April 25th, 2008

McCain: Scoop Jackson Republican?

In National Journal, Linda Douglass offers us a glimpse into a phase of McCain’s career I hadn’t previously known about. In the late 70s, he was the Navy’s liaison to the Senate, and it turns out to have been one of the most formative experiences of McCain’s already action-packed life.

In a job that might have ended up merely as William Bader, then staff director for the Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described it—“a glorified concierge and bag carrier, and soother of senatorial egos and demands”—McCain used his keen powers of observation and his charismatic personality to learn a great deal about the Senate, foreign policy, and the world.

McCain was already forty at the time, having lost a good many years (although they were certainly formative too, in a different way) to his residence at the Hanoi Hilton and his subsequent recovery. He seems to have wanted to make up for lost time:

During his first year home, he was given a coveted spot at the National War College and immersed himself in the study of Vietnam and the policies that led the U.S. to fight and then pull out. Barely three years later, from his vantage point as the Navy/Marine Corps Senate liaison, he watched policy being made. By all accounts, he was riveted.

McCain irrepressible sense of fun and personal magnetism became legendary in the Senate. One can recognize the man who still loves to schmooze with reporters on the bus in Douglass’s description of the guy who couldn’t get enough of people and talk after his solitary years as prisoner.

But McCain was more than just a fun guy to be around. He was so popular that many Senators requested that he accompany them on their myriad policy trips abroad, and he therefore gained a remarkable amount of valuable experience on those visits with foreign leaders that Obama thinks are so useless compared to Obama’s childhood residence in Indonesia.

It’s extremely telling that one of the senators whom McCain most respected was Scoop Jackson, the famous “maverick” (sound familiar?) Democrat who represented the now-moribund (except for that dubiously aligned Democrat, Joe Lieberman) but once-strong hawkish wing of the Democratic Party. McCain especially admired both Jackson’s ability to be a profile in courage by going his own way no matter what the Party said, as well as the particular stance he took, which was to support the war in Vietnam and oppose the pullout his own party was advocating.

What comes across with great intensity are three things: McCain’s charismatic personality and zest for life and learning as a young man, his respect for senators who held to principles despite prevailing winds of unpopularity attempting to blow them down, and how early and powerfully the Vietnam experience and the desire that its ignominy not be repeated became a driving force in his life.

And so it occurs to me that it’s not at all surprising that the last two came together recently, as McCain demonstrated (1) his ability to buck the tide a la Scoop, steadfastly advocating the surge back when most Democrats and a great many Republicans were ready to give up on Iraq; and (b) his powerful desire to do his best to prevent a tragic repeat of what I’ve called the “second act” of Vietnam.

All candidates for President are driven at least in part by personal ambition; they must be, in order to want the job at all. But that’s not the only factor. And it seems to me that, if power is a good deal of what drives Hillary Clinton and misplaced hubris is what appears to motivate Obama, then this is the goal that fuels McCain: the knowledge that an Iraq pullout would be a bad thing, and that he just might happen to be the person in political life with the most knowledge and experience to understand what the stakes are and what the mistakes were—and to have the guts to do what he concludes is right without checking the polls for direction.

43 Responses to “McCain: Scoop Jackson Republican?”

  1. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    Is that supposed to give some of us the “warm & fuzzies” for voting for the guy?

    The more I hear from him, the less I like him.

  2. Sergey Says:

    Scoop Jackson was a cult figure for “refusniks” – Soviet Jews struggling for their right to immigration to Israel. He was the most principled and successful defender of this right among American politicians. He also demonstrated that the best tone to talk with Russian rulers is the most agressive tone: they are cowards.

  3. James Says:

    Thanks Neo,

    great post.

  4. Americaneocon Says:

    Excellent post!

    Honor, courage, and integrity can also be tacked on there towards the end of your analysis. He knows that American leadership is also about sticking up for our values, holding on when others are ready to throw in the towel.

  5. Oldflyer Says:

    So, why didn’t he run as a Democrat?

    I receive requests for donations from his campaign several times a month. The propaganda he sends me paints him as a Republican; then I look around and he is attacking the Repbublican party of North Carolina. Next, I see he is trashing my Republican President over Katrina–for God’s sake.

