I’m baffled by this quasi-rationalization of McCain’s reprehensible campaign from erstwhile McCain-lover Jon Chait:
Any attempt to determine McCain’s true motives is necessarily pure speculation. It’s possible that McCain has convinced himself to actually believe the lies he has been telling. But here’s a more likely explanation: All this dishonesty can be understood not as a betrayal of McCain’s sense of honor but, in an odd way, as a fulfillment of it.
McCain’s deep investment in his own honor can drive him to do honorable things, but it can also allow him to believe that anything he does must be honorable. Thus the moralistic, crusading tone McCain brings to almost every cause he joins. In 2000 and afterward, McCain came to despise George W. Bush and Karl Rove. During his more recent primary campaign, McCain thought the same of front-runner Mitt Romney. Not surprisingly, Romney was the target of McCain’s most unfair primary attack–an inaccurate claim that he favored a withdrawal timetable in Iraq.
The pattern here is perfectly clear. McCain has contempt for anybody who stands between him and the presidency. McCain views himself as the ultimate patriot. He loves his country so much that he cannot let it fall into the hands of an unworthy rival. (They all turn out to be unworthy.) Viewed in this way, doing whatever it takes to win is not an act of selfishness but an act of patriotism. McCain tells lies every day and authorizes lying on his behalf, and he probably knows it. But I would guess–and, again, guessing is all we can do–that in his mind he is acting honorably. As he might put it, there is a bigger truth out there.
If all that’s required to make dirty tricks motivated by “honor” and “patriotism” is a subjective belief that it would be really bad for the country if your opponent won, who isn’t motivated by “honor”? I’d have to say that if you end up with a conception of “honor” that could plausibly result in Karl Rove and Lee Atwater being numbered among the most honorable men in American political history, you need a new definition.
The bigger problem here is that when Chait notes that the press has an extensive history of “portraying him as a uniquely honorable figure,” he never seems to consider the fact that this portrayal was completely unjustified. In reality, that he was a both 1)a political flyweight with little grasp of his own ostensible policy positions and 2)willing to relentlessly lie about his opponents was evident during his 2000 campaign if you bothered to look. It’s just that his genuine military heroism and remarkable ability to suck up to the press caused these things to be ignored. The question about McCain is not why he has changed; it’s why it took so many reporters (including some liberals) so long to figure out what he always was.