12-step + Foreign Policy + Goldwater + Reviews | | link

Over at Politico, Jeremy Lott writes up the book and asks me a few questions. Excerpt:

The 12-step interpretation of McCain may seem like a stretch, but Welch offers circumstantial evidence to make it entirely plausible. McCain often uses buzzwords that are familiar to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step program members, including warning people against “selfishness” and the real, telling clanker, “egotism.”

In his books and speeches, McCain is a “serial pre-emptive confessor of his sins,” said Welch. Aggressive public confession is the beginning of all 12-step movements. (As in “Hi, my name is John McCain, and I’m running for president.”)

McCain has “learned the value of saying, ‘Oh, I’m a bad person, I’ve made mistakes, I’m flawed.’ It’s part of his charm, and it’s done wonders for his career,” Welch said.

The Arizona senator had to learn that trick somewhere. Both McCain’s late father and his second wife, Cindy, were frequenters of 12-step programs — AA and Narcotics Anonymous, respectively.

This should be troubling, said Welch, because McCain’s new 12-step rhetoric coincided with changes in his views of foreign and domestic policy.

McCain had been a cautious realist on foreign policy whose military service and status as a Vietnam prisoner of war lent him real heft. His default positions on economic and social issues were in keeping with his family’s Republicanism and Arizona’s conservatism.

The new 12-step McCain became an advocate of invading countries for looking at us funny. He supported going into Iraq during the 2000 primaries, was the chief advocate for the troop surge in Iraq and is itching for a fight with Iran.

10.17.07

Robert Draper Does McCain (and Especially Salter); Elitism Undetected

filed under: Elitism + Iraq + Media hate + Media love | | link

Robert Draper, author of the new Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, and also of one of my favorite journalism books (Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History), spent a year off and on tailing the John McCain camp, especially attached-at-the-hip co-author Mark Salter, and writes about it for GQ.

It's a good and interesting piece, though it plays into the well-worn conceit that the real McCain is the rough-hewn, straight-talking maverick, and not some kind of front-running fancy-lad. Consider the opening set-piece, which begins at a chi-chi DC fundraiser at the Corcoran Gallery of Art back when McCain was riding high in December 2006:

Coat-check girls welcomed the 800 guests at the entrance to the dramatically dimmed beaux arts venue; inside, waiters ladled out dainties and proffered trays of carefully chosen wines. The dapper, white-haired senator from Arizona himself held court at the west end of the hall [...]

Of course, that maverick ethos was nowhere in evidence that night, a fact of which Salter was well aware. "It's difficult," he'd said earlier, ruminating on the unlikely notion of John McCain as the establishment's candidate.

Why, you'd almost think that McCain was a total stranger to having dainties ladled in his presence. In fact, he enjoyed his first Beltway salons more than six decades ago. As I write in the book:

The myth that John McCain is a "man of the people," a natural-born genius at retail politics, is so all-pervasive that one feels like an atheist at Jesus Camp suggesting otherwise. [...]

From the beginning of his political career, McCain has never won an election without out-spending his opponent, usually by massive amounts. He has engaged in intensive door-to-door politicking just twice (Phoenix in 1982, New Hampshire in 1999–2000). And he has lived the bulk of his life inside the very Beltway he's so fond of campaigning against. With the notable exception of the soldiers he's served with and the staffers he's employed, McCain has favored the company of corporate bigwigs, powerful politicians and nationally known journalists since before he ever ran for office.

Ask Arizonans whether their senior senator is a "man of the people" and those who have an opinion will laugh. "He's just above it all; he doesn't have time to mess with peons," said Lyle Tuttle, chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee. [...]

John McCain knew before puberty that he came from a special family, and he was groomed from age 10 for elite leadership. His grandfather was in those famous surrender pictures from the deck of the USS Missouri at the end of World War II, and when he died days later it made the front page of the New York Times. His father, a well-regarded submarine commander during the war, became the Navy's first chief of information and then the branch's liaison officer to Congress. "My parents kept a house on Capitol Hill," McCain wrote in Faith of My Fathers, "where they entertained leading political and military figures. My mother's charm proved as effective with politicians as it was with naval officers. The political relationships my parents forged during this period contributed significantly to my father's future success."

There's more interesting stuff in the Draper article; read on after the jump.

[read more]

10.15.07

"A Comprehensive Dissection"

filed under: Reviews | | link

A newish mini-review, from Atlantic blogger Matthew Yglesias:

At any rate, in the event that a McCain surge does materialize, the antidote is Matt Welch's new book McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, a comprehensive dissection of the man who for a long time held the title of America's most overrated politician and who still in many circles is viewed as something of a sympathetic, tragic figure.

In the book, Matt builds upon some earlier writing of his on McCain through the revolutionary (given the subject matter) method of actually examining McCain record and views than the more traditional approach of wishful thinking and ideological projection. In essence, it's the story of a man who succeeded in turning his own life around through embracing hard-line American nationalism and then decided to adopt this as a governing philosophy before becoming a media darling in a way that left him simultaneously overexposed and underanalyzed.

10.14.07

Pardon my dust

filed under: Miscellany | |
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Welch is the Editor in Chief of Reason magazine, the premier libertarian journal in the world. Before that, he was Assistant Editorial Page Editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Associate Editor of Reason. He has worked previously for the National Post, the Online Journalism Review, WorkingForChange.com, Tabloid.net, United Press International, and a series of publications in Central Europe. His writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Orange County Register, Salon.com, American Spectator Online, The Hardball Times and more. He also maintains a personal blog.

ABOUT THE BOOK
John McCain is one of the most familiar, sympathetic, and overexposed figures in American politics, yet his concrete governing philosophy and actual track record have been left curiously unexamined. No longer.

McCain gives the voting public what it craves but can't find -- a flesh-and-bones ideological portrait of a man onto whom people are forever projecting their own political fantasies. Relying heavily on McCain's own words, The Myth of a Maverick provides a decoder ring for the candidate's allegedly "maverick" actions, and paints the first realistic picture of what a John McCain presidency -- or any other White House in thrall to National Greatness Conservatism -- would actually look like.
>McCain.Senate.gov
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Other Books About McCain
John McCain: An American Odyssey, by Robert Timberg

Man of the People: The Life of John McCain, by Paul Alexander

John McCain: An Essay in Military and Political History, by John Karaagac

Citizen McCain, by Elizabeth Drew

Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir, by John McCain

Worth the Fighting For: The Education of an American Maverick, and the Heroes Who Inspired Him, by John McCain

Hard Call: Great Decisions and the Extraordinary People Who Made Them , by John McCain

Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life, by John McCain

Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember, by John McCain

Subscribe to this blog's feed

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Welch is the Editor in Chief of Reason magazine, the premier libertarian journal in the world. Before that, he was Assistant Editorial Page Editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Associate Editor of Reason. He has worked previously for the National Post, the Online Journalism Review, WorkingForChange.com, Tabloid.net, United Press International, and a series of publications in Central Europe. His writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Orange County Register, Salon.com, American Spectator Online, The Hardball Times and more. He also maintains a personal blog.

ABOUT THE BOOK
John McCain is one of the most familiar, sympathetic, and overexposed figures in American politics, yet his concrete governing philosophy and actual track record have been left curiously unexamined. No longer.

McCain gives the voting public what it craves but can't find -- a flesh-and-bones ideological portrait of a man onto whom people are forever projecting their own political fantasies. Relying heavily on McCain's own words, The Myth of a Maverick provides a decoder ring for the candidate's allegedly "maverick" actions, and paints the first realistic picture of what a John McCain presidency -- or any other White House in thrall to National Greatness Conservatism -- would actually look like.
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