    I wrote to him and told him that he obviously thinks the Republican base has no where else to go; but that I am pretty close to putting my vote in my hip pocket for the first time in 51years. Maybe he can win with his beloved moderates and Independents; or maybe not.

    Neo, I respect your opinion but as far as I am concerned McCain is something else. He is a damn panderer.

    Oh, and it was nice that he was popular with Senators when he came home as a hero. I think the fun loving Jane Fonda and Ramsey Clark were also popular with a number of Senators at different times.

  6. Trimegistus Says:

    Putting your vote in your pocket because McCain is too liberal is idiotic. (I mean that in a nice way.) If he loses, we get Obama — and with 8 years of Presidency and both houses of Congress in their hands, plus Court appointments, even electing Zombie Barry Goldwater in 2016 wouldn’t reverse the damage.

    There’s an old saying: the best is the enemy of the good enough. Given the choice, I’d rather have another Republican candidate. But the majority of Republicans picked McCain, so he’s the man. The alternative is a decade of national hara-kiri.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Oldflyer: Did you read the article? Comparing McCain to Fonda is not appropriate—at all.

    McCain doesn’t run as a Democrat for the same reason Jackson never ran as a Republican. Both of them lean more towards the middle than many in their parties, but that doesn’t mean they don’t share a great many principles of their parties and it doesn’t mean they don’t belong in their parties.

    As for pandering, please read. Then compare and contrast McCain and Obama. If you sit this one out, you are effectively voting for Obama.

  8. Terrye Says:

    The fact that McCain does not pander to certain conservatives who seem to think they own the Republican party, does not mean he is not a Republican. In fact he has been a Republican for many years and has stood by Bush in support of the war when some other members of his party were ready to bolt. To say this man is a Democrat or liberal is ridiculous, not to mention bizarre. He also won the nomination fair and square and if conservatives are pissed about that they need to spend more time coming up with viable alternatives and less time bitching about their nominee.

    My God, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should be enough to scare any Republican straight.

  9. Terrye Says:

    And if they do not scare them straight, then they don’t need to whining about McCain’s lack of loyalty.

  10. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    Look Terrye, the entire point of this forum is being able to express your opinion. The topic of this post was set by Neo. Not everyone has to agree with you or hold their comments, so you can forgo any further comments about what conservatives here need to spend there time on.

    One certain commonality between Obama and McCain is that their supporters obviously feel they are above scrutiny. I’m here to remind you that the only issues many of us reluctantly support McCain at all is with the occupation of Iraq and the appointment od Supreme Ct judges, and in those two cases we hoping this isnt the case of bait & switch.

    As for the “pandering” I cant think of an issue outside of Evangelical Christian issues that are typically “republican” that you could consider values to be “pandered” to. Maybe you can hook up with Obama’s people and identify those for me.

    As we have been commenting on this forum for days now, those that call themselves conservatives have real values and issues that we feel are important to adopt in order to keep this country and what it stands for viable. These are not issues we feel must be “pandered” to, or sloughed off as “extremist” or unreasonable.

    Maybe allowing the election of Obama may make you realize what Im talking about. That may not be a bad idea at all.

  11. Occam's Beard Says:

    Maybe allowing the election of Obama may make you realize what Im talking about. That may not be a bad idea at all.

    Sorry, harry, gotta disagree there. I’m with Terrye. The question is whom do you trust more, not whom do you trust absolutely. No one will make every decision they way you would like, and sometimes in retrospect, that’s good, because you (i.e., one) was wrong.

    I want someone who exercises independent judgment, whether or not it’s popular, either with the electorate or party appartchiks. Let’s face it, the Republican Party has its share of doctrinaire, one-issue, misguided nitwits. A trifling number, compared to the Democrats, but we have ’em, and they need to be ignored. Real world problems don’t lend themselves to simplistic solutions.

  12. Vince P Says:

    I want a fighter who is driven and comitted by conservative principles.

