Reporter and longtime John McCain coverer Amy Silverman of Arizona's New Times has an astounding long feature detailing the senator's history in Arizona politics. Silverman has compiled a treasure trove of data on McCain's political biography--all of public record, but long buried in Arizona, it seems--including episodes in which she was an actor. She details the circumstances of some of the most unsavory political moments of McCain's public life, including the Keating Five scandal, barbs and brawls that reek of misogyny, and his steady courtship of the press. It's a must-read; some of the details are really cutting:
"During lunch, McCain said, almost with mischievous glee, that he had slipped some highly technical questions to [James McClure] to ask Mofford — questions she wouldn't be prepared to answer or expected to answer.
"Flabbergasted, I asked McCain why would he want to sabotage Mofford's testimony, when in fact the CAP was the nonpartisan pet of Republicans and Democrats — such as far-left Udall and far-right Goldwater — since its inception.
"His reply, as near as I remember, was, 'I'll embarrass a Democrat any time I get the chance.'
Callowness and opportunism seem to shade other of his behaviors, particularly regarding the legacies of the two most famous legislators from Arizona. Most interesting to me--if not surprising--is the disconnect between his hard-fought filiation with Morris Udall (and to a lesser extent, Barry Goldwater) and his actions, particularly when it comes to environmental policy:
McCain tends to support big-picture issues that will play well with voters, but when it has come to protecting Arizona over the past 26 years — well, not so much.
In the 1980s, McCain made a name for himself, supporting the limitation of air flights over the Grand Canyon, but in recent years, backed off the effort when environmentalists wanted to expand the limits from small tour planes to commercial aviation. And he's taken a lot of heat recently for refusing to weigh in on efforts to mine uranium near the Grand Canyon.
In fact, despite a vague statement issued last week saying he might, at some point, support mining reform, McCain has failed for years to back proposed changes to the horribly outdated Mining Act of 1872 — and evidence of that is strewn all over Arizona in the form of large strip mines and environmental degradation.
When it comes to Arizona environmental issues, though, McCain's best known for an infamous U.S. Governmental Accountability Office report that details threats he made to the job of a forest service official who dared to disagree with him on the topic of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel.
Anger, inattention, and a preening instinct--check! Nevertheless, Silverman writes,
the Udall comparison has stuck, mostly because McCain makes it whenever he can. Even Newsweek, in an April cover story, noted the phenomenon, writing of McCain:
"He traces his environmental awareness to the sainted Rep. Mo Udall, an Arizona Democrat who took McCain as a young congressman under his tutelage . . . To environmentalists, that's like saying you learned about civil rights by driving around Alabama with Martin Luther King Jr."
Which, of course, McCain most certainly did not do. Ultimately, the whole story--which also covers Cindy McCain's drug addiction and more scenes of press bias--conveys nothing more than one inside take on hardball political life. But the final chapter of the Udall saga is very sad:
[McCain] does deserve credit for the time he spent with Udall during his final years. "There was no steadier visitor," Bob Neuman recalls of McCain's visits to his old boss' bedside during Udall's very long struggle with Parkinson's disease. And for that, Neuman says, McCain earned his "respect and admiration and affection."
Until McCain went public with it.
In 1997, Michael Lewis profiled McCain for the New York Times Magazine. Lewis' piece was well-written, and he did get great access to McCain. In fact, the senator even took the journalist to the veterans hospital in Washington, D.C., for one of his visits with Udall. According to Lewis, McCain tried in vain to wake Udall that day. (Udall died the following year.)
About the encounter, Neuman says, "That was devastating to me, that he brought in a reporter. I thought that was crossing the line, and it destroyed me."
Woof. Silverman also links to several (brilliantly titled) articles she has penned since the 1980s, which are themselves worth a read. And in them, I daresay I can't see many instances in which McCain puts "country first." Leading Neuman to call McCain "the Eddie Haskell of politics." Silverman concurs, writing of the senator's still-pristine image, "something seems to be getting lost in translation." Indeed. Obama's skinny resume cuts both ways, I guess--and I doubt this mixed legacy is enough to put Arizona in play--but if even half the tales offered by Silverman's lengthy rundown are true, it's remarkable what relative success McCain is having running a bruising characterological campaign against him.
UPDATE: Headline hyping tomorrow's candidate appearances at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church: Warren "Plans to bring up Obama, McCain's Personal Life." I'll believe it when I see it.