    I don’t want some meely mouthed “compassionate conservative” or some “Republican maverick”

    Bush and the Congress has left behind a Republican party in tatters because they betrayed conservatives one too many times. McCain certainly had a lot to do with opposing the few conservative ideas that Bush had

    Both of them are blamed for this. I surely blame them.

    If it weren’t for the fact we have two dangerous Leftists running for theother party, i see nothign attractive about McCain.

  13. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Extremist Says:

    “Sorry, harry, gotta disagree there. I’m with Terrye. The question is whom do you trust more, not whom do you trust absolutely.”

    I havent talked in “trusting absolutely”, I have in the past have mentioned holding my nose to vote for the guy, talk about trusting, this is going along way for me. Also note that in this vote I will become one of those “one-issue” nit-wits, you mentioned, because there are so many other issues that “the Maverick” stands behind that are an antithesis of the way I feel this country should be going in. I hope that doesnt disappoint you greatly.

    I dont care that any one candidate meets all of my ideological desires, but I havent seen anyone in a long time that matches so few that if it didnt come down to two issues, Id stay home. This who I am stuck with. But what I will also not sit by, and let some one blow sunshine up my but about this guy.

    I also do not require a lecture from middle of the road type guys about where my values and convictions should be.

    Especially from middle of the road type people.

  14. SteveH Says:

    I have to agree with Oldflyer. I don’t think i can stand four years of McCain habitually seeking media approval over whats right and just for actual living and breathing people.

    At least with Obama’s policies, theres a better chance more frogs will finally wake up and notice the water is boiling!

  15. Occam's Beard Says:

    Harry, fair enough. It’s not every day I’m characterized as middle of the road!

    I’m just concerned that abstention by pro-American types who more or less agree will stick us with a disaster, i.e., either of the Democrats.

  16. neo-neocon Says:

    SteveH: if I were a frog, I wouldn’t stake my life on waking up in time and being able to escape.

    We had this same discussion about McCain before on many, many threads, before he got the nomination (I seem to recall that’s how Harry got his new name?) I don’t hold with the idea that letting things get a lot worse is worth the risk, because of course everyone will see the light and then they’ll get better. History teaches that it doesn’t always happen that way. For example, the Carter administration may have led the way to Reagan, but it created serious problems we are still dealing with, thirty years later.

  17. SteveH Says:

    This latest thing with McCain and the North Carolina GOP makes me want to spit fire. Since when is any candidates character off limits to judgement? What does it say about the character and judgement of someone who would even suggest such an absurdity to the face of rational people?

    I’m feel confident Mr McCain would insist on more evidence of character from his grandaughters newfound boyfriend, than he would the man who could possibly be elected leader of the free world.

    I fail to see anything to admire that would trump this massive flaw in McCain’s own character.

  18. expat Says:

    SteveH: I think the single worst thing that could hapen to us is a pullout from Iraq. If OBL was able to use Somalia as a recruiting tool, what do you think he would do with his “victory” in Iraq. Our position in the world depends on our steadfastness. If we back out, who will trust us? On anything?

    Many domestic issues will be affected by congressional debate and popular opinion. There is room to make your voice heard.

    As to the NC ad, you may not like McCain’s position, but do you really think this ranks with foreign policy as an issue? McCain has obviously thought about how he wants to run this campaign and feels that the NC approach is counterproductive. He has talked about Obama’s reaction to the Ayers story. Perhaps he is worried about the YouTube fallout from certain ads.

  19. J. B. Says:

    There are 100 US Senators. Think back about National Media Coverage over the last few years- before the official campaign began. Over and over only a handful get regular, national coverage. Why does the Media have its favorites? McCain the “Maverick” has gotten way more than his fair shair of media coverage by the Left leaning Media. If “Conservatives” picked McCain they did it by being uninformed and manipulated by the left wing media. Informed conservatives would not have touched this guy with a ten foot pole. By the time “Super Tuesday” came around the moderates, crossover libs, illegals and ignorant conservatives had given us McCain (And Huckabee.) The real conservatives, denied constant free press, had already been weeded out by the time many of us got to vote. And yes, I also blame some of the so called “conservative” talk show host for not standing up quicker for the real conservatives.

  20. Vince P Says:

    If OBL was able to use Somalia as a recruiting tool, what do you think he would do with his “victory” in Iraq. Our position in the world depends on our steadfastness. If we back out, who will trust us? On anything?

    This is so basic and fundamental I have trouble comprehending how any serious person could ignore this.

  21. DuMaurier-Smith Says:

    We’ll see how above it all McCain is when he goes head to head with Obama. I’m not really surpised that the co-sponsor of McCain-Feingold would take his position on the ad. To do otherwise might make his sponsorship look like the bill was cynically put in place to help incumbents rather than elevate political campaigns. Also, if he can out high-road Obama, I suppose there’s a certain advantage to be had.

    As for voting for McCain as opposed to someone else or not voting, do the math. The lesson to be learned is that the parties don’t care if you hold your nose so long as you vote their way. The sad truth is that we’ve dumbly (again) waited too long to hold their feet to the fire and again weep and wail about holding our nose–they should care?

    Conservatism needs a different face. It’s time to start building a viable conservative party that emphasizes conservatism as a positive social force. For one thing, economics needs to be moved off center stage and be replaced by the founding principles of the country–the power and sovereignty of the citizen, and the obligation of the state to promote the oppoortunity of the citizen to achieve self-fulfillment and realization. Human health issues, for example, must never be allowed owned by liberal, Democrats or otherwise.

    I think Glenn Reynolds coined the term “army of Davids” during the immigration controversy. It seems to me that to launch a new conservative party something like that “army of Davids” needs to be organized like cells in a politican action group. Blogs are great for dissemination of information as well as condensing opinion. The power of blogs was clear in the immigration conflict, as the politicians were forced to notice. But information/public relations pressure is not enough. I’m talking about alliances across blog groups that find expression in a central PAC which can present political officials with a substative consitituency commited to voting their conservaative principles at community, state and federal levels. McCain is only the tip of the iceberg. We need our politicians to learn the lesson of Clinton’s gun control legislation that got them voted out. Conservative principles based upon individual freedoms and liberties are popular principles.

    You saw it in McCain-Feingold; the waters were tested to see if the internet could be brought under its control. You better believe the politicians don’t like the political power of blogs, and before it is too late, the people better consolidate and exercise their political power through one of the last and best venues of freedom of speech. Until the internet, corporate media owned the marketplace of ideas. Sure you had freedom of speech; but no one could hear you; who could afford media access? Now a person’s voice can be heard round the world. The means are in place; the only issue is whether we take them up or continue sleep walking, which brought us here, holding our noses.

  22. Sergey Says:

    It seems, McCain belongs to this extremly rare now breed of humans who have principles. Such people do not pander to anybody, including their own party leadership. If NV prison camp torturers failed to bend him during 5 years, how anybody else can do it? And such peoples are always inconvenient both to friends and enemies. They arise embarrassment to many comrades, but in dire straits they are the best leaders.

  23. mimi sk Says:

    Though I will most likely be voting for him in the fall, that thought makes meuncomfortable.

    He had come up with some really bad bills, and his unpredicable comments are unnerving. Something is not right.

    And I don’t get the feeling he has a cohesive campaign organization either. Many of his positions, i.e. global warming, for one, show him to be poorly informed. And for someone who has has access to information as he does, what is his excuse?

    Some interpret his behavior as brilliant. I think its very manipulative .. and on the strange side.

    The only subject he seems to be consistent about is Iraq. And because of my support for the war and our mlitary, I will support McCain. But he’ll have to do it without my financial help. I contribute to a few Republican races directly, but do not contribute to the RNC or McCain.

    He can run for office within the confines of his own McCain-Feingold bill, or rely on others to contribute.

  24. Amanda Reckonwith Says:

    Win or lose, McCain spells a new day for the Republican Party.

    He got the nomination because the coalition of Christian fundamentalists, anti-tax amoralists and militarists Reagan built has fallen apart.

    The libertarian oriented anti-tax amoralists, never completely comfortable with the Christian right, are splintering away, but not over “values” crusading, but over the war in Iraq.

    To the libertarian wing of the party, McCain looked like the best shot to shake free of the Christian fundamentalists and wind down the war in a responsible way.

    Should McCain win in November, the party will know it doesn’t need James Dobson, et al. Should he lose, the recriminations will fly about why the party nominated someone who could not hold the coalition together. The blame game will proceed with a lot of the libertarians splintering off as Democrats or Independents.

    No matter how you look at it, the Reagan-Bush coalition of Christians, anti-taxists and militarists is very unlikely to survive this election.

  25. SteveH Says:

    I’m sure i’ll hold my nose and vote for McCain. I think i’m just more pissed at the process that handed us him out of 300 million people.

    Where is leadership for rational people who know the democrats have lost control of their senses and need to be called on it? At some point, republicans in their current mindset have to recognise they are feeding this beast at a long term cost nobody can predict.

  26. Trimegistus Says:

    “Amanda” shows exactly why we’ve got to elect McCain this fall. Liberals apparently think that anyone who opposes massive tax increases is “amoral,” anyone who wants to defend the country is a “militarist,” and anyone who doesn’t embrace liberal social engineering must be some kind of “Christian fundamentalist.”

    The idea that reasonable people may disagree about issues simply does not exist in the liberal mind.

  27. SteveH Says:

    “”The idea that reasonable people may disagree about issues simply does not exist in the liberal mind.

    And yet the educated liberal knows full well that running their own household in such a fashion would spell disaster.

    Would they find anything moral in their daughter seeing fit to spend a credit card into oblivion?

    Would they find anything militaristic in a cop killing an intruder that was trying to kill them?

    Would they find anything too fundamentalist in a Christian that plucked them from car trouble in a ghetto at 2am on a Saturday?

    Just further proof that all the education in the world doesn’t protect people from irrational thinking.

  28. harry McHitlerburtonstein the Anti-tax Amoralist Militant though Non-Religious-Extremist Says:

    ““Amanda” shows exactly why we’ve got to elect McCain this fall. Liberals apparently think that anyone who opposes massive tax increases is “amoral,”

    Im with you brother.

  29. Sergey Says:

    It speaks volumes about a man when in torture prison camp comrades elect him as their informal chaplain to lead a service.

  30. Vince P Says:

    Amanda is about two years behind in her diagnosing of the Republican party.

    The Republican Party without the social conservatives and Federalist Conservatives *is* the Republican Party of the 2000s in all it’s descendancy.

    This is the first time I ever heard anyone put McCain and libertarian in the same sentence too.

  31. Thomas Says:

    neo-neocon Says:

    [quote]History teaches that it doesn’t always happen that way. For example, the Carter administration may have led the way to Reagan, but it created serious problems we are still dealing with, thirty years later.[/quote]

    True… and most of the western world does not even have a viable alternative to the social dems…

    Re: if we keep playing our cards like this, we may end up irrelevant.

  32. John M Says:

    Good essay, Neo, and interesting description of McCain earlier on. It sheds light.

  33. Amanda Reckonwith Says:

    ”Liberals apparently think that anyone who opposes massive tax increases is “amoral,” anyone who wants to defend the country is a “militarist,” and anyone who doesn’t embrace liberal social engineering must be some kind of “Christian fundamentalist.”’


    Do you really want to preface such a broad, all-encompassing attack on the political orientation of a little more than half of all Americans with the word “apparently”?

    I use the word amoralist to modify the anti-tax faction of the American right not to suggest that either their position or their principles are amoral, but rather to point out that they are not seeking morality through politics. They tend not to vote on the basis of any politician or party’s moral stance, but on how they approach the issue of taxation.

    I use the word militarist to describe the “national security” faction because it is the most neutral term to describe people who place their vote on the basis of the candidate most likely to be aggressive in the application of military force.

    If we simply say that this faction supports the use of military forces in cases of self-defense, then there is nothing to distinguish them from Democrats.

    “The idea that reasonable people may disagree about issues simply does not exist in the liberal mind.”

    Hey. A mobius slur! Gotta love the way that one folds back onto itself. Classic.

  34. Vince P Says:

    Many libertarian-oriented Republicans who are for low taxes would argue that high taxation is immoral and that low taxes is a moral position.

    I know I view it that way.

  35. Amanda Reckonwith Says:

    You might be in a minority, Vince.

    Most anti-tax amoralists consider it an economic growth issue. Lower taxes stimulate growth and discourage wasteful spending, is the idea.

    There are, of course, libertarians who consider taxes immoral period. Their reasoning tends to be that the government simply has no right to ask individuals to pay for services they may not actually directly receive. Taxes are theft, is the idea.

    I’m wondering what you consider “high” taxes. And when you say “high” do you mean relative to government spending?

  36. cSimon Says:


    Your use of labels and the following post with explanation/rationalization thereof, exhibits one of the characteristics of liberals that repels me the most: the pathetic, patronizing, holier-than-thou attitudes of the far Left. Not only is everyone with differing opinions dead wrong, but they are assigned selective labels with negative connotations.
    In other words, you exhibit in spades the “hot topic” of the week: ELITISM.

    Guess what? Liberals do not know it all; they are not the only people who care about others (as well as pets, plants and the environment!); they are not the only people who think war is horrible (it IS, to be sure, but reality intrudes when it comes to self-defense in a world where human beings not only conceive of a plan to fly fuel-filled airplanes into buildings with the objective of killing unlimited numbers of people — the more the better — but also actually carry out such a plan without compunction), etc.

    The fact is, none of us has it ALL right (no pun intended), and that’s why public “conversations” and sharing of ideas is important. The problem is, too many people have moved so far to the extremes and exhibit zero tolerance toward others’ opinions. The fact is, this country was founded on the basis of tolerance – i.e. the Pilgrims came here to be allowed to worship as they chose, and they resolved to respect others’ rights to do so. When our Constitution was later written — it was designed to encourage and sustain the exchange of ideas, while allowing us to actually create and run a viable government for the public good based on the vote of the majority. We’re all not always happy with the result, but we must accept it. We’re able to do so with the knowledge that the status quo changes as opinions change over time and through experience.

    We’re all different, and though we may agree and/or think alike on some subjects, we’re going to disagree on others. Likewise, it’s absurd to expect to find a candidate who meshes exactly with all of our own personal ideals. Pick your priorities and stand by them — and don’t bite yourself — or all the rest of us — in the butt by withholding votes out of spite

  37. Milly Says:

    “assigned selective labels with negative connotations.”

    Yes. Conservatives are wonderful. They never assign labels to people who disagree with them.

    They would never accuse people who disagree with them of being, for example, elitist, or holier-than-thou or patronizing.

    Conservatives are great because, when someone disagrees with them, they politely rebut the argument, rather than attacking the person who made the argument.

  38. Vince P Says:

    Thanks for your contribution Milly. You added so much value to the conversation.

  39. Amanda Reckonwith Says:

    Some interesting results from the Pennsylvania primary show what I was talking about earlier:

    27 percent of Republican primary voters voted against McCain, even though he’s got a lock on the nomination.

    220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans, out 807,000 who voted, cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul. That’s more than the 215,000 voters that separated Hillary and Obama.

    Paul, a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, lured even more than Huckabee, who drew right-wing Christians.

    The Democrats beat Bush-Cheney in Pennsylvania by 205,000 votes in 2000 and 144,000 votes in 2004.

    The math is telling us McCain isn’t holding together the Reagan coalition. The question for Republicans is, perhaps, could any candidate keep it together when a record number of Americans disapprove of the incumbent and say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

  40. Vince P Says:

    The math is telling us McCain isn’t holding together the Reagan coalition.

    Um…. duh.

    Where have you been for the past 4 years?

  41. Amanda Reckonwith Says:

    As I mentioned, Vince, the bigger question is whether ANYONE could hold the coalition together under the current circumstances:

    — a lost war

    — a tanking economy

    — a series of gay sex scandals

    — a series of corruption scandals that led to the Democrats taking control of Congress.

    I doubt Reagan could hold together the Reagan coalition under the present conditions…

  42. Vince P Says:

    Amanda: I don’t suffer disingenuous people.

    Nice try.

  43. Terrell Says:

    Hello, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, Your blog looks good. Have a nice day.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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